Defending Paradise

Cenderawasih Significance in Rainforest Ecosystem Stability

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Males Lesser birds-of-paradise are attracting to the female on tree branches.

The landscape and ecosystem of Tanah Papua and Maluku Islands are not only known as being rich and beautiful, but also very varied. The high complexity of Tanah Papua ecosystem makes the flora and fauna in Tanah Papua very diverse and unique. One of the fauna with significant role in Tanah Papua is cenderawasih, the birds-of-paradise, that is closely related to the culture of indigenous people. They also play a major role in maintaining the stability of the rainforest ecosystem in Tanah Papua and Maluku Islands.

Cenderawasih Spread in Various Kinds of Ecosystems

The biodiversity in Tanah Papua and Maluku Islands makes them very special because they create various kinds of ecosystem and habitat ranging from underwater ecosystems, coastal, lowland, plateau, to snow-covered mountains. 

Ed Scholes, an ornithologist of Cornell Lab of Ornithology who has done researches of cenderawasih for the last 20 years, said that the ecosystem and habitat diversity lead to the diversity of bird species including the birds-of-paradise, parrot, and other unique birds, especially on mountain range. Cenderawasih is one kind of bird that does not migrate and fly too far, so it becomes a unique bird in each different island and mountain of Tanah Papua and Maluku Islands.

In Tanah Papua, cenderawasih is found almost in all regions. While in Maluku Islands, cenderawasih can be found in Halmahera, Kasiruta, Bisa, Obi, Rau, and Morotai, in North Maluku Province and Aru Islands, Maluku Province.

“In Papua, cenderawasih can be found in almost all regions, except in Biak Island due to its outspread geographic history which makescenderawasih does not exist in this region. , Cenderawasih can surely be found in the lowland to plateau with dense forest. If we are in a lowland which has dense forest, at least we can find Twelve-Wired Bird-of-Paradise and Lesser Bird-of-Paradise,” Hendra K. Maury, an ecologist from Universitas Cenderawasih, explained to EcoNusa.

In the depth of plateaus and lowlands forests far away  from urban life, some species of bird of paradise can be easilyfound . They are in the north part lowland, such as Nimbokrang to Sarmi and Keroom regions. “At least we can find seven species, like Twelve-Wired Bird-of-Paradise (Seleucidis melanoleucus), Lesser Bird-of-Paradise (Paradisaea minor), King Bird-of-Paradise (Cicinnurus regius), Magnificent Rifflebird (Ptiloris magnificus), and Manucode (Manucodia) with its more uninteresting appearance but still be in the family of Paradisaeidae,” Hendra continued.

Hendra K. Maury, Ecology Expertise University of Cenderawasih.

Cenderawasih Role in Ecosystem

The presence of cenderawasih in the forest signifies a good and healthy condition of the forest. Cenderawasih plays major roles in the ecosystem to make a balanced life  in the forest.

Cenderawasih is an important part of the forest ecosystem in Tanah Papua and Maluku Islands because most cenderawasih are fruit eaters. “Cenderawasih holds an important role in seed spreading. Besides, cenderawasih could control the insects’ population in the forest. Cenderawasih plays their role to fill up the forest realms,” Hendra explained.

Moreover, Scholes added that as fruit eater, cenderawasih kept the ecosystem balanced because they became the medium for growing fruit trees that feed them. 

“Cenderawasih has an important role in the forest ecosystem because they help grow more forest cover when there are dead or fallen trees that cause empty gaps in the forest. Those dead and fallen trees really rely on cenderawasih and other fruit eater birds in keeping and spreading seeds from fruit that they have eaten, so that the trees could grow and thrive,” said Scholes to EcoNusa.

He also emphasized, without the presence of cenderawasih and other fruit eater birds that live in the forest, the forest would lose its health and the presence of important elements that created the forest cover density. Thus, the forest would be potentially gone along with the birds. Contrarily, when the forest is disturbed or destroyed, cenderawasih will not survive.

“Cenderawasih are forest birds, sothey cannot leave the forest. Without forest, there will be no cenderawasih. Our support is needed to maintain the forest as these birds’ habitat,” Tim Laman added, a wildlife photographer and videographer conducted research and documented cenderawasih with Scholes.

Threat from Land Use Change

Cenderawasih life depends fully on the forest, from looking for food, looking for mates, breeding, building nests, to nurturing their kid. So, the relationship between the forest and cenderawasih is a symbiosis mutualism which is inseparable. 

“Based on my experience in the forest, cenderawasih does not really need too dense forest or primary forest. In the secondary forest many species of cenderawasih are found. But there are some conditions, the forest must not be destroyed or disturbed,” said Hendra. 

Rainforest in Fakfak, West Papua are converting into palm oil plantation.

It might be considered that the lowlands of Tanah Papua and Maluku Islands are vulnerable areas for deforestation which could potentially eliminate cenderawasih population. These areas are susceptible for land use change into for palm oil plantation, farming, housing, and infrastructure.

“The easiest example is in the lowlands around Jayapura in Koya region. There used to be a dense lowland forest with cenderawasih. However, when there were land use changes, influx of transmigration with many activities done there, a large number of cenderawasih vanished and no more cenderawasih could be found in that region,” Hendra said. 

Editor: Leo Wahyudi

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