Up in the Clouds: Is Sustainable Use of Tropical Montane Cloud Forests Possible in Malaysia?
Author(s): Kelvin S.-H. Peh, Malcolm C. K. Soh, Navjot S. Sodhi, William F. Laurance, Dylan
Jefri Ong, Reuben Clements
Vol. 61, No. 1 (January 2011), pp. 27-38
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www.biosciencemag.org January 2011 / Vol. 61 No. 1 • BioScience 27
Up in the Clouds: Is Sustainable Use
of Tropical Montane Cloud Forests
Possible in Malaysia?
KELVIN S.-H. PEH, MALCOLM C. K. SOH, NAVJOT S. SODHI, WILLIAM F. LAURANCE, DYLAN JEFRI ONG, AND
Perched atop misty mountains, tropical montane cloud forests are one of Earth’s most imperiled and neglected ecosystems. More than half of these
forests occur in Southeast Asia; those in Malaysia are considered some of the best studied in the region. Malaysia has numerous mountains that are
exceptionally rich in biodiversity and sustain numerous locally endemic species, but they are also threatened by expanding forestry, agriculture,
infrastructure, and global warming. Malaysia serves as an excellent case study to illustrate the issues and challenges associated with tropical cloud
forest conservation. We critically assess the current status of Malaysia’s cloud forests—focusing on their biological uniqueness and prospects for
long-term survival—and propose conservation strategies for agricultural, forestry, tourism, and policy sectors to help conserve these endangered
ecosystems. It is our hope that decisionmakers around the region can use our review to evaluate and improve their national strategies related to
cloud forest conservation.
Keywords: agriculture, biodiversity, commercial forestry, roads, Southeast Asia tourism
(table 1). Cloud forests in the region are being destroyed at
alarming rates—23% faster than their lowland counterparts
(from 1981 to 1990; Waggener and Lane 1997). Moreover, in
relative terms, it appears that the countries with the greatest
amount of cloud forest are losing it most quickly (table 1).
To date, most research on threats to cloud forests has
focused on the Neotropics, with relatively little work done in
Southeast Asia. In fact, the number of threatened montane
mammals and birds in this region is likely to be underesti-
mated (Brook et al. 1999). With this in mind, we review the
state of Malaysia’s cloud forests, which are arguably some of
the best documented in the region. Apart from describing
their local distribution, physiognomy, protection status, bio-
logical and ecological importance, and threats to them, we
also propose several strategies to promote the sustainability
of cloud forests in Malaysia. Relevant components of these
strategies could also be adopted by other Southeast Asian
countries whose cloud forests share similarities in ecology
and challenges associated with their use in a sustainable
Distribution, physiognomy, and protection status
The nation of Malaysia has two distinct parts: (1) Peninsu-
lar Malaysia, spanning 11 states southward from near the
Isthmus of Kra to the Johor Straits, with the Titiwangsa
Mountain Range forming a spine along the Peninsula; and
(2) East Malaysia, encompassing two states—Sarawak and
Sabah—in the north and northwestern parts of Borneo,
Southeast Asia’s ecosystems and biodiversity are gravely
imperiled (Sodhi et al. 2010), and the fate of the
region’s tropical montane cloud forests (hereafter, “cloud
forests”) is particularly uncertain. Although cloud forests are
one of the world’s most threatened ecosystems (Bubb et al.
2004), especially given current prospects for global warming,
they attract little research. Over the past two decades, for
example, studies of cloud forests have contributed just 5% of
biodiversity research in Southeast Asia, compared with 74%
for lowland forests (ﬁgure 1).
A clear demarcation of tropical montane cloud forests
is difﬁcult, as their altitudinal range depends on prevail-
ing local climatic conditions (Bruijnzeel et al. 1993). For
example, cloud forests generally occur at altitudes of 1200
meters (m) on coastal and isolated ridges or on mountain
summits where gnarled tree forms are dominant and cloud
formation is frequent. However, cloud forests can also occur
between 2000 and 3000 m on large inland mountains, and
as low as 500 m above sea level on small islands (Bruijnzeel
et al. 1993). Cloud forests are therefore deﬁned in this review
as “forests that are predominantly covered in cloud or mist,”
where the inﬂuence of temperature and humidity is signiﬁ-
cant (Bruijnzeel 2000).
