Arnold Arboretum Senior Research Scientist and tropical biologist Cam Webb will be spending the next three years researching forest biodiversity in Indonesia, a collaboration with Sargent Fellow Sarah Mathews and senior Indonesian collaborator Teguh Triono. Join Cam and his colleagues as they collect plants, take photographs, and analyze molecular and ecological data gathered in research plots on five Indonesian islands. Examining hundreds of species of plants and their respective habitats will contribute to our understanding of how forests and the plants in them evolved and respond to current environmental pressures. Along the way, you will be introduced to fascinating organisms, encounter the full forces of nature, and meet the dedicated Indonesians who assist with the research efforts and protect these remarkable forests. This work is made possible through a grant from the National Science Foundation.

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Forest first impressions

October 14, 2014 by Cam Webb

A forest view, with a young Livistona rotundifolia palm on right

We’re back in Kotamobagu for a weekend, further sampling the joys of this charming town, and catching up on email.  more »

Toraut forest

October 6, 2014 by Cam Webb

An inner view of undisturbed forest at 300 m elevation

Greetings from the the edge of the Sulawesi rain forest! I’m back on this blog after many months and we’ve started our fifth and final field trip of this NSF-funded research project.  more »

Sambal kemangi

March 31, 2014 by Cam Webb

Sambal kemangi

And now for something completely different! Sambals are the Indonesian chili-based condiments that accompany all good meals. They enliven a rice-heavy diet, sometimes to the extent that just rice and a good sambal feels like a complete meal. There are, as you would expect, thousand of sambal recipes. An important, recurring dish on our field trips has been Endro’s mind-blowingly spicy sambal brengsek, first introduced in 2011 on the Kalimantan trip.  more »

Birds of Flores lowland forest

March 28, 2014 by Cam Webb

Bare-throated Whistler

Live news: we’re out of the forest! The trip wrapped up very successfully, thanks to all the great support we have had from local government staff and villagers. On the last evening in Roang, we had another "kepok" (sorry, chickens!), and left by truck for Labuan Bajo.  more »

The forest at Wai Dongkong

March 11, 2014 by Cam Webb

A spectacular fig overhanging the river

Last week I completed the morphotyping of the 582 trees in the four 0.25-ha sample plots, and the collecting crew has nearly finished obtaining samples of the ca. 117 taxa we recorded there. All but about 10 of these taxa were collected by either using a 10 m aluminum pole with a clipper on the end, by climbing the trees, or by a combination of both.  more »


March 10, 2014 by Cam Webb

Some of snakes we’ve seen!

Before getting on to the business of forest tree composition, a brief zoological interlude. This site seems to have more snakes than anywhere else I’ve been to in Indonesia. If Waigeo was ‘bird-land,’ this is ‘snake-land!’ Admittedly, none of the snakes I’ve seen here has been very big, but a small snake can still give a nasty bike if you put your hand on it, and many of the snakes have been among rocks, where one is climbing around.  more »

Reading the Forest

March 4, 2014 by Cam Webb

Sapling of a Zanthoxylum

So, finally, I get to tell you about the best part of these ‘expeditions,’ and the real reason I do them: I love to ‘read the forest.’ Looking up through the jumble of greens and browns, I know there is a story in here. On first pass, in the moment of engagement in the field, it’s primarily a story of family.  more »

Camping in the rain

February 24, 2014 by Cam Webb

Into the woods!

Last Sunday noon, we returned on motorbikes to Roang for the traditional ‘kepok’ to bless our trip. After chatting for an hour in the kepala desa’s house (the administrative head of the village), consuming local coffee and the best ‘pisang molen’ I have ever had (banana slivers wrapped in a thin pastry layer and deep fried), we moved to the senior ‘ketua adat’s’ house (Pak Franciscus Sahaba, the traditional-law head man).  more »

Flower-hunting in Flores

February 18, 2014 by Cam Webb

Limestone forest at Turlaing, not far from Labuan Bajo

Hi again! We have just begun our fourth field trip on our ongoing NSF-funded research project, this time to the island of Flores in southeastern Indonesia, in the province of Nusa Tenggara Timor. The previous trips (Borneo, Seram, and Papua) have felt hard to execute and stressful, and I’ve referred to them as "expeditions." So far (ha!), this trip to Flores has been very enjoyable and almost easy, and so I think it does not yet count as an expedition!  more »

Out of the forest, into the frying-pan

July 2, 2013 by Cam Webb

Jonathan the whirlpool-runner!

