2.0 Malaysia : Study Area

2.1 Location and Physical Characteristics

Malaysia can be divided into three main regions: Peninsular Malaysia, Sabah and Sarawak. Approximate location of these three regions are given below.

Peninsular : 60 45’ and 1 020’ N latitudes and 990 40’and 1040 20’ E longitudes

Sabah : 40 00’ to 7000’ N latitudes and 1150 20’ and 1190 20’ E longitudes

Sarawak : 00 50’ and 50 00’ N latitudes and 1090 35’ and 1150 40’ E longitudes

The neighbouring countries of Malaysia are Thailand and Brunei on the north and Singapore and Indonesia on the south (Fig. 1).

Fig 1

The total area of Malaysia is 328,600 km2 of which Peninsular Malaysia, is 131,600 km2 , Sabah is 73700 km2 and Sarawak is 123,300 km2. Peninsular Malaysia is separated from Sabah and Sarawak by 720 kms.

Topographically, Peninsular Malaysia is characterised by extensive coastal plains in the east and west, hilly and mountainous region with steep slopes in the central and undulating terrain in other parts of the peninsular. Sabah is characterised by the western lowlands, the Crocker Range, the central uplands and the eastern lowlands whereas Sarawak is characterised by a seaward fringe of peat swamps beyond which the terrain is sharply and frequently dissected with ridges often knife edged.

The climate of Malaysia is typical of the humid tropics and is characterised by year-round high temperature and seasonal heavy rain. Temperature ranges from 260 C to 320 C and rainfall ranges from 2000 mm to 4000 mm per annum. The climate of Sabah is characterised as marine equatorial. The rainfall is very high due to the influence of both north-east monsoon and the south-west monsoon.

2.2 Present Land Cover

Malaysia has been endowed with vast amount of natural resources including luxuriant tropical forest which is one of the most diverse and complex ecosystems of the world. Forest resources have been one of the major sources of revenue in the Malaysian economy, however it is decreasing every year.

Different types of forests can be found in the Peninsular, Sabah and Sarawak. From the management perspective, forests of Peninsular Malaysia can be classified into dipterocarp, peat swamp and mangrove forests. Among which approximately 95% is covered by dipterocarp forests, 3.34% by peat swamps and 1.84% by mangrove forests. In Sabah, there is a gradual succession of forest vegetation from the coastal beach forests and mangrove forests to lowland dipterocarp forest and eventually Montane forests. In Sarawak, five types of natural forest types are abundant namely: Hill Mixed Dipterocarp Forest, Peat Swamp Forest, Mangrove Forest, Kerangas Forest (Heat Forest) and Montane Forest. Depending on the altitude, soil conditions and water regime, Dipterocarp Forest is found in the interior, upriver areas extending up to the upper limit of 1,500 m. Montane Forests is found above this altitude. Peat Swamp Forests are found in the low-lying coastal plains. Mangrove Forest is found in tidal and esturine stretches extending from mud flats to where the saline waters end. Kerangas forest on the other hand, occurs on poor, and sandy terrain.

Brief description of the ecological characteristics of major forest types of Malaysia is presented below.

Dipterocarp Forests:

The name itself implies that the family of Dipterocarpaceae is dominant species in this forest. Dipterocarpaceae is one of the major timber species in Malaysia and in South-East Asia. The most common tree species found in this forests include; Anisoptera, Dipterocarpus, Dryobalanops, Hopea, Shorea and Parashorea, etc. Peat Swamp: Peat Swamp forests occur just beyond the coastline on both east and west coasts of Peninsular Malaysia. Major timber species found in this forest include; Gonystylus bancanus, Durio Carinatus, Shorea platycarpa, Shorea teysmaniana and Shorea uliginosa, etc. Mangrove Forests: Mangrove forests occur in muddy shores, lagoons and estuaries of tidal rivers. The most common tree species are Rhizophora, Avicennia, Bruguiera, Sonneratia, Xylocarpus and Nypa species.

Some other types of forests such as beach forests and freshwater swamps are also found. The dominant species in beach forests are Casuarina equisetifolia.

Factors responsible for forest degradation in Malaysia are shifting cultivation, commercial logging and forest encroachment. Rubber and oil palm are emerging as new sources of timber in Malaysia at least for domestic consumption.