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INTRODUCTION

Papua New Guinea (PNG) is an independent state occupying the eastern half of New Guinea, the world's largest and highest tropical island. In recognition of its extensive remaining forest cover, spectacular biological diversity and low human population density, New Guinea has been recognised as one of the world's five High Biodiversity Wilderness Areas (Mittermeier et al. 2003). In addition to extensive low- and mid-elevation tropical forests, New Guinea has extensive high-montane environments, particularly along the central mountainous spine of the island. This central cordillera, formed by uplift resulting from the collision of the Australian Plate with the Pacific Plate, presents dramatic gradients of topography, elevation, temperature and rainfall that have promoted rapid evolution of an exceptionally diverse biota. Although the montane birds and flora of New Guinea have been moderately well documented (e.g. Royen 1982, Beehler et al. 1986), documentation of most biota at high elevations has been sporadic at best and major gaps in survey effort continue to hinder meaningful discussions about conservation priorities for, and biogeographic relationships among, the New Guinean biota.

With an area of 12,800 km2 Enga Province in Papua New Guinea's central highlands region includes a higher proportion of upper montane (>3,000 m) environments than any other province in Papua New Guinea (Löffler 1977). It is also the site of the Porgera Mine, a major open-pit gold mining operation that accounts for 14% of the country's export earnings, making it the world's eighth largest gold producer in terms of 2005 output. Remarkably, despite the substantial infrastructure established by this mining operation, Enga Province appears to have the lowest biological survey effort of any province in the country. Prior to this RAP survey only a handful of collections had been made in the province. The proximity of Porgera Mine to the vast Kaijende Highlands provided the opportunity to redress this paucity of biological information through a RAP biodiversity survey designed and conducted by Conservation International and the PNG Department of Environment and Conservation, and sponsored by the Porgera Joint Venture mining operation.

Scope of Project

The RAP biodiversity survey reported here was undertaken as part of a long-term commitment by Conservation International (CI) to assist with the establishment of a Conservation Area covering the Kaijende Highlands of Enga Province. Discussions between CI, the PNG Department of Environment and Conservation (DEC) and the Porgera Joint Venture partners (PJV) resulted in a consensus that CI would play a lead role in developing the project. To this end CI has established an office at Porgera with funding support from PJV. Locally-based CI staff are working with local landowners and local NGOs to establish the area (see Map) as a Conservation Area under the Conservation Area Act with assistance from the DEC.

The Mt. Kaijende Conservation Area will have a management plan and a development plan, rules, a management committee, and the steps towards establishment will allow for participation by the general public and by landowners. Follow-up awareness activities during 2007 have generated substantial support from local landowners, the PNG Mining Department and other stakeholders.

The RAP results reported here are the result of a successful partnership between CI, DEC, PJV and a number of local communities. We hope that the information gathered during this survey will play a useful role in informing the development of sustainable management strategies for this spectacular region.

RAP SURVEY OVERVIEW AND OBJECTIVES

Conservation International's Rapid Assessment Program (RAP) is an innovative biological inventory program designed to use scientific information to catalyze conservation action. RAP methods are designed to rapidly assess the biodiversity of highly diverse areas and to train local scientists in biodiversity survey techniques. Since 1990, RAP's teams of expert and host-country scientists have conducted 60 terrestrial, freshwater aquatic (AquaRAP), and marine biodiversity surveys and have contributed to building local scientific capacity for scientists in 26 countries. Biological information from previous RAP surveys has resulted in the protection of millions of hectares of tropical forest, including the declaration of protected areas in Bolivia, Peru, Ecuador, and Brazil and the identification of biodiversity priorities in numerous countries.

The primary objective of this RAP survey was to document the plant, herpetofauna, bird and mammal diversity of the Kaijende Highlands, a vast region of near-uninhabited montane forest and grasslands in Enga Province. The information we gathered will be used to make recommendations about the conservation significance of, and management options for, the remarkable biodiversity of this area. Survey sites were selected to include the major habitat types contained within the proposed Mt. Kaijende Conservation Area.

The specific aims of this RAP survey were to:

  • Produce an overview of the diversity and conservation significance of selected plant and animal taxa at elevations between 2,000 and 3,300 m.

