Postcards from the Field

--Field Work / Field Talk--

To: The Readers of 21COE Project Web Site stamp
 "The festival of the forest has begun"

In March 1996, in the Lambir National Park of Borneo, a simultaneous flowering began. In the tropical rainforest of Southeast Asia, once in several years, many plants flower all at the same time, a phenomenon that is widely known. The festival of the forest has finally begun. The Sarawak Forest Canopy Biology Program, of which I am a member, has put in place equipment to allow access to the forest canopy, so we were prepared for the simultaneous flowering when it came.

I learned this attractive project five years ago, visited Professor Inoue, and jumped at the chance of visiting the forests. I was fairly familiar with vegetation types as far south as the Ryukyu Islands, but in Sarawak, I found that I had to learn the species from scratch. Within a radius of half a day's walk, I found far more tree species than there are throughout the whole of Japan. Becoming intimate with these species is a difficult job. With vegetation species, you need to develop a relationship to the extent that you can say, "Ah! It's you! I thought this would be the kind of place you would like!" It's essential to see the forest in these terms. I have gradually become familiar with the vegetation species after about a year. How lucky I am to encounter a simultaneous flowering at such a time!

I am beginning to understand for the first time how the big tree species that make up the forest do all they can to leave offspring. The professors and students who have come to research meet together every evening and engage in debate. How do the pollinators respond to a dramatic increase in the number of flowers? What makes it possible for pollination to occur between members of the same species, when there is such a great variety of different species in the forest? Why is it that flowers pollinated by the bee, a social insect, are common in the middle layers of the forest? Some questions are answered, discussion of other issues raises yet more questions, while some issues remain a puzzle, as before. "It must be this!" "No, It can't be!" The debates rage on, and next day matters that were neither one thing nor another become clarified.

Days full of stimulating research with one's colleagues are truly wonderful. But even more precious are the long quiet days spent alone, wrestling with the diversity of living things.

From: MOMOSE Kuniyasu (Division of Southeast Asian Area Studies)
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