We are conducting an expedition to study the land and marine fauna of Timor Leste.

forest habitat

Forest habitat on Mt. Laritame, Timor-Leste Photographer: Vince Kessner © Vince Kessner

Image: Vince Kessner
© Vince Kessner

This multi-stage expedition is one of the largest surveys undertaken by the Australian Museum in the last 100 years. Work with the samples collected will continue for the next one to three years and will form the basis for conservation planning and the design of a Protected Area Network.

We spoke to Dr Frank Koehler, a Research Scientist working on our Malacology collection, about the expedition.

What is the Timor-Leste Expedition and how did it come about?

Museums like ours strive to document patterns of biodiversity on earth and to understand the mechanisms and processes that influence these patterns. Biologicial surveys, expeditions and collecting trips are an important means of exploration and discovery.

We are conducting the first comprehensive and combined survey of marine and terrestrial habitats in Timor-Leste. The information we provide about the species of animals present in Timor-Leste will be crucial for the development of a Protected Area Network.

We wanted to conduct an expedition that would involve researchers from a number of different research fields and parts of the Museum. In addition we hoped to work with students and researchers in Timor-Leste to increase biodiversity knowledge of the area.

What is the purpose of this expedition?

We’re aiming to document and analyse distribution patterns for various animal groups. The combined analysis of biodiversity and environmental data assists with conservation planning and helps to highlight areas for protection and management as well as allowing us to estimate biodiversity losses from past and predicted impacts on the environment.

In order to achieve this, we collect specimens at selected survey sites using a variety of techniques from hand collecting, beating, sweeping to the use of traps. The collected samples are taken back to the Museum where we identify all species and record where it was collected. These specimens and the information about where they were collected will help us to understand how and why biodiversity varies across different environments in Timor-Leste.

Why Timor-Leste?

The island of Timor (comprising Timor-Leste and West-Timor) is located within the Indo-Malay archipelago, a group of islands between Papua New Guinea and mainland Southeast Asia. It is one of the biologically most diverse and complex regions in the world. Timor is the second largest island in a group within this archipelago known as Wallacea which is the transitional zone between the Australian and Southeast Asian regions. By studying Timor’s animal life we hope to gain a better understanding of this interface between Asia and Australia.

What is the timeline for the expedition?

We have been preparing for this expedition for over a year. In November 2011 some of our researchers conducted a scouting trip and identified specific areas for us to take specimens and spoke with relevant authorities and partners.
A first expedition group returned to Timor to conduct the terrestrial portion of the survey in May 2012. The marine survey is about to take place in September 2012.

Once the specimens are received back at the Australian Museum sorting, identifying and analysing all samples will take up to a year. Work on the samples will continue for up to three years.

Who funded this expedition and why?

The expedition is funded through the generous donation of an anonymous donor. The donation was made to the Australian Museum Foundation for the purpose of conducting an expedition. Knowledge of biodiversity in Timor-Leste will provide the basis for conservation planning and will inform the design of protected areas on Timor-Leste and how these will be linked with existing protected areas.

Please look out for further posts, photos, videos and information relating to this expedition!

Timor-Leste Expedition home