Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum

Primary Forest

Photo credit: Wang Luan Keng


Primeval Singapore was made up mostly of lowland tropical rainforest. However, Singapore has undergone so much transformation to its terrestrial landscape since 1819 that today, only about 200 ha of primary dryland forest are found in patches in the Central Catchment Nature Reserve (CCNR) and adjacent Bukit Timah Nature Reserve (BTNR), where the largest remnant of primary forest is.

Primary forests in Singapore are characterised by the presence multiple layers that give the forests their structural complexity. There is a more or less continuous layer of tall trees that form the main canopy. However, above the main canopy there is an uneven emergent layer due to growth of giant trees, mainly dominated by dipterocarps such as trees of the genera Shorea, Dipterocarpus, and Anisoptera. Below the main canopy, there is a diffused sub-canopy consisting of smaller trees, followed by an understorey dominated by saplings of big tree species interspersed with other shrubs and treelets. The bottom layer consists of seedlings and a few herbs that form a discontinuous herb layer. Furthermore, other plant forms such as epiphytes, woody and herbaceous climbers give more vertical complexities to a primary forest. The forest is also very dynamic due to forest growth cycles, whereby the forest is a mosaic of mainly mature trees with patches experiencing tree fall and regeneration.

Such dynamics and complex structure of the primary rainforest give rise to microclimates within different small areas, allowing various plant life to co-exist. In BTNR, at least 843 species of vascular plants have been recorded. This number is low relative to other Southeast Asian forests, but high relative to forests out of the tropics. Such plant diversity also supports a great diversity of animals, ranging from insects to large mammals. Unfortunately, Singapore lost 20-50% of its original vertebrate species since 1819.


Primary Forest

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