Southeast Asia’s cloud forests account for more than half
of these forests globally, an area totaling some 32 million
hectares (ha) (table 1; Sodhi and Brook 2006). Indonesia
has the most cloud forest in Southeast Asia, at 19.5 million
ha, followed by Myanmar (Burma), with 4.3 million ha
BioScience 61: 27–38. ISSN 0006-3568, electronic ISSN 1525-3244. © 2011 by American Institute of Biological Sciences. All rights reserved. Request permis-
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28 BioScience • January 2011 / Vol. 61 No. 1 www.biosciencemag.org
with mountains rising sharply in the interior to the border
of Kalimantan, Indonesia (ﬁgure 2). Numerous mountains
and mountain chains occur in Malaysia; about 7% of the
total land area is above 900 m elevation (Economic Planning
In comparison with lowland tropical rainforests, cloud
forests generally have shorter trees, a higher stem density,
gnarled and twisted trunks and branches, dense and com-
pact crowns, and tough sclerophyllic leaves of frequently
smaller sizes (Whitmore 1975). On Malaysian mountains,
the vegetation in the lower montane zone (900 to 1200 m
elevation in coastal or isolated mountains; 1200 to 1800 m
in Mount Kinabalu, Sabah) is generally 25 to 30 m tall, with
trees dominated by the families Fagaceae and Lauraceae
(Kitayama 1992, Perumal and Lo 1998). In the upper mon-
tane zone (above 1200 m elevation in Peninsular Malaysian
mountains; above 1800 m in Mount Kinabalu), trees are
stunted, just 10 to 20 m tall, and are largely conﬁned to
members of the Coniferae, Ericaceae, and Myrtaceae fami-
lies (Perumal and Lo 1998). Above the tree line, in the alpine
zone that occurs only on Mount Kinabalu in Malaysia, cloud
forest shrubs are less than 10 m tall (see Kumaran et al. 2010
for a comprehensive vegetation description). Cloud forests
in Malaysia mostly occur on nutrient-poor soils contain-
ing little nitrogen or phosphorus (Roman et al. 2010) and
derived from weathered igneous or sedimentary rocks
(Proctor 1988, Kitayama 1992).
The cloud forests of Malaysia originally spanned some
2.7 million ha, but today around 23% have been lost
or degraded (Sodhi and Brook 2006). Only about 9%
(216,300 ha) of the present cloud forests are protected
either as national parks or wildlife reserves (corresponding
to International Union for Conservation of Nature [IUCN]
management categories I–IV; Iremonger et al. 1997). Some
of these are sites of global importance (ﬁgure 2), including
Gunung Tahan in West Malaysia, Mount Kinabalu National
Park in Sabah (ﬁgure 3a), and Gunung Mulu National Park
in Sarawak (ﬁgure 3b). Additional cloud forests in Malaysia
occur in extractive or multiple-use reserves (IUCN man-
agement categories V and VI) or are proposed as mountain
reserves. If these additional areas are included, Malaysia
currently has 356,300 ha (15%) of cloud forest with
some level of existing or planned protection (Iremonger
et al. 1997). These estimates are still valid despite the data
being more than a decade old because there has been
little expansion of protected areas in Malaysia since the
Figure 1. Percentage of Malaysian (black bars) and Southeast
Asian (gray bars) biodiversity research (a total of 1550 and
6468 papers, respectively) conducted across major terrestrial
and freshwater ecosystems (i.e., montane forests, rivers and
lakes, lowland forests, and other ecosystems) over a 20-year
period (1990–2010). These percentages suggest a paucity of
biological information on tropical cloud montane forests
relative to other ecosystems. Data were obtained from article
searches within Topics in the BIOSIS Previews® database
using hierarchically nested combinations of relevant keywords
and wildcards (available from author RC on request).
Table 1. Tropical montane cloud forest cover and deforestation rates in 10 Southeast Asian countries.
