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August 10, 2010

Shedding light on fireflies

MALAYSIA is the only country to have developed a monitoring programme for fireflies and the programme has been carried out monthly since 2006 in the ecotourism destination of Kuala Selangor.

Natural Resources and Environment ministry secretary-general Datuk Zoal Azha Yusof said this in his speech read by Forest Research Institute Malaysia (FRIM) director-general Datuk Dr Abd Latif Mohmod at the opening of the Second International Firefly Symposium 2010 in Subang Jaya, Selangor, recently.

Dr Abd Latif said the information and statistics collected through the FRIM firefly monitoring programme had enabled the institute to notify the state authorities of disturbances to the firefly habitats in 2008.

"With the firefly monitoring programme, we were able to alert the state of disturbances in the area and also provide evidence-based recommendations on conservation measures," he said.

Good stuff: Dr Abd Latif (second from left) having a look at the Firefly Stamps issued by Pos Malaysia on May 10, 2010, at the International Firefly Symposium 

As a result, the Selangor government had taken positive steps last year to gazette up to 100m from the river bank as a protection zone and also initiated the acquisition of private land along the river bank in Tanjung Beluntas.

The FRIM firefly monitoring programme focuses on seven sites covering 1.6km along the Selangor River from Bukit Belimbing to areas beyond Kampung Kuantan.

Dr Abd Latif said he was proud of FRIM's contributions to the firefly conservation efforts and said the principles and techniques involved in the monitoring method developed and refined by FRIM researchers were shared for the first time with other researchers and conservationists at the symposium.

FRIM entomologist Dr Laurence G. Kirton, who heads the firefly studies, said the method used a highly-sensitive digital camera mounted on a special tripod to capture the flashes of the fireflies from a great distance and image analysis software to interpret the images.

According to him, the final step requires calculations and calibration to ensure reproducible results.

The data compiled will indicate the abundance of the firefly population as well as the health of the environment which supports the population.

So far, the researchers have been able to analyse natural fluctuations due to changing weather patterns from one year to another.

"We can tell that there will always be a dip in the population in October, probably due to the drier months during the mid-year and the population will increase again by December and peak from May to August."

"However, over a longer period of between five and 10 years, we will be able to see the trend more clearly, whether there is an increase or a decline in the firefly population and possibly relate it to the happenings around this area," Dr Kirton said.

The four-day symposium, jointly organised by FRIM and the Malaysian Nature Society (MNS), was attended by some 100 participants including firefly experts, researchers and conservationists from all over the world.

Source: The Star



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