  • Evaluate threats to biodiversity of the region, and recommend management strategies for their mitigation that are relevant to local communities, government agencies, and the nearby Porgera Mine.

  • Provide on-site training in biodiversity inventory techniques for staff from DEC.

  • Make RAP data available for decision-makers at all levels of Government, and to local communities, NGOs and the general public, with a view to promoting the establishment of a Conservation Area in the Mt. Kaijende Highlands.

Study Area

The Kaijende Highlands incorporate an extensive area of montane habitats (>2,000 m elevation) adjacent to the Porgera Mine in Enga Province, Papua New Guinea (see Map). Population density in the proposed Conservation Area is extremely low, but trails linking small villages and others used by hunters criss-cross the area. A well-travelled trail through the high-montane grasslands of the Kaijende Highlands links Porgera Town with the Mt. Kare goldfields.

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As in most areas of Melanesia, land ownership in this region is complex and numerous clans lay claim to parts of the Kaijende Highlands. The area behind Mt. Kumbepara, from Omyaka to the Porgera Reservoir, is owned by the Pulumaini, Angalaini, Tieni and Aipakani clans. The Omyaka camp site was on Pulumaini land. The Lake Tawa area belongs to people from Kole and Kanzawi villages (Paiela) who also own the Mt. Kare area. The Paiela Road area is owned by the Pulumaini, Angalaini, Tieni and Tuanda clans. Land around Suyan is owned by the Aipakani-Kealo/Pepe (Suyan Camp), and the Timain and Paiam clans (areas behind Suyan).

Site Descriptions

The climate of the Kaijende Highlands area, extrapolated from rainfall and temperature data collected at the PJV Environment Department offices on the Porgera Mine site at around 2,200 m, is relatively aseasonal. Mean monthly minimum air temperature recorded daily between 2001 and 2004 varied between just 11.3 and 13.0°C and mean monthly maximum temperature varied between 18.8 and 21.0°C (Figure 1). Precipitation is high, with a long-term (1974–2006) mean annual rainfall of 3,679.6 mm (range 2,505.8 – 4,413.0 mm) but rainfall shows a more pronounced seasonal effect than temperature (Figure 2). The mean monthly rainfall calculated for each month over 33 years was 306.6 mm when calculated across all months, but there are distinctly wetter and drier ‘seasons’ with a maximum mean monthly rainfall of 370 mm in March and a minimum of 246.6 mm in July. Figure 2 shows long-term (1974–2006) mean monthly rainfall and the 2005 total rainfall for Porgera Mine to illustrate the period leading up to and including this RAP survey. The RAP survey was conducted during a year when rainfall in September was much higher than the long-term mean. However maximum and minimum monthly rainfall totals at Porgera over the same period do not follow the trend shown by the monthly means illustrated in Figure 2; they show that most months can be extremely wet (> 450 mm) or extremely dry (<150 mm) in any given year.

Figure 1.  Mean monthly minimum and maximum air temperature recorded daily between 2001 and 2004 at the Porgera Mine.i978-1-934151-08-2-45-1-4-f01.gif
Figure 2.  Long-term (1974–2006) mean monthly rainfall and total monthly rainfall for 2005 at the Porgera Mine. The RAP survey was conducted between 19 August and 9 September 2005.i978-1-934151-08-2-45-1-4-f02.gif

Although the Porgera climate data probably broadly reflect conditions at the lower elevations throughout the Kaijende Highlands, including Lake Tawa, it should be noted that climate in the area varies dramatically with topography and altitude. The highest elevations of the Kaijende Highlands experience climatic conditions that are much more extreme than those reported for Porgera, and air temperatures recorded in the upper-montane grasslands around Omyaka and Waile Creek during this survey regularly dropped to 5°C. Unfortunately, comprehensive rainfall and temperature data for these high-montane sites are unavailable.