Country Forest cover (thousand hectares) Annual percent deforestation rate 2000–2005
Total Cloud (above 1200 meters) Total forest cover Primary forest cover
Brunei Darussalam 442 7 –0.69 –5.88
Burma 34,419 4324 –1.35 n/a
Cambodia 9335 72 –1.90 –2.59
Indonesia 104,986 19,503 –1.61 –3.05
Lao PDR 12,561 913 –0.45 n/a
Malaysia 19,292 2361 –0.65 n/a
Philippines 5789 898 –1.98 n/a
Thailand 14,762 2771 –0.40 –0.7
Timor-Leste 507 n/a n/a n/a
Vietnam 9819 1533 +2.06 –1.14
Source: FAO Forest Resources Assessment 2005, Sodhi and Brook 2006.
www.biosciencemag.org January 2011 / Vol. 61 No. 1 • BioScience 29
early 1990s, according to the World Database on Pro-
tected Areas 2009 (IUCN-UNEP 2010). The percentage
of protected Malaysian cloud forests is roughly similar to
the level of protection of forest cover in the Indo-Malay
realm (Schmitt et al. 2009). For example, the percentage
of protected Malaysian cloud forests and that of protected
forest cover in the Indo-Malay realm under IUCN manage-
ment categories I–IV are 9% and 10%, respectively; under
IUCN management categories I–VI, these are 15% and
14%, respectively. Considering the importance of cloud
forests and the increasing magnitude of threats to them, it
is likely that current cloud forest protection in Malaysia is
no longer sufﬁcient.
Biological and ecological importance
Cloud forests are impressively biologically diverse. In the
Sunda region, which spans Peninsular Malaysia, Borneo,
Sumatra, Java, and Sulawesi, gamma diversity and species
densities of frogs, birds, and mammals in cloud forests
rival or exceed those of lowland rainforests (Ong 2000).
Endemism is especially high in tropical cloud forests
because the tropics have many thermal specialists that tend
to be elevationally specialized. Species adapted for higher
elevations are therefore isolated from other such popula-
tions, leading to allopatric speciation and the evolution of
local endemism (ﬁgure 4; Rahbek 1997). Such high levels
of endemism have prompted biologists to classify cloud
forests as critical habitats for conservation (Bubb et al.
2004). For instance, 9 of the 22 plant genera endemic to
Peninsular Malaysia completely belong to the montane
provenance on the main range (Wong 1998). In Borneo,
48% (14 species) of all endemic birds are found only
on Mount Kinabalu, as well as 65% (29 species) of the
island’s endemic mammals (Kumaran et al. 2010). Of the
30 recorded Bornean pitcher plants in the genus Nepenthes
(ﬁgure 4b), 23 were recorded in cloud forests, and nearly
Figure 2. Potential distribution of tropical montane cloud forests in Southeast Asia and examples of cloud forests
in Malaysia mentioned in this review, modiﬁed from a map by the United Nations Environment Programme World
Conservation Monitoring Centre, 2004.
30 BioScience • January 2011 / Vol. 61 No. 1 www.biosciencemag.org
every major mountain has its own species (Kumaran et al.
2010). In Borneo, all but 2 of the 30 montane frog species
are locally endemic, and 6 species are endemic to Mount
Kinabalu (Inger and Stuebing 1992). New species are still
being discovered in cloud forests; most new species in
Malaysia have been described from montane regions or
offshore islands (MNRE 2009). In addition to serving as a
haven for endemic species, cloud forests also harbor unique
ecosystems, such as the montane peat swamps of Ulu Padas
in Borneo, which also warrant conservation attention.
The value of cloud forests transcends their biological
uniqueness. In Peninsular Malaysia, for instance, nearly
62,000 indigenous people are scattered across the Titiwangsa
Range (WWF-Malaysia 2002). Cloud forests are also impor-
tant water sources for densely populated lowland areas.
In addition to capturing rainfall, cloud forests strip mois-
ture from passing clouds, which augments groundwater
and maintains stream ﬂows. Cloud stripping can actually
double the amount of effective rainfall in the dry season and
increase total moisture inputs to forests by 10% (Bruijnzeel
et al. 1993). Montane vegetation also protects soils from
erosion and rivers from sedimentation, thereby protecting
the integrity of watersheds (Leong and Chan 2006). Despite
their importance, the hydrological and nutrient-cycling
dynamics of cloud forests in Southeast Asia are still poorly
understood, and more research is clearly needed.
