Research & Development (R&D) in the Sabah Forestry Department is undertaken by the Forest Research Centre (FRC) in Sepilok. The vision of FRC is to be a centre of excellence in forestry research providing the best service to its clients, while the mission is to generate knowledge and technology to support the conservation, management, development and sustainable utilisation of the forest resources of Sabah through scientific research.
FRC Research Programmes
There are five main research programmes in FRC, as follows:
1. Forest Ecosystem Management
Forest ecosystem management is an ecologically sustainable management of forested landscapes for both commodity and ecological values, such as conservation of biological diversity, maintenance of productive capacity of forest ecosystems, and maintenance of forest ecosystem health and vitality by controlling spatial landscape structure and its dynamics. It is a unique concept capable of reflecting ecological, technological, economical and the social aspects of management planning. These elements are reflected simultaneously in decision-making process to provide the best stewardship and to sustain ecosystem functions while providing ordinary goods and services for people.
In FRC, this programme is reflected in forest ecology, silviculture and hydrology research. Research on soil, carbon and climate change, as well as mangrove rehabilitation and management are also placed under this programme.
2. Forest Biodiversity & Conservation
Biodiversity conservation is an issue of major global political, social and scientific concern. It has become clear in recent decades that we are living in an era unprecedented by threats to the diversity of life and the environment. The focus is on tropical rainforests because they contain more than half of all the plant and animal species in the entire world biota even though these habitats cover only 7% of the Earth’s land surface. With regards to this, forest biodiversity and conservation is very important because it provides fundamental information about the distribution and abundance of biodiversity, and such data are necessary for long term sustainable management, use and conservation of biodiverse areas. Successful biodiversity management requires continuous assessment of various habitat types to gauge the success of present and future conservation schemes, in preventing detrimental transformation of a habitat.
In FRC, this programme is divided into two main parts, namely (1) plant diversity which includes population genetics and fungi, as well as Sabah Red List Plants, and (2) wildlife diversity that focuses on mammals, reptiles, amphibians, birds, fish and insects.
3. Forest Plantations
With the drastically declining resources from natural forests, forest plantations are expected to play an increasingly important role as an alternative source of future timber and other forest resources. Forest plantation development using fast-growing tree species and suitable non-timber species attracts great interest in the tropics where natural forests have been severely degraded. This is seen as a logical means to conserve and ease the pressures on the rapidly dwindling natural forest. Despite the availability of several known potential fast-growing tree species and non-timber species, the choice of planting material is usually limited to a few popular species. Thus, more research has to be undertaken to explore more potential species, including high-value indigenous species and suitable non-timber species for the establishment and expansion of forest plantations.
This programme focuses on timber and non-timber plantation silviculture, breeding, seed procurement, pests and diseases, improvement of plantation species, nutritional studies and agroforestry.
4. Forest Produce and Products
Timber industry is now facing the shortage of log supply due to the depletion of timber resources from the natural forests. Thus, it is important to optimize the sustainable use of available resources. Examining the properties of its woods is essential to assist an attempt to evaluate the commercial potential of the planted timber trees. Furthermore, studies on physical characteristics, anatomical features, strength and wood working properties of such timbers shall develop more valuable new uses of the timber products for both exotic and indigenous species from plantation grown forests as well as from natural forests.
At the same time, other forest produce and products are equally important and should be given due consideration in research. These include herbal and medicinal plants, and ornamental plants from the forests. Hence, this programme focuses wood and non-wood science and utilization, potential uses of herbal and medicinal plants, and biotechnological improvement of forest ornamentals to be used in urban forestry. Forest products also include carbon stock.
5. Forest Socio-economics
Forests provide a wide variety of social and economic benefits. These include contributions to the overall economy – for example through employment, processing and trade of forest products and energy – and investments in the forest sector. They also include the hosting and protection of sites and landscapes of high cultural, spiritual or recreational value. Maintaining and enhancing these functions is an integral part of sustainable forest management. Information on the status of and trends in socio-economic benefits is thus essential in evaluating progress towards sustainable forest management, together with the more usual statistics on the predominantly environmental values considered under the other themes.
In this programme, research on nature tourism, forest recreation, related socio-economic studies as well as urban forestry are undertaken to evaluate the social and economic importance of these activities provided by the forests.