XTBG Field Botany Course

Why take a course on the flora of Southeast Asia?

Southeast Asia is one of the hottest hotspots of global biodiversity. There are over 40,000 vascular plant species, with a species density ten times that of the European flora, and the region is home to many well known and economically important plant taxa, such as rice, rattan, bananas, rambutan, nutmeg, meranti and yam. Being able to recognize plants is an essential skill for many aspects of ecology and conservation biology, but is problematic when the species diversity is so high, only a few plants are flowering at any one time, and regional floras are incomplete.

This course will arm students with an ability to identify plants in the field, thereby enhancing the quality of observations they may make in the course of their research. It is a course for non-plant taxonomy majors. Everyday we will collect plant material from the field and learn the field characters for identifying them. We will be dealing mainly with sterile material and sterile characters. This is deliberate since this is how plants are most often encountered. In the afternoons, we will review the day’s collecting, look at herbarium material, and arrange our observations within a systematic framework. In addition, we will have a series of lectures relating to the field study of plants, on topics ranging from DNA-barcoding to plant ecophysiology. The course also benefits from its location: XTBG has a phylogenetically diverse ex-situ collection of over 12000 plant species, including many thematic collections, a herbarium with over 100000 specimens focused on tropical China and Indo-China, and research laboratories studying plant genomics, plant resources, plant geography, plant-animal co-evolution, ecology and conservation.

This course is targeted at senior undergraduate and postgraduate students interested in the botanical wealth of Southeast Asia. Participants will learn how to make good quality plant collections, how to describe field characters, and how to recognize the important plant families and genera. By the end of the course, participants will have learned to identify over 90% of the individuals in a forest to Family or Genus level. No prior knowledge of botany or biology is assumed, and at the beginning of the course all the necessary botanical terms will be explained. The course is also, therefore, appropriate for anthropologists, environmental scientists, or conservation practitioners, as well as biologists, who wish to improve their ability to recognize plants.

Course structure

The participants will learn to recognise c. 50 economically and ecologically important plant families with the help of generative (flower and fruit) and vegetative (leaf and bark) characters, with the emphasis on the latter. Generally, three to four plant families, and three to four genera per family, will be treated per day.

During the mornings plant material will be collected in the field and their characters will be discussed on the spot. In the afternoon this plant material will be available for making more detailed notes, sketching, and pictures. An important aspect of the course is that we will score several characters of the plants each day to produce a large matrix of diagnostic characters. This will eventually be used to produce a key to all treated plant families and genera. Lectures on all aspects of plant sciences will be given each day so that the students will gain a good insight into the current research areas of the field. There will be field trips to see different forest types so that the students will learn to appreciate the variability in vegetation structure and composition. We will also establish a plot and do a complete inventory of the plants as a practice exercise.

The course ends with a examination, where the students have to recognize 30 plants and explain the characters that they used to come to their identification. Participants will be awarded certificates with their grades indicated.

The course is taught by Dr Ferry Slik (Professor of Plant Geography, XTBG) and Dr Jim LaFrankie (Professor, University of the Philippines and leader of the Flora of the Philippines project), two renowned botanists of the tropical Asian flora. Ferry has many years experience in the region and has taught similar courses for Leiden Herbarium in the past. He is an expert on regional plant distribution patterns. Jim has over 25 years experience in the region and has probably identified more trees in the field than anyone. He was formerly chief botanist working on the large-scale CTFS plots in the Asian region, including Pasoh (P. Malaysia), Lambir (Sarawak), Hua Kha Kheng (central Thailand), Palanan (Philippines), and Bukit Timah (Singapore). He is author of the authoritative guidebook to the trees of the region – “Trees of Tropical Asia”, a bible for plant enthusiasts. Other guest lecturers from XTBG and elsewhere will teach components on their focal taxa or subjects.

 Schedule


Week 1 Week 2 Week 3 Week 4
Monday
8 April 15 April 22 April
Morning
9:00 Visit Limestone forest 9:00 Family search in the garden 9:00 Examination
session

Euphorbiaceae (I) 11:00 End examination



Euphorbiaceae (II) 11:00 Certificates & drinks



Euphorbiaceae (III)










Midday
13:00 Self study 13:00 Plant physiology
session

13:45 Repetition



14:00 Practical and data matrix





Tuesday
9 April 16 April
Morning
9:00 Family search in the garden Whole day Mengla trip
session
Sapotaceae



Meliaceae



Elaeocarpaceae











Midday
13:00 Pollen / vegetation reconst.

session
13:45 Repetition



14:00 Practical and data matrix






Wednesday
10 April 17 April
Morning
9:00 Family search in the garden 9:00 Family search in the garden
session
Icacinaceae Symplocaceae


Ebenaceae Magnoliaceae


Theaceae Primulaceae


Palmae






Midday
13:00 Invasive plants 13:00 Forest fires
session
13:45 Repetition 13:45 Repetition


14:00 Practical and data matrix 14:00 Practical and data matrix





Thursday 4 April 11 April 18 April
Morning 9:00 Welcome and course intro 9:00 Family search in the garden 9:00 Family search in the garden
session 9:15 Taxonomy Malvaceae (Stercul) Asteraceae

10:00 coffee break Malvaceae (Tilia) Leguminosae (Mimo)

10:15 Taxonomy Malvaceae (Bomb) Leguminosae (Caes)



Leguminosae (Papi)





Midday 13:00 Student introductions 13:00 Biogeography 13:00 Molecular techniques
session 15.15 Tropical vegetations 13:45 Repetition 13:45 Repetition


14:00 Practical and data matrix 14:00 Practical and data matrix





Friday 5 April 12 April 19 April
Morning 9:00 Family search in the garden 9:00 Visit km55 forest 9:00 Family search in the garden
session Dipterocarpaceae
Combretaceae

Guttiferae s.l.
Melastomataceae

Lythraceae
Rosaceae

Lamiaceae
Apocynaceae





Midday 13:00 Biodiversity assessment 13:00 Self study 13:00 bio fuels
session 13.45 Practical and data matrix
13:45 Repetition



14:00 Practical and data matrix





Saturday 6 April 13 April 20 April
Morning 9:00 Family search in the garden 9:00 Family search in the garden 9:00 Plot study
session Fagaceae Anacardiaceae


Annonaceae Lecythidaceae


Lauraceae Rubiaceae


Myrtaceae







Midday 13:00 Etnobotany 13:00 Plant-Animal interactions 13:00 Plant identification
session 13.45 Repetition 13:45 Repetition


14.00 Practical and data matrix 14:00 Practical and data matrix






Sunday 7 April 14 April 21 April
Morning 9:00 Family search in the garden 9:00 Family search in the garden 9:00 Make a master key
session Moraceae Araliaceae


Sapindaceae Burseraceae


Myristicaceae Bignoniaceae



Podocarpaceae






Midday 13:00 Wood anatomy / rings 13:00 Plant phenology 13:00 Self study
session 13.45 Practical and data matrix 13:45 Repetition



14:00 Practical and data matrix