Using the IUCN Red List database (IUCN 2009), we calcu-
lated the proportions of threatened birds, mammals, and
amphibians in Malaysia and compared them with those in
10 other Southeast Asian countries—Burma, Brunei, Cam-
bodia, Laos, Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, Timor-Leste,
Thailand, and Vietnam. Although relatively few montane
bird species were threatened in Malaysia, the numbers
(and proportions) of threatened mammals and amphibians
were among the highest in the region (ﬁgure 5). Below, we
highlight the major threats to Malaysian cloud forests and
Figure 3. Protected and disturbed examples of cloud forests in Malaysia. (a) Peak of Mount Kinabalu, Malaysia’s tallest
mountain (4095 meters [m] above sea level) and a United Nations Educational, Scientiﬁc, and Cultural Organization
World Heritage site; (b) mist-shrouded cloud forests of Gunung Mulu, Sarawak’s second-tallest mountain (2376 m above
sea level), within Gunung Mulu National Park; (c) cloud forests cleared for tea plantations in the Cameron Highlands,
Malaysia’s largest tea-producing region; (d) resorts and residential development have replaced cloud forests in Cameron
Highlands. Photographs: (a) Reuben Clements; (b) Ch’ien C. Lee, and (c and d) Malcolm Soh.
www.biosciencemag.org January 2011 / Vol. 61 No. 1 • BioScience 31
their biodiversity and ecosystem services—threats that are
also likely to jeopardize the future of other cloud forests in
Agricultural expansion. Cloud forests increasingly have
been cleared for intensive agriculture (figure 3c). In
Sabah, for example, forest conversion for agriculture
and horticulture has progressed to the borders of Mount
Kinabalu National Park, and montane forests in Sabah have
been converted to pastures for cattle (Kitayama 1994). In
the Cameron Highlands and Mount Kinabalu (figure 2),
montane forests have been cleared for exotic temperate
agricultural and horticultural crops (at altitudes as high
as 2100 m on Mount Kinabalu; Kitayama 1994). In the
past decade, 22% of the Cameron Highlands has been
converted for such purposes (Lim 2000). The lack of long-
term investment in sustainable agriculture practices can
be attributed in part to the short-term land leases offered
to resident farmers in the form of temporary occupancy
licenses, which have to be renewed annually. Although
the government introduced guidelines to control and
limit hillside development in the Cameron Highlands in
2002, many large-scale farmers eventually relocated to
the nearby Lojing Highlands (figure 2), an area that was
subsequently devastated by further clearing for agriculture
as it was not affected by the guidelines (McIntyre 2007). In
addition to heavy pesticide use, cultivation in such areas
often involves large amounts of commercial fertilizer
(Kitayama 1994) because vegetation on montane soils
frequently has low net primary productivity and slow rates
of decomposition (Bruijnzeel and Veneklaas 1998). Heavy
pesticide and fertilizer use can eventually contaminate
watersheds (Kitayama 1994). Forest conversion to tea
estates on steep slopes also reduces water yield in highland
streams (Doumenge et al. 1995), and land clearance can
cause severe soil erosion (Leong and Chan 2006). In the
Cameron Highlands, for example, clearing for agriculture
had adverse effects on water catchment areas, resulting in
Figure 4. Examples of species endemic to Malaysian cloud forests. (a) The mountain treeshrew (Tupaia montana) feeds
on a variety of insects and plant materials during the day. (b) A tiny bush frog perches inside the pitcher of Nepenthes
hurrelliana, a carnivorous pitcher plant endemic to Sarawak. (c) The Kinabalu giant earthworm (Pheretima darnleiensis)
is a gray-blue-colored annelid that grows up to 70 centimeters and comes out only after a heavy downpour on Mount
Kinabalu. (d) The black-browed barbet (Megalaima oorti) in Peninsular Malaysia may be highly sensitive to cloud forest
disturbances. Photographs: (a–c) Ch’ien C. Lee and (d) Malcolm Soh.
