Monday, July 2, 2007

"Seashore Crabs of Hsin-Chu City" by Ping-Ho & Ming- Shih Hung. (1997)

Hsin-Chu Government. 122pp.

To date, there are already numerous colourful and informative publications on the crabs of Taiwan. These publications have brought to public attention the diversified crab fauna of Taiwan. This new book is the first to report on one localised area - the seashore of Hsin-Chu City.

The aim of this book is to serve as a guide book for the citizens of Hsin-Chu who are interested in nature and conservation and to be used as a teaching text-book in local schools. Its intention is to bring to public awareness that rapid urbanisation is also rapidly destroying the natural habitat of the coastline.

Hsin-Chu City, being one of the most densely populated cities in Taiwan, is located on the north-western coast of Taiwan, facing the Straits of Taiwan. The coastal stretch is only 13.5 km but comprises of various habitats to support various kinds of crabs. Hence, the diversified fauna. In this book, 43 species from 10 families are being reported.

The first chapter of the book gives an introduction to the various types of habitat found along the seashore of Hsin-Chu City. The second chapter, gives a concise morphological study of the crab. The figures are complete with labeling on the different parts of the crab, so that the reader can immediately relate the labels to the different body parts especially when one is reading the diagnosis. This is very helpful for the general public or non-carcinologist because many of the crabs are very similar and morphological characters have to be used to differentiate them. The third chapter is a pictorial guide to the crabs, complete with excellent colour photographs, its vernacular Taiwanese name, scientific name, diagnosis and habitat. The authors have also included the natural distribution of each species besides their distributions in Taiwan. This is one addition feature not found in previous publications.

There are also drawbacks in this book. Despite the excellent photography, many of the crabs were not taken in their natural habitat, rendering it impossible for the reader to directly relate the crab to its natural habitat. This book is a local publication supported by the Hsin-Chin City governmental offices, there is no ISBN number. Hence, it will be quite difficult to obtain or purchase outside Hsin-Chu City as well as any carcinologist or non-carcinologist who can understand Chinese.

Ngan Kee Ng
Department of Biological Sciences
National University of Singapore
Kent Ridge 119260, Republic of SIngapore

First published in The Raffles Bulletin of Zoology Vol. 46(2): 663-664 on 30 Dec 1998.

Sunday, July 1, 2007

"An illustrated Field Guide to the Birds of Singapore". by Lim Kim Seng and Dana Gardner.

Sunrise Publishing Ltd 1997. ISBN 981-3066-00-8.

Kim Seng is one of the foremost birders in Singapore and since early childhood has been recording the status, occurrence and activities of wild birds on the island. His depth of knowledge and detailed observations has at long last been committed to book format. As the Bird Recorder for the Nature Society he has provided us with an accurate up to date record of the wild birds of Singapore.

Adapted from Accessed on 2nd July 2007.

This well illustrated book provides the most comprehensive coverage of Singapore birds so far and meets the needs of all active local and visiting birdwatchers. With most species accurately portrayed in colour and an associated text succinctly written with carefully worded descriptions and useful data on status, range and habitats. Of particular importance and value are the appendices that provide listings of extinct, threatened and escape species and also suggest possible additions to the list.

For the more ancient birders including myself the Sibley and Moore taxonomy and nomenclature will take some acceptance and getting use to and finding the right place for families may initially be a chore. Despite cross references being given a few of these are incorrect (see Magpie Robin and White-rumped Shama) and I would have preferred the format used in the Birds of Thailand by Philip Round which has text opposite or at least closer to the plates.

There are useful sections on birdwatching techniques, places to visit and habitats locations but these need associated maps and more information on the generous sized island map would have improved the format. The coloured illustrations have a rather smooth appearance possibly due to printing effects and such things as feather marginations which I suspect wee on the original paintings have somehow got lost. Standards in associated bird guides tend to be fairly high these days and one does get fussy I suppose. Despite this, the general jizz of the birds is good and separation of similar species should not prove too difficult using the plates.

I personally found the front cover and inside photographs rather glarey in colour contrast but this is rather subjective. Using the photographs with a small map might have been a better way to present individual site locations on separate pages. he copy I obtained had a spine problem and within a few days of purchase the cover became detached. As this book is designed for use in the field a better quality binding should have been used.

