Into the Woods

Did you know that 2011 is the UN International Year of Forests? There are so many years of this and that these days, you would be forgiven to have missed this one. But there are good reasons the UN is highlighting the importance of forests; Millions of people depend directly on forests for their livelihood, and we all depend indirectly on forests to provide food, water, air, shelter and more. And as any eco-aware person will tell you, the world’s forests are hotspots of biodiversity as well as carbon sinks.

backyard forest
The forest near my flat

“The world’s forests” tends to evoke rainforests in the Amazon or Borneo, or maybe the vast boreal forests of North America and Russia. But we don’t have to go that far to see a forest – Singapore has many types of forest too, ranging from small pockets of primary rainforest and mangroves to coastal and secondary forests. But you don’t even have to go to Bukit Timah or Labrador Park – chances are you have a forest right in your backyard or at least within walking distance of your home or workplace.

Some biologists may scoff at the idea of calling a green patch in the middle of the city a forest, but that all depends on your perspective. If you are a termite, a centipede, or even a squirrel or a bat, you don’t have to worry too much if your bunch of trees is surrounded by more trees or roads and carparks. And similarly, if you don’t insist on seeing tapirs and tigers, you can get a full forest experience out of your neighbourhood woods. One of my own favourite spots is a small tree- and shrub-covered area right next to my block of flats, which is packed with spiders, lizards, birds and stray dogs that provide food for the plentiful mosquitoes.

Macrotermes sp
A healthy colony of Macrotermes termites harvesting dead wood

Whichever perspective you have on forests, the upcoming Public Forum organised by the Singapore Institute of Biology (SIBiol) and the Science Centre this Saturday promises to be very interesting.  There will be a talk on the impacts of climate change on Singapore’s ecology, and another talk on forest conservation in Singapore. Admission is free, but online registration is required.

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