New! Explore Phil Torres' photographs from the expedition in bioGraphic.
On a tiny island off the Malaysian coast, an ancient rainforest overlooks a modern metropolis. The thriving, 130-million-year-old ecosystem atop Penang Hill was the subject of its first-ever floor-to-canopy biodiversity survey—or bioblitz—in October 2017. Led by Dr. Meg Lowman and a team of Academy experts, an international cohort of 117 scientists logged over 1,400 observations of plants and animals using iNaturalist, and discovered at least four new species and observed 25 plants and animals never before seen in Penang or peninsular Malaysia.
The findings from this expedition illustrate the incredible breadth of the island's biodiversity—and could help Penang Hill achieve a listing as a UNESCO biosphere reserve.
In the field for just one day and Academy scientists are already making discoveries! Lauren Esposito, Assistant Curator and Schlinger Chair of Arachnology, along with post-doc Stephanie Loria, spotted what could be a species of scorpion previously unknown to science. Score!
Using a variety of trapping methods (including the aptly named malaise trap), the team identified a number of fly, ant, and spider species—as well as a giant millipede.
Field note roundup, organized by altitude. Canopy-level: Ant experts from Universiti Sains Malaysia modeled high-tech harnesses as they conducted research along the treetop walkway. Understory: Academy botanist Nathalie Nagalingum demonstrated proper fern-pressing technique in the understory. "Forest" floor: Academy sustainability fellow Durrell Kapan takes a selfie break with USM students.
Making news in Malaysia! Lauren's (likely) new scorpion species experiences a brush with fame in the Sin Chew Daily.
The team ventured out of the forest to explore George Town, a UNESCO world heritage site. With luck, this expedition's bioblitz will help the forest atop Penang Hill achieve the same designation.
By day, a local birder named Irshad helped Academy curator Jack Dumbacher's team capture birds just long enough to record their species before releasing them unharmed. As the sun went down, the scorpions came out—and the blacklights came on. Why? Any entomologist worth her spotting scope knows that scorpions fluoresce under UV light.
Today's action was in the understory: The mammal team, led by USM zoologist Dr. Nadine Ruppert, successfully ID'd and measured 11 small mammals—including a white-bellied chestnut rat, which was scientifically determined to be adorable.
That's a wrap! The epic Penang Hill bioblitz has drawn to a close. The team presented some impressive initial findings at a post-bioblitz symposium in George Town—1,600 species observations!—and will spend the next few months analyzing data and perhaps confirming the discovery of myriad species previously unknown to science.
Day 11: With 1,600+ species observations under their belt, the bioblitz team takes a well-deserved breather under the Habitat's canopy walk.
Day 10: The mammal team is all smiles after a successful morning bioblitz.
Day 10: A white-bellied chestnut rat is ready to high-tail it back into the forest after getting its measurements taken.
Day 9: When golden hour hits Penang Hill, it hits hard.
Day 8: Using a blacklight to spot scorpions—which fluoresce under UV light.
Day 8: Irshad holds up a mist net, used for humanely trapping—and quickly releasing—birds.
Day 7: The team takes a break from the bioblitz to explore UNESCO-designated George Town.
Day 6: Lauren Esposito in the Sin Chew Daily displaying what could be a new species of scorpion.
Day 3: When studying ants in the canopy like these USM ant experts, you can never be too safe.
Day 3: Nathalie teaches students how to press fern specimens.
Day 3: Durrell and some Malaysian colleagues take a selfie break from the bioblitz.
Day 2: A millipede snakes around researcher Stephanie Loria's arm.
Day 2: Two USM students carefully—and cheerfully!—rappel down a lush rainforest slope.
Day 1: Arachnologist Lauren Esposito doing her best to coax what could be a new scorpion species into a specimen vial.
Day 1: Scorpion specimen: Collected!
Day 1: Testing the strength of one of The Habitat's new canopy walkways with water barrels.
The mission of the Academy's Institute for Biodiversity Science and Sustainability is to gather new knowledge about life's diversity and the process of evolution—and to rapidly apply that understanding to our efforts to sustain life on Earth.
Help collect data for ongoing Academy research from home or in the field—it's fun, easy, and helps scientists answer big questions.