In the text a few points worthy of mention are that the House Crow has now been added to with five other bird species that are no longer protected in Singapore and one of these the migrant Purple-backed Starling which is not a common bird (Wild Animals and Birds Act amendment 1991) (see page 21). I also note the comment that some protected areas have little significance for conservation and are therefore not listed (see page 17). These include a number of parks some of which are very significant as demonstrated by the recent account in this journal by Angus Lamont on Kent Ridge Park (see Raffles Bull. Zool. 46:113) where at least 151 species were recorded and this location has no tidal mudflats. We should not underrate parks and corridor systems through urban areas as they can in total contribute to supporting good numbers of bird species even if the diversity is less than nature reserves.

As the writer rightly points out the losses suffered to Singapore birds have been quite disastrous. It is hoped that this well written and illustrated local guide will serve to educate future generations sufficiently to save what is left and ensure that no further species join the extinct list in appendix 1!!

Clive Briffett
School of Building and Real Estate
National University of Singapore

First Published in The Raffles Bulletin of Zoology Vol. 46(2): 662-663 on 30 Dec 1998.

"Marine Food Fishes and Fisheries of Sabah" by P. K. Chin. (1998)

ISBN 983-812-019-7. 280 ppp. Natural History Publications, Ming Kiang Sdn. Bhd., Lot 2G16-2G18, Api-Api centre, Jalan Centre Point, Kota Kinabalu, Sabah, East Malaysia.


Adapted from Borneo Store. Accessed on 2nd July 2007.

The marine fish fauna of the huge Malaysian state of Sabah in Borneo is generally regarded to be one of exceptional diversity. Strangely enough, there has never been any attempt to put the information into one tome. This deficiency is now partially resolved, and again, it is by the "dean" of Sabahan ichthyology, Datuk Chin Phui Kong. Best known for his book (with Bob Inger) on the freshwater Fishes of North Borneo (Chicago Field Museum, 1962) which has become one of the key references on Bornean freshwater fish, Datuk Chin has now moved on to the sea. The present book focuses on the fishing industry and commercial species found in Sabah's waters, and gives us a snapshot of the richness of the state's coastal waters. Of the over 600 species which appear in its markets, 376 of the more common ones are described and in most cases, figured in colour. The photographs are in most cases, excellent, showing specimens as they would appear fresh in the market. Interesting is that in addition to the standard taxonomic descriptions, details of the local fishery for each species is provided. Of value too is the provision of local vernacular names (Malay, Chinese and Bajau) for each species. In addition to the fish information, Datuk Chin has also included a history of the fishery industry in Sabah. the fishing gears used and the types of boats utilised. All in all, a very nice book for any practicing ichthyologist as well as informed fisherman, professional or amateur!

Peter K. L. Hg
Department of Biological Sciences
National University of Singapore
Kent Ridge, Singapore 119260, Republic of Singapore

First published in The Raffles Bulletin of Zoology Vol. 46(2): 661 on 30 Dec 1998.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

"Bivalves; Gastropods" by J. E. Poutiers (1998)

In: K. E. Carpenter. V. H. Niem (eds.). FAO species identification guide for fisheries purposes. The living marine Resources of the Western Central Pacific Volume 1. Seaweeds, corals, bivalves and gastropods. Pp. 123-686. Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, Rome, ISBN 92-5-104051-6.

Some 187 species of bivalves from 35 families (pp. 123-362), and 263 gastropod species from 43 families (pp. 363-686) are described and superbly illustrated in this ambitious volume, which is a welcome addition to the acclaimed series of species identification guides published by the FAO. The geographic area covered in this work stretches from the Malacca Straits eastwards to Piteairn Island in the Pacific Ocean, including the Indonesian archipelago, the Philippines, Papua New Guinea, Northern Territories and Queensland in Australia, and the majority of tropical Pacific islands. The guide is well organized, with sections on general remarks, glossary of technical terms, and shell keys to bivalve and gastropod families which are arranged in a rough phylogenetic sequence. Each family is introduced by way of diagnostic characters, habitat, biology, and fisheries, with comments on similar families occurring in the area, as well as taxonomic references. A strictly conchologial key to species is also provided for each family. Every species treated is illustrated with line and ink. Species descriptions include the following heading: frequent synonyms and misidentifications, FAO names is English and French, diagnostic shell characters, size, habitat, biology, fisheries, and geographical distribution.

Adapted from FAO Corporate Document Repository. Accessed on 29th Jun 2007.

