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A team of researchers and scientists from Central Mindanao lead the capacity-building activities  with indigenous communities in Mindanao. (Image credit: Central Mindanao University)

Conservation research initiatives on 4 mountain ranges in Mindanao support the generation of science-based policies

In a bid to protect the mountain ecosystems in Mindanao, a group of researchers and scientists from various environmental institutions explored the vast forest areas to document local biodiversity. The team, led by project leader Victor Amoroso and co-project leader Fulgent Cortico, consisted of individuals from Central Mindanao University, the University of the Philippines Los Baños, Davao Oriental State University, and the National Museum of the Philippines. The project aims to design conservation measures and recommend science-based policies for the sustainable protection of selected areas.

Four mountain ecosystems were covered in the initiative: Mt. Hamiguitan Range, Mt. Pantaron Range, Mt. Apo Range, and Mt. Tago Range. The research exploration in these mountain areas revealed 2,399 flora and 1,803 fauna species, 601 species of which are endemic to Mindanao and the Philippines. It also led to the discovery of eight flora and three fauna species, which are mostly endemic to Mindanao.

Following this, Mr. Cortico expressed in a presentation the need for the intensive protection and conservation of mountain ecosystems in the country. “There is a real need for us to protect and conserve these species because once these species are lost they’re gone forever; not only in Mindanao, not only in the Philippines, but worldwide,” said Mr. Cortico.

On the status of flora and fauna species, the project also discovered 296 species that are considered threatened. Mt. Hamiguitan houses the highest record number of threatened flora,  (209 species), while, Mt. Apo recorded the highest number (74) of threatened fauna species.

Mr. Cortico explained that various human activities are currently threatening the security of these highly significant ecosystems. Such threats include conversion of forest land to agricultural land, expansion of human settlements and infrastructure, mining activities, illegal logging, over-exploitation of resources, and the prevalence of invasive forest species. It should be noted that among the four selected areas, Mt. Pantaron and Mt. Tago are not yet legally classified as protected areas. Without the classification, these ecosystems are a lot more vulnerable to exploitation from various human activities.

Following the conservation initiative, the group of Dr. Cortico has determined that the value of the four mountain ecosystems could be the basis for support and policy interventions.

Among the major accomplishments of the project was the classification of Mt. Pantaron as a local conservation area (LCA) for the Province of Bukidnon. This policy from the Bukidnon LGU shall add another layer of protection for the mountain’s biodiversity.

Another LCA policy is in the pipeline. The project’s effort in mapping and delineation of Mt. Malimumu is paving the way for its LCA classification.

Twenty researchers of the project were deputized as wildlife enforcement officers (WEO) by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources and are now regularly monitoring the Mt. Pantaron.

Dr. Fulgent, co-project leader of “Conserving Mindanao Mountain Ecosystems: Biodiversity as Frontier For Ecotourism Development & Sustainable Ecological Protection,” seen here during the presentation of their research project at the NSAARRD 2023. (Image credit: Paul Katimbang, ACD-PCAARRD)

Efforts to develop local ecotourism were also initiated. The project started capacity-building seminars to add value to the current knowledge and practice of local communities. Trail signages were also erected to help inform tourists and to promote the local biodiversity.

The project also helped establish a nursery of economically important plants including the endangered and endemic species that can be used for assisted natural regeneration of forest areas. Additionally, the nursery also contributes as an additional source of livelihood for the community. 

The research project, “Conserving Mindanao Mountain Ecosystems: Biodiversity as Frontier For Ecotourism Development & Sustainable Ecological Protection,'' placed 2nd runner-up under the Research Category at the National Symposium on Agriculture, Aquatic, and Natural Resource Research and Development (NSAARRD) 2023. Led by the Philippine Council for Agriculture, Aquatic and Natural Resource Research and Development of the Department of Science Technology (DOST-PCAARRD), NSAARRD showcases the most outstanding contributions of individuals and institutions in AANR R&D.