SINGAPORE: The rate of plant and animal extinction in Singapore has been discovered to be around 37 per cent over the last 200 years, a new study says.

“Singapore has lost most of its tropical primary forest since 1819 and yet has an exceptionally detailed biodiversity record,” the study reads, noting that tropical extinction rates must be estimated accurately in order to assess the impact man has made on biodiversity as well as properly conduct conservation planning.

Research from a group of biologists and life and environmental scientists titled Two centuries of biodiversity discovery and loss in Singapore was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) earlier this month.

The scientists behind the study, led by Ryan A. Chisholm, a theoretical ecologist and lead author Ryan Chisholm from the National University of Singapore; Nadiah P. Kristensen, and Frank E. Rheindt, compiled the biggest database of Singapore biodiversity records beginning from 1796 to date, including over 50,000 individual records, more than 3,000 species and 10 major taxonomic groups.

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However, a high 37 per cent seems much lower than an earlier estimate of 73 per cent based on a 2003 study.

“The number we came up with, which was 37 per cent, is quite a lot but it’s about half that of a previous estimate,” Assoc Prof Chisolm is quoted as saying.

They then estimated extinctions using statistical methods that also considered “dark extinctions,” or the extinctions of undiscovered species.

“The estimated overall extinction rate was 37 per cent, a factor of two lower than previous estimates for Singapore, although extinctions were concentrated among larger, charismatic species,” the study says, adding that “Extrapolations suggest that by 2100 Southeast Asia will resemble a ‘tropical Europe,’ with roughly 80 per cent of the original species surviving in human-dominated landscapes.”

The scientists say that around 90 per cent of Singapore’s bird species, about half of Singapore’s butterflies, and approximately 40 per cent of its bee species are extinct. Additionally, around 60 per cent of Singapore’s large mammals, such as tigers and leopards, are no longer found on the island.

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Before humans arrived in Singapore, the country was mostly covered by rainforests, with the remainder composed of mangrove forests or swamps. However, a majority of the island has since been deforested. With the loss of habitat and trees, there have been significant losses of other kinds of plants and animals native to Singapore.

If the rate of deforestation continues, about 8 per cent of all species alive in the region today will be extinct by 2100, the scientists added. /TISG

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