According to the editors (p.iv), the purpose of this guide "is to provide an accurate means to identify to the appropriate taxonomic level those organisms that are of potential use or likely to be captured by marine fisheries in the region", and in addition, it is stated (p.iv) that "this work is the first attempt to provide comprehensive identification and biological information for marine resources in the region". The coverage on the whole is fairly comprehensive, with the following twelve families having the highest number (in descending order each for bivalves and gastropods) of species described in the guide: bivalves-Veneridae (33 spp.). Arcidae (16 spp.) Cardiidae (12 spp.). Pectinidae (11 spp.). Mytilidae (10 spp.) and Tellinidae (9 spp.); gastropods-Cypraeidae (25 spp.). Strombidae (23 spp.) Muricidae (21 spp.). Conidae (13 spp.). Naticidae (12 spp.) and Neritidae (11 spp.). Although diagnostic shell characters are not provided for about half of the species included in the guide (markings meant to distinguish species provided with diagnostic characters from those without were unfortunately misprinted), the excellent drawings and keys are adequate for initial identification, at least to the family level. Two omissions, however, are significant in the light of the objectives spelled out by the editors. One is the complete exclusion of the indigenous common names. In my opinion, the exclusion of local name(s) seriously undermines the usefulness of this guide, since the users are likely to be more familiar with the common local name than with French or English names. Of course, if there is no local name referable to the shell, then the FAO name would be a useful suggestion. But to ignore an existing name is not good practice. the second concerns the lack of cited references concerning fisheries biology and aquaculture techniques for the various species presented in the guide. Nearly all references given in the guide are taxonomic in nature, and although the primary role of this guide is identification, it would have been helpful to provide some primary sources of information concerning fisheries and/or aquaculture.

Other details that might be considered for a second imprint of this guide is the addition of the neritid gastropod Nerita lineata (otherwise known as N. birmanica, N. articulata or N. balteata), this species being one of the commonest snails in Malayan mangroves, and consumed by the local coastal population. Nowhere in this guide is it mentioned. Neither is the bivalve Orbicularia orbiculata (Pharidae, formerly in Psammobiidae) for which is a significant fishery exists in Malaysia. The patellogastropod genus Cellana is now placed in the family Nacellidar, following current taxonomic opinion.

Poutier's contribution is a welcome addition to the increasing number of illustrated guides to the molluscan fauna of the Indo-Pacific. While reliable identification aids are available for molluscan fauna in Japan, the Philippines, Java, Australia and New Caledonia, the fauna characteristics of the Malayan archipelago has not been the subject of taxonomic guide books. Although this guide describes only a small fraction of bivalves and gastropods found in the Indo-Pacific, it includes a fair number of species that are treated in detail for the first time. This FAO guide will take its place amongst the useful "must-haves" in the libraries of professional biologists as well as shell enthusiasts.

K.S. Tan
Tropical Marine Science Institute
National University of Singapore

First published in The Raffles Bulletin of Zoology Vol 48(2): 340 on 31 Dec 2000.

"Tropical Island Herpetofauna: Origin, Current Diversity, and Conservation" by Ota. Hidetoshi (Editor) (1999).

Elsevier, Amsterdam, xiv + 353 pp. ISBN 0-444-50195-9.

A good number of tropical islands have enjoyed basking in the attention afforded them from herpetologists. Their potentially high biodiversity, variable land area above water, variable distance from mainland, variable topography are ideal ingredients for attempts at answering biogeographical, evolutionary and ecological question. In June 1998, the International Symposium, "Diversity of Reptiles, Amphibians, and other Terrestrial Animals on Tropical Islands: Origin, Current Status, and Conservation", was held at the University of the Ryukus, Okinawa, Japan. A total of 15 papers, organised into three parts, were compiled in the proceedings.

Adapted from Best Book Buys, accessed on 27th Jun 2007.

There are four papers in Part I, "Origin and Taxonomic Diversity", with contributions by Aaron Bauer - high endemism (86%) in terrestrial lizards of New Caledonia, Ilya Darevsky - lizards and snakes from nine Vietnamese islands, Indraneil Das amphibian and reptile biogeography of the Andaman and Nicobar Islands, James Lazell - herpetofaunal evolution of South China continental shelf islands. Comprehensive species checklists are included in the first three, with endemic species marked with asterisks. In Part II. "Ecological Diversity, Dispersal, and Conservation", the papers are more specialised, but give an insight into some lesser known species. For example, Akira Mori et al. reveal the stealthy feeding behaviour of a Colubrid snake on sea turtle eggs and hatchlings. Using molecular biology techniques, Christopher Austin examined island colonization by a Scincid lizard in Melanesia. Also looking at colonization questions is Ivan Ineich, who studied ectodermal parasites of Pacific island geekos. In Part III, "Biogeography of the Ryuku Herpetofauna", the focus is on amphibia and reptilia from the Ryuku Archipelago. Taxa discussed in the papers include: Eumeces skinks, Trimeresurus pit vipers, geoemydine turtles, the cosmopolitan frog Rana limnocharis and the feral soft-shelled turtle Pelodiscus sinensis. At the end of the book (pp. 335-353), a comprehensive Taxonomic and Geographic Index is provided. This facilitates quick referrals to all the taxa and localities discussed among all the papers.

