Board of Foundation, Flora Malesiana > Blogs > Kew Science blog > Kew goes to the Flora Malesiana 10 symposium

Kew goes to the Flora Malesiana 10 symposium

Kew scientists report back after attending a symposium focused on South-East Asian taxonomy, systematics and conservation.

1 August 2016
Blog team: 
Tim Utteridge

Malesian subkingdom: boundaries and regions of the Malesian floral subkingdom (Map: © Encyclopædia Britannica Online).

What is Malesia?

Recently (11–15 July 2016) the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh hosted the 10th Flora Malesiana symposium – an important meeting bringing together scientists working on the taxonomy, systematics and conservation of the plants and habitats of South-East Asia. Malesia is a phytogeographic area that includes all the countries from Malaysia through to Papua New Guinea. A phytogeographic area is determined by the distribution of plant species within the area, and the influence of these plants on the earth's surface. Malesia can be broadly split down the middle by Wallace’s Line into Sunda in the west, with lowland forest dominated by the emblematic Dipterocarpaceae, and the more poorly known Sahul region in the east which includes New Guinea with forests not dominated by a single plant group.

Kali Kopi river, lowland Indonesian New Guinea (Image: T. Utteridge).

Classify, cultivate and conserve

The conference theme was ‘Classify, Cultivate and Conserve’, reflecting the activities taking place at institutions both in and outside the region. The Flora Malesiana (FM) aims to publish a Flora of the region, and many presentations highlighted new research findings helping to classify the massive species diversity found there. The conference also showcased horticulture and conservation activities, from the excellent Ericaceae programme at Edinburgh to the massive expansion of the botanic garden network through Indonesia, and the red-listing work done in Malaysia on the Malaysian Dipterocarpaceae.

Imbak River, lowland dipterocarp forest, Sabah (Image: T. Utteridge).

There were over 180 participants with many delegates from the region. Kew was well represented by 13 staff and HRFs/HRAs (Honorary Research Fellows/Associates)* involved in 16 contributions (including 6 oral presentations and 6 posters presented) covering topics from alpha taxonomy and floristics, to conservation and molecular phylogenetics.

Kew in Malesia

Kew has several ongoing programmes in Malesia, and particularly relevant to the FM project is the soon-to-be published account of the Lamiaceae (tropical mints) which Dr Gemma Bramley coordinated from Kew. Taxonomically, we are also involved in working on several ecologically important and/or species-rich groups such as Orchidaceae, Saurauia (kiwi fruits), Urticaceae (nettles), Gesneriaceae (African violet relatives), Primulaceae, Myrtaceae and Palmae, amongst others.

We have a research focus on the biodiversity and conservation of New Guinea but it became apparent from many of the talks that our understanding of SE Asia is grounded in ecological work undertaken in the western part of the region, in lowland dipterocarp forest. The same patterns may not be applicable to the eastern part of Malesia but currently we have little data to work from.

Kew’s Tropical Important Plant Areas (TIPA) programme will also benefit from taxonomic and ecological data generated from our work in Malesia, as Indonesia New Guinea is one of the named countries in the output.

The Board of the Flora Malesiana Foundation is tasked with steering the project and overseeing activities contributing to the Flora, especially linking botanists to family accounts that have yet to be published. Kew is represented by Timothy Utteridge, and it was decided at this meeting to have some of the activities undertaken at Singapore Botanic Gardens. This gives the Flora Malesiana project even more regional representation (the Chair is held by Indonesia).

Board of Foundation, Flora Malesiana.

(L to R): Leng Guan Saw (FRIM HRF, formerly Director of Biodiversity Division, Malaysia), Peter Wilkie (Chair of FM10 Committee, RBGE), David Middleton (Director/Research and Conservation & Keeper of the Herbarium, Singapore Botanic Gardens), Dedy Darnaedi (LIPI, Indonesia), Daniel Thomas (FM Secretariat, SBG), Maribel Agoo (De La Salle University, Philippines), David Mabberley (Adjunct Professor, Macquarie University Sydney), Joeni Siti Rahajoe (Head of Botany Division, LIPI, Indonesia), Daniele Cicuzza (University of Brunei Darussalam); Eric Smets (Director of Science, Naturalis), Marco Roos (FM Secretariat, Naturalis), Charlie Heatubun (Professor of Forest Botany, Universitas Papua, Indonesia and Kew HRA) and Timothy Utteridge (RBG Kew).

Kew and Singapore are actively working on a range of projects whilst developing new ideas, under the auspices of the recently signed MoU (memorandum of understanding). They are in the final stages of negotiating an MoU with LIPI (Indonesian Academy of Sciences) in Indonesia.

The conference was very successful, with many new links made with key regional stakeholders, and existing relationships were strengthened. Kew staff who attended would like to thank the organisers (particularly Peter Wilkie), as well as the Bentham-Moxon Trust for support towards costs. The meeting is held every three years, and the next meeting will be held in Borneo (Sarawak or Brunei).

- Tim -

Group photograph on the opening day in the RBGE lecture theatre (Image: Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh).

For more details on Flora Malesiana 10 (abstracts etc.) or work in Malesia please feel free to contact Tim Utteridge at or any of the Kew attendees listed below.

*Peter Ashton (HRF), Gemma Bramley, Marie Briggs, Rodrigo Camara Leret, Helen Chadburn, Ruth Clark, Mark Coode (HRF), Eve Lucas, Alison Moore, Siti Munirah (HRA), Lisa Pokorny, Andre Schuiteman, Timothy Utteridge and Brian Yap.