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Wet Tropics: Southeast Asia

Researching, exploring and understanding the plants and fungi of Southeast Asia and the Pacific, through a multi-disciplinary and collaborative approach with local stakeholders and counterparts.

The Southeast Asia science team has projects from Indo-China through Malesia, and undertakes these with long-term collaborations with most botanical institutes and many universities within the region.

The SE Asia science team is based around the core of the Southeast Asia and Pacific Regional Team in the Herbarium, Library, Art and Archives, but includes many team members from throughout Kew, including several systematic team members running high profile taxonomic projects in the region, as well as several HRAs in the Herbarium working on taxonomic projects. The SE Asia and Pacific Regional Team curates a large amount of specimens in the Herbarium, and names incoming material (up to 3000 specimens a year), so that new determinations are sent back to host institutes thus nurturing and developing collaborative links.

The SE Asia Science Team has been instrumental in developing and maintaining collaboration in the region in the form of training, repatriation of data from herbarium specimens, naming of material, provision of historic literature, specialist taxonomic accounts and assistance in sourcing and securing external funding for collaborative projects. The Science Team has been successful in securing and participating in several Darwin Initiative grants including Papua Plant Diversity, Trees of Southern Thailand, Reforestation of Lowland Forest in Sumatra, and Biodiversity of Sustainable Forest in East Sabah.

Collaborative fieldwork has been regularly conducted, including trips to Vietnam, Papua New Guinea, Malaysia (Sabah and Sarawak), Thailand, Indonesia (Papua, Sumatra and Timor). Recently, the Science Team has undertaken a more focused fieldwork and research programme to understand and explore the tropical island of New Guinea, building on the successful Vogelkop and Mt Jaya projects (checklist published in 2006).

Kew is perceived as being a major player in the provision of baseline taxonomic and conservation data, and the SE Asia team has played an active role in nurturing botanical networks and scientists in-country. Training programmes have included: plant identification courses held in-country (Thailand, Malaysia, Bali), plant collecting and herbarium technique courses (Papua, Timor and Sumatra), as well as hosting young scientists from the region at Kew (for example, Charlie Heatubun from Indonesia, Avelinah Julius from Malaysia and Oliver Paul from Papua New Guinea).

Systematic research in the past has focused mainly on several dicotyledon groups (eg Elaeocarpaceae, Menispermaceae, Nepenthes, Loranthaceae, Aquifoliaceae, Antidesma, Austrobuxus). Currently, research is ongoing in many groups especially the monocotyledons (aroids, bamboos, orchids, palms, sedges, yams - see Grasses of Thailand and Palms of New Guinea projects), and many dicot groups including the Primulaceae (Myrsinoideae), Labiatae (including Verbenaceae), and Urticaceae, Actinidiaceae, and Icacinaceae s.l.

Other research focuses on the provision of user-friendly identification guides either in electronic or book form, and training courses both in the region and at Kew. Field guides to be published as books will include Plants of East Sabah, Palms of New Guinea, Trees of Southern Thailand and an identification guide to commonly encountered tropical plant families. In addition to hard-copy resources, online products are being developed, such as PalmWeb, and the successful Interactive Key to the Malesian Seed Plants published on the web and in CD-ROM format, will be enlarged to include Thailand and Indo-China.