32 BioScience • January 2011 / Vol. 61 No. 1 www.biosciencemag.org
Figure 5. Total number and proportion of International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) threatened cloud forest
species of birds, mammals, and amphibians in 10 Southeast Asian countries. Threatened species include species that are
critically endangered, endangered, vulnerable, and near-threatened according to the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species
(www.iucnredlist.org). Black bars represent Malaysia.
www.biosciencemag.org January 2011 / Vol. 61 No. 1 • BioScience 33
stream diversion, reduced storage capacities of reservoirs,
and excessive accumulation of silt at the Sultan Abu Bakar
hydroelectric dam (Barrow 2006). A threefold increase in
siltation in several lowland rivers has also been recorded
since earthworks in the Lojing Highlands began in the
1990s (McIntyre 2007).
Commercial logging. Commercial selective logging, even at
low intensities (Brook et al. 1999), poses a serious threat
to cloud forests in general. Commercial logging affects
around 1.1% of all cloud forests globally per year, a rate
higher than that for other tropical forests (Bruijnzeel and
Hamilton 2000). The timber industry continues to be a
signiﬁcant contributor to the Malaysian economy. In 2008,
timber and wood products contributed an estimated US
$6.6 billion (Malaysian ringgit [MYR] 22.5 billion) to the
Malaysian economy and 3.3% of the country’s merchandise
exports, and provided employment for around 300,000
people (MOPICO 2009). Although logging has little effect
on forests of the upper montane zone, the lower montane
zone is under immense logging pressure, particularly where
relatively fewer state forest reserves in the lowlands are avail-
able for timber extraction (MOPICO 2009). For instance,
parts of the Lojing Highlands in Peninsular Malaysia have
already been logged indiscriminately since the 1990s (McIn-
tyre 2007). As timber exports from Malaysia are targeted to
increase by 6.4% per annum (MOPICO 2009), the pressure
to extract timber from cloud forests will mount in order to
meet this burgeoning demand.
Although logging operations in Sabah are still mostly
below the montane zone, the potential threat from commer-
cial forestry looms large as new exploitable tree species are
found in the highlands (Kitayama 1994). In fact, logging in
the lowlands of the Crocker Range in Sabah was highlighted
as an impending threat to rare montane herpetofauna
(Das 2006). The expansion of logging roads and modern
extraction techniques will further increase the possibility of
harvesting useful tree species from previously inaccessible
montane regions. The impacts of logging on lower montane
forests are well documented (see Burgess 1971). Even low-
intensity, selective logging that attempts to harvest only 10%
of the stand area ultimately damages 50% to 70% of the
forest area (MSTE 1997). Such extraction methods are likely
to be even more destructive to cloud forests, which often
occur on steep slopes with readily damaged wet organic soil
Infrastructure development. According to Burgess (1971), road
construction is probably “the greatest damaging factor in
hill forest exploitation” in Malaysia. Over the years, roads
have been constructed in Malaysia’s mountainous regions to
improve accessibility for agriculture, settlement, and other
land uses. With the growing economic potential of local
timber and agricultural industries, the demand for better
road networks in cloud forests is set to increase. There are
already 12 existing major roads in the Titiwangsa Range
(about 2 million ha) in Peninsular Malaysia (Davison 1996),
and plans are afoot to widen them or even build additional
roads to handle growing trafﬁc ﬂow (Leong and Chan 2006).
East-west roads cutting across the Titiwangsa Range have
also been proposed in Malaysia’s National Highway Net-
work Development Plan (DTCP 2006). Such road expansion
schemes will be detrimental to the biological and physical
integrity of the cloud forests, given the well-documented
impact of roads on tropical biodiversity (Laurance et al.
2009). For example, roads can fragment habitats of montane
species with restricted elevation ranges and hinder altitudi-
nal movement (see Young 1994). Road construction in cloud
forests also can destabilize slopes and create downslope scars
(MOW 1995, Leong and Chan 2006). Furthermore, erosion
along highland roads can cause potentially catastrophic
landslides (Leong and Chan 2006). More than 150 loca-
tions have been identiﬁed as landslide-prone areas along the
East-West Highway, which cuts across the Titiwangsa Range,
and more than $43 million (MYR 180 million) was allocated
by the government for mitigation work (Davison 1996).
