As trees are cut and climates shift, can the animals of Borneo be saved?

Flat-headed cat (Prionailurus planiceps); Photo: Wilting, Mohamed/ Sabah Wildlife Depatment, Sabah Forestry Department
Flat-headed cat (Prionailurus planiceps); Photo: Wilting, Mohamed/ Sabah Wildlife Depatment, Sabah Forestry Department

Despite the fact that many of Borneo’s rare species are in trouble new research published in the journal Current Biology shows that by using targeted conservation measures many of these species could be saved.

As the third-largest island in the world and the largest island in Asia, Borneo stands out as a hotspot for biodiversity. And yet, based on climate projections alone, up to one in every three Bornean mammal species is expected to lose 30% or more of their habitat by the year 2080.

With additional losses as rainforests are cleared, nearly half of Borneo’s mammals could see suitable habitats shrink by a third or more in the coming decades.

However, the research, which was led by Dr Matthew Struebig at the University of Kent’s Durrell Institute of Conservation and Ecology (DICE) and Dr Stephanie Kramer-Schadt and Dr Andreas Wilting of Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research in Germany, has found that only a modest amount of additional land on Borneo—about 28,000 km2 or four percent of the island—would be needed outside of existing protected areas and reserves to safeguard many mammal species against threats from deforestation and climate change.

The team’s analyses also show that deforestation and climate change are both expected to hit lowland forests of Borneo the hardest. While lowland forests and especially peatlands will remain important for endangered species, such as the otter civet and flat-headed cat, the researchers say that higher-elevation reserves deserve special attention for mitigating the threat of climate change.

For the study, Dr Struebig and colleagues took a novel approach to assessing Borneo’s future by using a deforestation model to predict where forests will likely be lost over time. Previously, few forward-planning conservation assessments considered both the effects of climate change and land-cover change on tropical biodiversity because land-cover change is difficult to predict reliably. They also enlisted a global network of tropical mammal experts from conservation organisations, research institutions and government institutions on Borneo to quantify and help map suitable habitat for each species.

With the evidence base now in place, the researchers say they hope the findings will make an important difference to conservation efforts on the ground.

The team is now presenting its portfolio to government representatives in Indonesia, Malaysia, and Brunei through the Borneo Futures initiative.
Struebig MJ, Wilting A, Gaveau DLA, Meijaard E, Smith RJ,  The Borneo Mammal Distribution Consortium, Fischer M, Metcalfe K, Kramer-Schadt S (2015): Targeted Conservation to Safeguard a Biodiversity Hotspot from Climate and Land-Cover Change. CURR BIOL 25, 1–7.
Leibniz Institute for Zoo- and Wildlife Research (IZW)
in Forschungsverbund Berlin e.V.
Alfred-Kowalke-Str. 17
10315 Berlin

Dr Stephanie Kramer-Schadt
Tel: +49 30 51 68 714
Dr Andreas Wilting
Tel: +49 30 51 68 333
Steven Seet (press officer)
Tel: +49 30 51 68 125
Mobil: +49 177 857 26 73
University of Kent
Gary Hughes
Tel: +44 (0)1227 823581/01634 888879


Background information:

The Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research (IZW) investigates the vitality and adaptability of wildlife populations in mammalian and avian species of outstanding ecological interest that face anthropogenic challenges. It studies the adaptive value of traits in the life cycle of wildlife, wildlife diseases and clarifies the biological basis and development of methods for the protection of threatened species. Such knowledge is a precondition for a scientifically based approach to conservation and for the development of concepts for the ecologically sustainable use of natural resources. The IZW belongs to the Forschungsverbund Berlin e.V. (


The Leibniz Association connects 89 independent research institutions that range in focus from the natural, engineering and environmental sciences via economics, spatial and social sciences to the humanities. Leibniz Institutes address issues of social, economic and ecological relevance. They conduct knowledge-driven and applied basic research, maintain scientific infrastructure and provide research-based services. The Leibniz Association identifies focus areas for knowledge transfer to policy-makers, academia, business and the public. Leibniz Institutes collaborate intensively with universities – in the form of “WissenschaftsCampi” (thematic partnerships between university and non-university research institutes), for example – as well as with industry and other partners at home and abroad. They are subject to an independent evaluation procedure that is unparalleled in its transparency. Due to the institutes’ importance for the country as a whole, they are funded jointly by the Federation and the Länder, employing some 17,500 individuals, including 8,800 researchers. The entire budget of all the institutes is approximately 1.5 billion EUR.