23 January 2020

Indonesia: A treasure trove of biodiversity

From coral reefs to active volcanoes, Indonesia’s rich landscapes are home to a huge number of diverse species.

By Grace Brewer

Mount Jaya in Indonesian New Guinea

Indonesia’s natural riches

Indonesia, with over 17,500 islands, is one of the largest archipelagos in the world which boasts rich biodiversity.                                                     

With habitats ranging from coral reefs to glaciers, Indonesia is home to around 6% of the world’s flowering plants (over 25,000 plant species), many of which can’t be found anywhere else in the world.

Earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, and sea level changes have shaped Indonesia’s dynamic and rich landscape where so many new species remain to be discovered.

Forests in Indonesian New Guinea
Forests in Indonesian New Guinea, William Baker © RBG Kew
Javan volcanoes
Javan volcanoes © Brigitte Werner

Ground-breaking scientific discoveries

Indonesia inspired revolutionary discoveries in the world of evolutionary science.

Whilst exploring the Indonesian archipelago, Alfred Wallace developed his theory of evolution at the same time Charles Darwin was formulating his own ideas. 

Wallace noticed a sharp divide in the distribution of animals in the Indonesian archipelago.

Wallace line
The original drawing of the Wallace Line; the division between Asian and Australasian animals and plants.

On the western side of the divide are Asian animals such as orangutans (Pongo spp.) and tigers (Panthera tigris sondaica).

Whilst Australasian animals such as marsupials and white cockatoos (Cacatua alba) live on the eastern side of the divide.

This division became known as the Wallace Line; the boundary between the Asian and Australasian ecozones.

Sumatran tiger (Panthera tigris sondaica)
Sumatran tiger (Panthera tigris sondaica) © Bernard Spragg
White cockatoo (Cacatua alba)
White cockatoo (Cacatua alba), DickDaniels © Wikimedia Commons

Fighting the extinction crisis

Indonesia’s rich biodiversity is under threat and its species are at risk of extinction due to illegal trade, rapid human population growth, illegal logging, forest fires and land development.

Climate change is also placing immense pressure on Indonesia’s biodiversity, where a rise in temperature by just 1°C can completely change the functioning and composition of forests.

Here at Kew, we have many projects that are helping to prevent extinction of plant species and biodiversity loss in Indonesia.

Our scientists and Indonesian partners are trying to identify the most important areas in Indonesia for plant diversity. We are exploring remote places to help discover and document species new to science.

Kew scientists and local partners exploring the rainforests of Indonesian New Guinea
Kew scientists and local partners exploring the rainforests of Indonesian New Guinea © RBG Kew

We are also helping to regulate the trade of plants across borders and protect threatened species from being traded illegally.

With the help of Bogor Botanic Gardens in West Java, Kew’s Millennium Seed Bank stores the seeds of many Indonesian plant species for long-term conservation.

This work is vital to protect the amazingly diverse and unique Indonesian plants so that they can continue to be enjoyed by generations to come.

Alsophila tree ferns in Indonesian New Guinea
Tree ferns (Alsophila species) in New Guinea © William J. Baker/RBG Kew
A colourful illustration featuring Indonesia orchids, orangutans, volcanos and other flora.

Visit Kew's orchid festival

The orchid festival is back, celebrating the magnificent biodiversity of Indonesia, the land of 17,000 islands.

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