Two of Malaysia’s most dangerous and costly landslides
occurred in the Cameron and Genting highlands, with the
latter resulting in 20 deaths and 22 injured in 1995 (Shaluf
and Ahmadun 2006). In 2008, another massive landslide
rendered a $15-million (MYR 50 million) road linking the
Gap to Fraser’s Hill impassable, and repairs amounted to
an estimated US $6 million (MYR 20 million; MOW 2008).
Apart from roads, the construction of high-voltage electric-
ity pylons and houses on steep slopes may also increase
the probability of landslides in cloud forests (e.g., in the
Cameron Highlands; Chiew 2010).
Tourism development. The worldwide tourism industry cur-
rently generates 9.4% of the global gross domestic product
and employs 220 million people (World Travel and Tourism
Council, www.wttc.org). Tourism trade has been thriving
in many tropical mountainous regions of the world. Data
on the number of tourists in the highlands of Malaysia are
outdated, but even these indicate that 2.3 million tourists
(roughly a ﬁfth of all incoming tourists) visited the high-
lands early in the decade (WWF-Malaysia 2002). In recent
years, overall tourism rates have increased rapidly—Malay-
sia received 23 million visitors last year—so it is likely that
tourism pressure on the highlands has increased concomi-
tantly. Unfortunately, mass tourism developments have led
to localized deforestation. Facilities such as casinos, hotels,
and Malaysia’s largest amusement park have sprung up in
the Genting Highlands (ﬁgure 2), while urban centers in the
Cameron Highlands and Fraser’s Hill have been expanding
to accommodate large numbers of visitors (ﬁgure 3d). Golf
courses in cloud forests have recently emerged as a new form
of recreational land use; turf-grass plantations for the Mesi-
lau Gold resort have replaced cloud forests below the Mesilau
entrance of Mount Kinabalu. The economic viability of such
golf courses in the highlands remains questionable. For
example, the Fraser’s Hill Golf and Country Resort caused
34 BioScience • January 2011 / Vol. 61 No. 1 www.biosciencemag.org
Malaysia (not applicable to East Malaysia). This plan identi-
ﬁed environmentally sensitive areas (including several cloud
forests) where development is forbidden above 1000 m
(except in special management areas) and on slopes with an
incline of more than 25°. However, the declaration of certain
cloud forests as inviolate may be considered unrealistic by
some because it will hamper the country’s economic progress.
Although it will be challenging to achieve sustainable use of
the nation’s cloud forests, we offer several strategies (table 2)
for the following sectors to mitigate threats to cloud forests.
Agriculture sector. Agroforestry may be one of the solutions
to achieve sustainable agriculture in cloud forests. The
integration of forest tree species into existing agricultural
lands and improved animal husbandry can maximize
economic returns with limited land resources. Agrofor-
estry has already been practiced in lowland forests and is
endorsed under Malaysia’s National Agricultural Policy
(MOA 1999), but it is not yet practiced sustainably in the
highlands. Perimeter planting of tall montane forest trees
and thick hedges in plantations might provide suitable
refugia for cloud forest species, and the presence of forest
patches might also facilitate their movement across human-
dominated agricultural landscapes (Vergara et al. 2010).
The maintenance of cloud forest biodiversity, in turn, may
be useful in ensuring the proper functioning and stability
of agroecosystems in montane areas. To prevent massive
soil erosion and runoff on steep slopes, land managers and
farmers must employ practices such as preserving old tree
stumps and root debris, using agricultural waste for mulch-
ing, contour planting, and high-density planting (Barrow
2006). Any government agroforestry program in montane
areas should also enhance farmers’ topographic knowledge,
provide economic incentives for planting soil-conserving
perennial crops, and strictly regulate the frequency and size
of forest clearance (Hashim and Abdul Rahaman 2006). At
the same time, greater effort should be made to regulate
the number of farm operators and their choice of crops so
as to avoid compromising the ecological integrity of mon-
tane landscapes in Malaysia. Ultimately, further research is
needed on integrated farming in cloud forests in order to
identify the best choice of montane forest species, appropri-
ate techniques of planting, and suitable farm designs.
