Botany expert gives talk as part of Curtin Sarawak’s Ecotourism Lecture Series

Wilson giving his talk.

Miri – 19 October 2012 – Gary Wilson of the Australian Tropical Herbarium and School of Marine and Tropical Biology, James Cook University, Australia, recently gave a talk entitled ‘Carnivorous Plants, Crocodiles and Jungle Journeys: A Botanist’s Trials and Tribulations Studying Pitcher Plants’ to staff of Curtin University, Sarawak Malaysia (Curtin Sarawak).

The talk was organised by Curtin Sarawak’s School of Business as part of its new Ecotourism Lecture Series. The lectures are aimed at heightening public awareness of ecotourism, highlighting the special attributes of Sarawak in the eyes of tourists and emphasising ecotourism’s contributions to the local and regional economy.

Wilson, a field botanist and a nature photographer with almost 50 years of experience in the field of botany research, shared his adventures studying and photographing carnivorous pitcher plants (Nepenthes) in the Asia-Pacific region.

He spoke on the ecology, evolution and biogeography of Nepenthes as well as his research involving the gathering of information for the overall conservation and management of the exciting group of plants.

According to Dr. Lisa Marie King, a senior research fellow of Curtin Sarawak Research Institute (CSRI) at the Curtin Sarawak campus, Wilson’s talk stressed the importance of being able to see these plants in the wild as they play an important role in the ecotourism industry in Borneo, especially in Sarawak.

“A large number of people are travelling to Borneo to see exotic plants such as the pitcher plants and many others species that are only found here. These plants provide ongoing economic opportunities for the locals where they can earn money from visitors wanting to view these plants in their natural habitat,” said Dr. King.

Meanwhile, Wilson related that besides having an intriguing physical appearance, the role reversal of pitcher plants eating animals is fascinating.

Nepenthes pitcher plants are traditionally associated with capturing small prey, usually insects, as a source of energy while some species have adopted novel alternatives to this strategy. Nepenthes ampullaria, for example, which is common in the forest in Sarawak, has moved to capturing leaf litter falling from the tree canopy as its food source.

Nepenthes mirabilis, Babinda,

According to Wilson, spreading the word about the need for conserving pitcher plants is important as they play a key role in tropical environments.

“We are learning that they have tremendous potential as model organisms in the observation and modeling of evolutionary processes. They also have a wide variety of symbiotic relationships with other animals such as frogs, insects and even shrews. Speaking in evolutionary terms, pitcher plants are quite clever,” he said.

Wilson pursued field botany after he was inspired by his teacher in Grade 3 as well as books and TV documentaries by Gerald Durrell and Sir David Attenborough. He has published 10 refereed papers, a few book chapters and many popular articles, as well as travelled to various countries for research purposes including Malaysia, Chile, Costa Rica, the United States, Mexico, New Guinea, New Zealand, Vietnam and Singapore.

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