The survey was conducted around four major ‘sites’ at elevations between 2,000 m and 3,400 m. These localities provided access to a range of habitats including montane grasslands, upper montane forests, mid-montane forest, and disturbed mid-montane forest regrowth and gardens. Geologically, this highland area is on the New Guinea Fold Belt (Hill and Hall 2003), and lies to the south of the complex system of geological terranes that have accreted to northern New Guinea (Pigram and Davies 1987). The survey schedule and location of major sites are presented in Table 1. The major vegetation formations of the study area are described in detail in Chapter 1 and a gazetteer for, and brief descriptions of vegetation at, each major site and each ‘sub-site’ are presented in Appendix 1. The general topography of Lake Tawa, and the location of significant collection sites and habitats around this valley are illustrated in Figure 3.

Table 1.  Summary of survey schedule and major site locations of the Kaijende Highlands RAP survey.i978-1-934151-08-2-45-1-4-t02.gif
Figure 3.  Aerial view of Lake Tawa showing A) bivouac; B) sinkholes in photo 23; C) limestone outcrops; D) photographic station for photo 24; E) Pandanus savanna to the north and northeast of camp (see photo 29, color plates).i978-1-934151-08-2-45-1-4-f03.gif

SUMMARY OF RAP RESULTS BY TAXONOMIC GROUP

Vegetation

The flora of the Kaijende Highlands occurs in three principal vegetation formations: 1) lower montane forest, 2) upper montane forest, and 3) subalpine grassland. A total of 492 tracheophytic plant species were documented during this survey including 112 ferns and lycophytes, 6 gymnosperms, 69 monocots, and 305 dicots from a total of 262 genera. At least 16 plants are determined as species new to science, including five arborescent taxa, five understory shrubs, two vines, two orchids, and two ferns.

Herpetofauna

Seventeen frog and two reptile species were documented from montane forests and montane grassland habitats in the Kaijende Highlands. At least eight of the frog species are undescribed and one of these probably warrants recognition as a new genus. This survey documented the second known population of Callulops glandulosus, and a very large species of Albericus found at Lake Tawa may represent only the second known population of A. fafniri. Both of these species were considered Data Deficient by the Global Amphibian Assessment. One other frog, Litoria becki, found only in high-montane grassland habitats, was considered Vulnerable in the recent Global Amphibian Assessment. Although the reptile fauna was depauperate, this reflects the high-elevation focus of our survey and the low diversity is probably typical of sites at similar elevations elsewhere in New Guinea. One of the two species documented, a skink of the genus Sphenomorphus, may represent an undescribed taxon.

Birds

Nineteen days of surveys, including a series of ‘walking censuses’ undertaken at key sites, detected 102 species of birds. The Long-bearded Melidectes (Melidectes princeps) was recorded for the first time west of the Mount Hagen massif. The Ribbon-tailed Astrapia (Astrapia mayeri), a spectacular long-tailed species with a severely circumscribed distribution centered on our study area, was common from 2,117 m at Lake Tawa to 3,200 m at Omyaka Camp. Although the Crested Bird of Paradise (Cnemophilus macgregorii) was not encountered on this survey, one local informant at Omyaka Camp stated that it was present and the species was apparently collected in a DEC field survey (Kula 1989). It appears that there is a substantial geographic break in this species' range between the Hagen/Giluwe area and the Star Mountains of Papua (Indonesia). This provides an intermediate-stage example of Diamond's “drop-out” phenomenon (Diamond 1972). The Kaijende Highlands support a rich upland bird fauna that might best be conserved through the creation of a large contiguous community-managed reserve that encompasses uninhabited traditional hunting lands.

Mammals

This survey confirmed the occurrence of one monotreme, 18 marsupials, nine rodents, two bats, and two non-native placental mammals (wild-living dogs and pigs) in the Kaijende Highlands. Previous surveys in this area had recorded just one marsupial species, three rodent species, and one bat species that were not detected in the current survey. Our survey brings the total number of native marsupials, rodents, and bats recorded in the Kaijende Highlands to 35 and in Enga Province to 39. Significant new records for the Kaijende Highlands include the third vouchered locality for Calaby's Pademelon (Thylogale calabyi) and the first record of the Giluwe Rat (Rattus giluwensis) outside of the immediate vicinity of Mt. Giluwe in Southern Highlands Province. Other species of conservation concern that occur in the Kaijende Highlands include the echidna Zaglossus bartoni and the tree-kangaroo Dendrolagus dorianus.