Forestry sector. Although none of the world’s tropical forests
is sustainably managed (ITTO 2000), Malaysia’s emphasis
on sustainable forest management is an encouraging sign
for its cloud forests. Since 2005, Malaysia has adopted the
Malaysian Timber Certiﬁcation Council’s scheme to ensure
that its management practices comply with International
Tropical Timber Organization standards. Under this scheme,
felling in areas within forest reserves at elevations greater
than or equal to 1000 m is prohibited (although this applies
only to states within Peninsular Malaysia). Apart from
enforcing these regulations at these elevations, state forestry
departments should continue to reinforce reduced-impact
large amounts of cloud forest loss, and the resulting siltation
ruined waterfalls popular among tourists—the venture
eventually collapsed because of low visitor numbers. The
ecological impacts of such projects are also signiﬁcant; for
example, the species richness of montane forest-dependent
birds began to decline when more than 20% of the montane
forest canopy cover was cleared, and less than a third of these
species remained when more than 40% of the canopy cover
was lost (Soh et al. 2006).
Other potential threats. In Malaysia, global warming, bio-
logical invasions, and poaching also threaten cloud forest
biodiversity, and these factors may act synergistically with
habitat loss and disturbance (Sodhi et al. 2006). There is
considerable evidence that tropical montane biota is par-
ticularly vulnerable to global warming; elevational dis-
tributions of animals in Malaysia may have already been
altered by this phenomenon (e.g., Peh 2007). Although
long-term studies documenting the impact of global
warming in Malaysian cloud forests are scarce, Leong
(2006) recently showed an increase in annual mean tem-
peratures recorded from one meteorological station in the
Cameron Highlands (at a calibrated rate of 0.7° Celsius
per 100 years) from 1930 to 2003. Understanding the
cause of such warming, however, may be confounded by
urban development in the mountains (Chan et al. 2006).
Other threats such as biological invasions potentially can
cause local extinctions of native species and modify ecosys-
tems in Southeast Asia (Peh 2010). Fortunately, all known
invasive bird species found in the highlands appear conﬁned
to town centers (Soh et al. 2006), suggesting a low threat to
forest ecosystems, for now. Moreover, threats such as poach-
ing for wildlife trade are probably greater in lowland forests
where accessibility is greater as a result of more developed
Can cloud forests be managed sustainably
The potential threats described above include the destruc-
tion of geological features, changes to climate and rainfall
regimes, deterioration of water quality and quantity, soil
erosion and stream siltation, and the loss of forest cover and
biodiversity. Ultimately, economic development, tourism,
agriculture, water supply, and power generation all depend,
in part, on natural ecosystem services from cloud forests.
Are such uses sustainable? The concept of sustainability has
been deﬁned as the ability for a resource to meet human
needs today and in the future (Fricker 1998); deﬁned less
anthropocentrically, it means the ability to meet human
needs without compromising the health of ecosystems
(Callicott and Mumford 1997). Such sustainability goals will
require serious changes in politics, technology, and society
(Lee 2001). An example of the type of bold policy needed
is Malaysia’s National Physical Plan (DTCP 2006), which is
a statement of strategic policies on physical development
and conservation at state and federal levels in Peninsular
www.biosciencemag.org January 2011 / Vol. 61 No. 1 • BioScience 35
allowed in sensitive cloud forest watershed lands. Lobbying
efforts by nongovernment organizations (NGOs) resulted
in the Malaysian government shelving a proposal to build
three roads through cloud forests, including a 200-kilometer
highlands resort road linking the Cameron Highlands, Fraser’s
Hill, and the Genting Highlands. If roads near cloud forests
must be constructed, relevant bioengineering erosion-control
techniques should be adopted (e.g., Leong and Chan 2006),
and extreme gradients should be avoided to prevent massive
soil depletion (MOW 1995). Researchers must evaluate the
effects of roads on montane animal movement and plant
dispersal, as well as potential fragmentation and edge effects.
Following road construction in cloud forests, stricter regula-
tions and monitoring are needed to prevent excessive timber
extraction and human settlement expansion. Reforestation of
native montane trees along roads can also increase soil stabil-
ity and facilitate animal movement.