Without a doubt, this book deserves a place in the shelves of science/natural history libraries at established tertiary institutions/museums. Although other exciting herpetological topics, such as bioacoustics or amphibian larvae were not covered in the book, both practicing and potential herpetologists based in the tropics will find a stimulating variety of ideas and avenues for further research. In his abstract, James Lazell, contributor in Part I, noted, "there are more than a thousand small islands, most as yet unexplored by herpetologists. The opportunity to discover many more endemics and relicts is wonderfully great". That should be sufficient to whet our appetites for an island "getaway".

Tzi Ming Leong
Department of Biological Sciences
National University of Singapore
Kent Ridge 119260, Republic of Singapore

First published in The Raffles Bulletin of Zoology Vol. 48(2): 339 on 31 Dec 2000.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

"Forest (and) primates. Conservation and ecology of the endemic primates of Java and Borneo" by Nijman, V. (2001)

Kalimantan Series 5. Publisher: Tropenbos International, The Netherlands. 232pp. ISBN: 90-5113-052-X. Price: EUR 20 (S18 US). Order online at or write to Tropenbos International. PO Box 232. NL 6700. AE Wageningen. The Netherlands. E-mail:

The Sundaic region, identified as one of the biodiversity hotspots on earth, ranks highly in endemism of its flora and fauna in comparison to other regions. It also harbours a disproportionately large number of primate species and endemics, some 28 in all. Unlike the Long-tailed macaque (Macaca fascicularis), an urban survivor, most primates are confined or linked to natural forests. Unfortunately, the Sundaic region also ranks highly for loss of primary forest cover. Thus most, if not all, Sundaic primate endemics are threatened with extinction.

Adapted from Tropenbos International on 28th Jun 2007.

The focal area of this study, Java and Borneo, comprise more than half of the land surface of the Sundaic region. Java has a history of human pressure dating several centuries; little forest remains now and the people are no longer largely dependent on the forest. Contrastingly, the largely forest-covered Borneo is undergoing rapid changes in land-use and human attitudes, which alter the pressures on wildlife populations.

It is surprising to read the claim that " there is a lack of base line knowledge concerning the ecology of most, if not all, endemic primates in Indonesia", considering that easily more than 200 papers have been published on Indonesian primates. Furthermore, amongst the endemics of Java and Borneo, only one is listed as "Data Deficient". Certainly primates have attracted much more attention than the secretive carnivore family groups!

However, Nijman suggests that most long-term primatological studies in Southeast Asia have been concentrated at a limited number of field stations. These are located mainly in relatively pristine habitats, in areas with limited or no hunting pressure, almost entirely in the lowlands and where populations of the study species are present in relatively high densities. Furthermore, while the effect of disturbances (e.g. selective logging, hunting and fire) on primate populations have been studied in isolation, in reality, they appear to be tightly linked.

It is thus now necessary to build on these foundation studies to provide for practical conservation measures. This thesis is an example of such a step. Between 1994 and 2001, various field studies were conducted in Java, Borneo and in museum. This thesis integrates the contents of papers published earlier in scientific journals with other authors. It presents the reader with several objectives: (i) to assess the geographical distribution of individual species on Java and Borneo; (ii) to develop, test and evaluate census methods by which primate populations can be assessed and monitored: (iii) to determine the type and magnitude of the threats facing the individual species and habitats on the islands: (iv) using data collected under (i), (ii) and (iii), to re-assess the conservation status of the endemic primates of Java and Borneo using the IUCN threat criteria; and subsequently (v) to identify key areas for conservation based on densities of particular primate species, the co-existence of a disproportional large subset of primate species and management feasibility.

The chapters in this book are:
1. Forest and primates, a general introduction to the conservation of endemic primates in the Sundaic region.

SECTION I. Background and Survey Methodology: 2. Density and biomass estimates of gibbons (Hylobates maelleri) in Bornean rainforest: a comparison of techniques (with Steph B. J. Menken). 3. Effects of behavioural changes due to habitat disturbance on density estimation of rain forest vertebrates, as illustrated by gibbons (Primates: Hylobatidae). 4. Calling behaviour of wild Javan gibbons Hylobates moloch in Java, Indonesia (with Thomas Geissmann). 5. Geographical variation in pelage characteristics in grizzled leaf monkey Presbytis comata (Desmarest, 1822) (Mammalia: Primates: Cercopithecidae).