Our only communication option has been to hike to the river, boat back down to the bay, climb a rock that sticks out of the water east of Beow Island, hope that the cell tower in the south of the bay is switched on (which only seems to happen one day in two or three), and send a text. So, to cut to the present first, we’re out and well in Sorong, waiting for permits to move the specimens we collected to the Bogor Herbarium on Java.  more »

Kavlot camp: bird-land!

June 11, 2013 by Cam Webb

measuring the diameter of trees

After two weeks of solving a neverending string of logistical, administrative, and social puzzles (too stressful and exhausting to recount here), we finally managed to set up a camp on the banks of the Kavlot River, near Kabilol. The village has been adamant that we involve as many people as possible in our enterprise, to share the work and wages, and so with 20 helpers we set off last Monday in three ‘longboats’ with our small mountain of food and equipment.  more »

New Guinea Expedition

June 4, 2013 by Cam Webb

Red bird-of-paradise

After last Fall’s trip to Seram, our next sampling location is in Indonesia’s West Papua province, part of the great island of New Guinea. Even by rural Indonesian standards, Papua is remote and expensive to reach, but because of this contains the last vast areas of unexploited forest. It is the ‘final forest frontier,’ and under active assault by timber, oil palm, ranching and mining interests.  more »

Deforestation in Seram vs. West Kalimantan

December 4, 2012 by Cam Webb

I’m back at home in Sukadana, West Kalimantan (Borneo). I had to leave Seram a few days before Acun and Endro, but I trusted them fully to tidy up the last of the morphotyping and collections. Pak Zul, the head of the Manusela National Park, was again wonderfully supportive, and all the specimen transport permits were processed in a couple days in Masohi.  more »

Masihulan, a conservation success

November 26, 2012 by Cam Webb

We rode a dump truck back up the coast road to Masihulan, to a spot just below where the new highway improbably climbs up and over the precipitous limestone mountains. A roomy park office “information center” stands just inside the park boundary, and we moved in there for the next 10 days to work on a plot in this lowland forest (albeit 300 m ASL) on limestone.  more »

The “model forest” at Toluarang

November 13, 2012 by Cam Webb

Tired from days of hiking and worrying, and feeling like I was running out of options, I decided to opt for a relatively easy choice: making plots, or in this case one large plot, at a site on the main north Seram road where it slices through the Manusela park. While access could not be easier, it turned out the forest was not without its challenges!  more »

Ulu Sawe

November 9, 2012 by Cam Webb

River Isal

I’m back in Wahai, looking out over low tide in the sheltered lagoon in front of the guesthouse. We’re taking our first rest day since the trip began, and just returned from snorkeling and fishing. Team members Acun and Endro are avid fishermen and had, until this morning, been skunked in every river and bay that they had tried in Seram.  more »

Up for air

October 23, 2012 by Cam Webb

Believe it or not, I managed to connect via sloooooow cell phone GPRS at 4:30 in the morning in Wahai, North Seram, and can send this report. Am just out of the forest after five days of trekking around, looking for a camp location. Tired (but this feels good) and wet, wet, wet. If there’s one thing I would change about this trip, it would be that we had left a couple months earlier.  more »

Travel to Masohi

October 18, 2012 by Cam Webb

Masohi is a quiet, friendly town sited on a large, calm bay. The town is now divided into Christian and Muslim neighborhoods, and only the odd burned-out church is evidence of the terrible ethnic clashes of a decade ago. Both Ambon and Masohi now have a relatively large permanent military presence, in the form of the fenced compounds of neat houses and green lawns that house battalions of TNI-AD, the Indonesian army.  more »

Return to Seram! (Preparations)

October 15, 2012 by Cam Webb

After being delayed a year, we’re off to Seram on Monday for the full expedition. This will be the second site we plan to sample for our current NSF-funded research on the biogeography and ecology of Indonesian trees. I hope to put up a number of (almost) live blog entries during the trip, although we expect to be offline for the much of it, far even from cell phone signal.  more »

The future of plant collecting: a role for ‘elite parataxonomists’

May 8, 2012 by Cam Webb

If you were dropped in a unknown forest or grassland and told to start collecting the plants, you would start with what you encountered first, which would be the common species. All ecological communities are dominated primarily by a few common species, with a long tail of rare species (a hollow rank abundance curve); a good rule of thumb is that 50% of the individuals belong to only 10% of the species.  more »

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