Endemism & Diversity
Kinabalu has a long been known for its biological diversity and high levels of endemism. Kinabalu possesses one of world’s richest orchid floras with more than half (746) of the estimated 1,400 species for Borneo. Another frequently quoted figure is that for the ferns. There are over 600 species on Kinabalu (more than in the whole African continent, which has about 500 species), 50 of which are found nowhere else.

Today Kinabalu is studied more than other mountain in Borneo, so some species that are presently though to be endemic to the mountain may yet be found elsewhere as other Borneo mountains are exploded further.

Why should the mountain have developed such an incredible array of plant life? The answers lie in its distant past as well as in its more recent evolution. First and foremost, Kinabalu is situated in the one of the richest plant regions of the world, covering a wide climatic range from near sea level to freezing ground conditions below the summit. The jagged terrain and the diversity of rocks and soils have combined with the instability caused by periods of glaciations, and other catastrophic events such El Nino droughts, to produce ideal conditions for evolution and speciation to take place. Evolution is driven by change. Because they are immobile, plants cannot escape changing conditions as easily as animals so they must adapt or die, and in adapting have evolved many endemic species.

The diversity is greatest in the lowland forests, but most of Kinabalu’s endemics are found in the mountain forests, particularly on ultramafic soils. Kinabalu is the richest place in the world for the tropical pitcher plants Nepenthes. Ten out of the approximately 36 species in Borneo are found on this single mountain, where they reach an unparalleled level of spectacular elegance. Five, restricted to the ultramafic soils, are found nowhere else.

Periods of small scale extinction have also occurred in cases where plants have been limited to restricted areas, particularly after castastrophic events. Some studies have recorded about 22% local extinction within 10 years and observations after the most recent 1998 El Nino drought suggest that as many as 50% of the epiphytes were killed off on certain parts of the mountain. On the other hand many animals can move away from adverse conditions and endemism is much less, at least among the larger animals. Nevertheless some groups, particularly among the insects, have developed a remarkable degree of diversity.

Of the more than 900 butterflies known from Borneo, over 600 (two-thirds) are found in the Kinabalu Park, making it a hotspot of butterfly diversity not only in Borneo but in the whole of South-east Asia. Butterflies are mainly creatures of the lowlands, however, and while diversity is high, endemism is low.

Moths are even more diverse than the butterflies, with well over 1,000 species on Kinabalu (more than 3,400 are estimated for the whole of Borneo). In contrast to the butterflies, moths increase in both numbers and diversity higher up the mountain, and many species are endemic. Around 2,000 metres (6,500 feet) on the Kinabalu, endemism reaches about 50%. Above this height, the level of diversity drops and only four species are recorded about 3,000 metres (10,000 feet).

Mammals and birds which can move easily over large areas and are most common in lowland habitats are less likely to develop endemism. Though several bird species were once though to be endemic to Kinabalu, it is now known that they all also occur on Sabah’s other two highest mountains, Tamboyukon and Trus Madi.

Of the mammals, only two, the Black Shrew (Suncus ater) and the Kinabalu Shrew (Crocidura baluensis) are endemic to the mountain. However, the Black Shrew is known form only a single specimen, collected at 1,700 metres (5,600 feet), and the Kinabalu Shrew was, until very recently, regarded only as a form of the very wide spread South-east Asian White-toothed Shrew (Crocidura fuliginosa). The opposite situation prevails regarding the Kinabalu Ferret-badge (Melogale personata eretti) which was thought to be endemic to Kinabalu and nearby Gunung Tamboyukon. This animal is now recognized as only a sub-species of the ferret-badger that occurs widely across South-east sway at the time. Similarly, the well-known Kinabalu Rat that occurs around the mountain huts at Laban Rata and has been recorded as high as 3,100 metres (10,200 feet), was once though to be endemic, but is now regarded only as a high altitude form of the common lowland Long-tailed Giant Rat (Leopoldamys sabanus).

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