CONSERVATION RECOMMENDATIONS

Protection of important habitats

The Cyathea savanna that dominates the Kaijende upper montane zone at elevations between 3,000 m and at least 3,400 m is unique to the island of New Guinea. These upper montane habitats and vegetation formations are not protected by existing conservation initiatives in Papua New Guinea. Because island endemism is higher in Upper Montane Forest and subalpine environments than in the low elevation habitats typically covered by many conservation areas in Papua New Guinea, protection of the Kaijende Highlands will provide security for a number of endemic taxa presently excluded from conservation consideration. This survey has identified a suite of plants, frogs and mammals that appear to be dependent on these subalpine environments. The high-altitude tree fern savanna, tussock grassland, and adjacent upper montane (elfin) forests also support a poorly known assemblage of mammal species that have become rare or disappeared from many other montane sites in New Guinea.

Another habitat that may require specific targeting for conservation action is limestone outcrops. Three new plant species were associated with karst formations during the 2005 RAP survey and additional surveys are required to determine whether these localized habitats harbor a substantial endemic plant or animal biota.

The Kaijende Highlands not only harbor a large number of poorly known and significant species and habitats, but the landscapes of the region are scenic and visually stunning. The aesthetic beauty of the Kaijende Highlands provides a further compelling argument for protection of these montane habitats. The Cyathea grassland panoramas at Omyaka and Waile Creek and the lakeside vistas at Lake Tawa are among the most spectacular ever encountered by the RAP team, and the dramatic limestone pinnacles emerging from dense mid-montane forest near Porgera are breathtaking.

Our results strongly vindicate the current efforts to establish a Wildlife Conservation Area in the Kaijende Highlands. Conservation International, the PNG Department of Environment and Conservation and PJV are working with local communities to develop a sustainable, long-term conservation plan for the proposed Conservation Area. We hope that the results of our survey will be used to promote interest in the Kaijende Highlands among local communities, and among decision makers in Local, Provincial and National Governments. Particular attention should be placed on educating local landowners about the significance of their unique biota on a global scale, about the importance of adopting sustainable hunting practices to ensure the long-term survival of many bird and larger mammal species that are becoming scarce in the mountains of New Guinea, and about the benefits of protecting their montane forests and grasslands from increasingly frequent fires and other destructive human activities. With the interest and support of the local communities, the Kaijende Highlands could become a model protected area in Papua New Guinea.

Species-specific recommendations

Studies are needed to assess in greater detail the distribution, abundance, and threats faced by wallabies, tree-kangaroos, and echidnas in the Kaijende Highlands. These large mammals have disappeared from most areas with high human population density throughout New Guinea. Although Zaglossus and at least three different kangaroo species (Dendrolagus dorianus, Dorcopsulus vanheurni, and Thylogale calabyi) still persist in the vicinity of Porgera, the 2005 RAP team did not encounter living animals of these species. They were documented solely based on information from informants or from trophy jaws. Clearly there is at least some hunting pressure on these animals. Obtaining information about abundance, hunting pressure, and microdistribution of large mammals in the region is a high priority if these species are to be conserved in the long term. These studies will require the assistance and knowledge of local communities, and might prove to be a straightforward and manageable project, perhaps one that can be undertaken by a sponsored student or a PJV Environmental Officer.

Future Research

The cost and logistical challenges of working in New Guinea's remote high-montane environments are a major impediment to research. As a result, most upper montane habitats on the island remain very poorly documented. The success of our Kaijende survey was due in large part to the logistical support provided by the Porgera mine, and also to the infrastructure, including roads, that has been established in the surrounding district. Few areas in Papua New Guinea offer such advantages for an ongoing program of conservation assessments and biological studies.

Long-term monitoring programs

The upper montane habitats of the Kaijende Highlands provide an opportunity to monitor long-term floristic change caused by global warming. Upper Montane Forest is acutely responsive to temperature shifts induced by climatic change, as demonstrated by palynological evidence from Holocene sediments. Baseline studies should be established that not only document subsequent shifts in upper montane forest composition and distribution, but also examine concurrent changes in abundance and assemblage structure of animal taxa associated exclusively or primarily with these habitats. Fauna identified as high priorities for monitoring programs include a new genus and species of frog known only from grasslands at Omyaka, and a number of large mammal species that may already be under threat from over-hunting.