SECTION II: Studies on Endemic Primates of Java: 6. Occurrence and distribution of grizzled leaf monkey Presbytis comata (Desmarest, 1822) (Mammalia: Primates: Cercopithecidae) on Java, Indonesia. 7. Geographical distribution of ebony leaf monkey Trachypithecus auratus (Geoffrey Saint Hilaire, 1812) (Mammalia: Primates: Cercopithecidae). 8. A faunal survey of the Dieng mountains, Central Java, Indonesia: status and distribution of endemic primate taxa (with S. (Bas) van Balen).

SECTION III: Studies on Endemic Primates of Borneo. 9. Distribution and conservation of the proboscis monkey Naasalis larvatus in Kalimantan, Indonesia (with Erik Meijoard). 10. The local extinction of the proboscis monkey Nasalis larvatus in Pulau Kaget Nature Reserve, Indonesia (with Erik Meijaard). 11. Patterns of primate diversity on Borneo and selection of priority areas for conservation (with Erik Meijoard).

SECTION IV: Synthesis: 12. Re-assessment of IUCN conservation status of the endemic primates of Java and Borneo. 13. General discussion.

Forests and primates face tough times. Indonesia's recent policy of decentralization had provided opportunities for illegal logging (Kearney, 2001; Richardson, 2001). However, in October 2001, Indonesia instituted an indefinite ban on the export of logs in line with a recommendation made by an International Timber Trade Organisation (ITTO) Mission in the country, which had found illegal logging to be rampant there (ITTO, 2001).

It is likely thought that Java's history of deforestation will repeat itself on the other Sundaic islands and possibly other parts of Southeast Asia with growing human populations, all of which are host to much higher numbers of primate species. The findings and conclusions of the present study are thus applicable to the conservation of Southeast Asian primates and should be read by workers in tropical forest conservation and management, primate rehabilitation, captive breeding and ecology.

This fifth book in the Tropenbos-Kalimantan series is also the first zoological title. The publisher, Tropenbos International, is a Dutch non-governmental organization, facilitating research and development programes in Asian and Africa. In Southeast Asia, it is also developing research in Vietnam.

Richardson. M. 2001. Indonesia's Forests: Gone in 10 Years?
International Herald Tribune,
24 April 2001.

Kearney. M. 2001. Illegal logging in national parks shocks minister.
The Straits Times, 24 April 2001.

ITTO. 2001. ITTO Mission recommended Indonesian Log Export
ITTO press release, 30 October 2001.

N. Sivasothi
Raffles Museum of Biodiversity Research
Department of Biological Sciences
The National University of Singapore
Blk S6, Science Drive 2
Singapore 117600, Republic of Singapore

First published in The Raffles Bulletin of Zoology Vol. 49(2): 383-384 on 31 Dec 2001.

"A Photographic Guide to the Birds of Malaysia and Singapore" by Strange, M. (2000)

Periplus. Singapore. 398 pp. ISBN 962-593-963-6.

There are numerous field guides available n the market on the birds of Southeast Asia. The question arises in my mind: do we need another bird guide for Southeast Asia? The answer in my mind is yes but only if such a guide is illustrated with excellent photographs. Well this book fills the bill. The author who is famous for his breathtaking bird pictures writes this photographic guide.

Adapted from Princeton University Press on 27 Jun 2007.

The book provides succinct introduction to the bird watching techniques. The introduction also contains beside other aspects, brief notes on Southeast Asian bird fauna, its habitats, and conservation.

Over six hundred bird species are covered in this book. Each species account includes a photograph (sometimes two) of the species. Most photographs contain diagnostic features of the bird. Included in the species description is a brief write-up of the diagnostic morphological features of the species of all the species is indicated and so is the worldwide range. However, only the distribution within Southeast Asia is illustrated with a map.

With few exceptions, most of the photographs are of exceptional high quality. Somehow, the guide feels much better to use in the field and different than the previous other guides in the market. The glossy production of the book is of high quality.

I recommend this book to amateur and professional bird watchers alike. I know that I will be bringing it along for my future birding trips within Southeast Asia.

Navjot S. Sodhi
Department of Biological Sciences
The National University of Singapore
Blk S2. 14 Science Drive 4
Singapore 117543, Republic of Singapore

First published in The Raffles Bulletin of Zoology Vol. 49(2): 382 on 31 Dec 2001.