Biodiversity surveys

The results of the short Kaijende Highlands RAP survey were spectacular and it is clear that additional biodiversity surveys targeting habitats and elevations not covered during the 2005 RAP survey will document numerous additional species in the proposed Mt. Kaijende Conservation Area. Additional surveys will also be critical for assessing the distribution and conservation status of a number of threatened or significant species encountered or otherwise documented during the 2005 RAP survey (e.g. Thylogale calabyi, Zaglossus bartoni and Dendrolagus dorianus, three new species of microhylid frogs, several new plant species). Inasmuch as the flora and vertebrate fauna of the Upper Montane Forests are highly significant from a conservation perspective but relatively depauperate in terms of species richness, a series of targeted surveys could provide the most comprehensive biodiversity assessment of Upper Montane Forest and grasslands for any area in New Guinea to date.

All participants in the Kaijende RAP survey noted that extending biodiversity survey activities to areas below 2,000 m elevation would dramatically increase the variety of biota documented. With support from PJV a trans-watershed biodiversity survey transect extending from the Kaijende Highlands to the lowlands along the Strickland River would be an ambitious project that would put the Kaijende Highlands fauna and flora in a broad biological and biogeographic context. In addition, with community support any future extension of the boundaries of the Conservation Area to accommodate contiguous habitats below 2,000 m elevation would substantially increase the biodiversity values of the Conservation Area.

Ecotourism potential

Tourism is a small but potentially lucrative business for Papua New Guinea. Few areas in the country can boast the combination of spectacular scenery and established infrastructure of the Kaijende Highlands region. Properly marketed, the Kaijende Highlands could attract visitors from elsewhere in PNG and from overseas. Formal designation of the Kaijende Highlands as a Conservation Area will increase the area's attractiveness as a travel destination. However it should be recognized that the tourism market is small. Studies to assess the potential of specialised ecotours, or the promotion of research-based ‘tourism’ should be conducted as a matter of priority.

Map and Photos

23. Lake Tawa. The southeastern end of the basin is a limestone zone with numerous sinkholes (Australian Survey Corps 1979).i978-1-934151-08-2-45-1-4-f1024.jpg
24. Wide-field view of the scenic surroundings at Lake Tawa. Pollen stratigraphies from nearby swamps should be informative.i978-1-934151-08-2-45-1-4-f1025.jpg
29. Pandanus savanna at Lake Tawa. Anthropogenic influence is an unlikely explanation for the presence and distribution of this unusual vegetation, whose occurrence is probably related to poor soil conditions. There are no indications of former burning at the site.i978-1-934151-08-2-45-1-4-f1030.jpg

REFERENCES

1 

BeehlerB. M. T. K.Pratt D. A.Zimmerman 1986Birds of New GuineaPrinceton University PressPrinceton, N. JGoogle Scholar

2 

DiamondJ. M. 1972Avifauna of the Eastern Highlands of New Guinea.Nuttall Ornithological Club. No. 12Google Scholar

3 

HillK. C. R.Hall 2003Mesozoic-Cenozoic evolution of Australia's New Guinea margin in a west Pacific context.In HillisR. R. R. D.Muller (Eds.)Evolution and dynamics of the Australian plateGeological Society of Australia Special Publication 22 and Geological Society of America Special Paper 372. Pp265290Google Scholar

4 

KulaK. R. 1989A preliminary fauna survey report of Pogera areaDepartment of Environment & Conservation, Nature Conservation DivisionWaigani, PNG12pagesGoogle Scholar

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LöfflerE. 1977Geomorphology of Papua New GuineaCSIRO and Australian National University PressCanberraGoogle Scholar

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RoyenPvan 1982The Alpine Flora of New Guinea. Volume 3: Taxonomic Part Winteraceae to PolygonaceaeJ. CramerVaduzGoogle Scholar

Appendices

Appendix 1 Gazetteer of sites surveyed in the Kaijende Highlands and a brief description of their major vegetation characteristics

Wayne Takeuchi

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