Tourism sector. If tourism in cloud forests were managed
carefully, it could become one of the most lucrative and
environmentally friendly industries in Malaysia. Malay-
sian cloud forests are becoming increasingly attractive to
tourists; 48,604 climbers (54% of whom were foreigners)
scaled Mount Kinabalu in 2008, an increase over the two
previous years (Bernama 2009). The main tourist draws
of local cloud forests include bird and butterﬂy watching,
logging protocols in forests below 1000 m to minimize the
impacts of timber harvesting on cloud forest biodiversity.
In addition, researchers must enhance the ability to collect
and analyze Malaysian timber statistics in order to monitor
and regulate timber trade ﬂow from different forest types,
including cloud forests. Such information, coupled with
market transparency and certiﬁcation systems, is vital for
sustainable timber trade (ITTO 2000). Long-term monitor-
ing programs to analyze remotely sensed forest cover data
must also be augmented within the forestry sector; this will
allow state forest departments to better understand defores-
tation patterns under their jurisdictions and help them pri-
oritize vulnerable cloud forests for protection. For example,
cloud forests with high deforestation risk scores (e.g., Linkie
et al. 2004) should be gazetted as protected areas by state
forestry departments (e.g., Gunong Stong State Park was
gazetted by the Kelantan State Forest Department).
Infrastructure sector. The expanding tourism and timber
industries in Malaysia will eventually result in the construc-
tion of more roads through the cloud forests (Barrow 2006).
Roads are essential for a host of economic activities, but
they are a major threat to tropical biodiversity (Laurance et
al. 2009) and could potentially expose more remote cloud
forests to exploitation. To prevent illegal agriculture and
other types of land use, road construction should not be
Table 2. Strategies for different sectors to ensure sustainable use of cloud forests in Malaysia.
Sector Sustainability strategies
Agriculture Adhere to regulations that prohibit agricultural development above 1000 meters (m) and on slopes of more than 258
Practice sustainable agroforestry in existing highland farms
Preserve forest patches and vegetation along farm perimeters to provide refugia and connectivity for cloud forest biodiver sity
Adopt practices such as preservation of root stumps and contour planting to prevent soil erosion and runoff of steep slopes
Regulate the number of farm operators and choice of crops to maintain ecological integrity of cloud forests
Forestry Adhere to regulations that prohibit logging above 1000 m and on slopes of more than 258
Adopt reduced impact logging techniques in cloud forests below 1000 m
Increase capacity to collect and analyze timber statistics from different forest types that include cloud forests
Augment capacities to monitor deforestation patterns in order to identify and prioritize vulnerable cloud forests for protection
Infrastructure Restrict road access to ecologically sensitive areas where cloud forests predominate
Continue adopting bioengineering erosion control techniques relevant to road construction in montane areas
Plant native montane trees along roads
Do not construct roads in sensitive watersheds or on slopes of more than 258
Tourism Promote noninvasive recreational activities such as bird watching
Maximize the use of available land and prohibit further clearing of cloud forests
Practice alternate usage of cloud forest trails and regulate visitorship
Restrict access to ecologically sensitive areas
Involve local residents in cloud forest conservation projects
Tailor projects to community-speciﬁc socioeconomic and cultural contexts
Increase ﬁscal capacity to provide training for the local stakeholders and to ﬁnance cloud forest conser vation
Policy and law
Resolve conﬂicting policies and land-use plans through improved dialogue between state and federal government agencies
Recognize cloud forests in special area plans as development-free zones
Expedite cabinet endorsement of National Highland Policy
Penalize development projects that do not undertake environmental impact assessments, erosion control plans, and sur veillance
Tackle corruption by enforcing laws, strengthen whistle-blowing mechanisms and judicial institutions, and enhance public access
36 BioScience • January 2011 / Vol. 61 No. 1 www.biosciencemag.org
(a) providing feedback to the Malaysian Anti-corruption
Commission, (b) strengthening judicial institutions, (c)
enhancing public access to information, and (d) improving
social capital (Peh and Drori 2010).
Sustainable use of cloud forests in Malaysia is pos-
sible if our recommended sustainability strategies
(table 2) are carefully implemented by the respective
sectors. Simultaneously, the general public and stakehold-
ers (e.g., owners of timber companies, politicians, deci-
sionmakers from state and federal government agencies,
farmers, local communities, and tourists) need to develop
a greater conservation ethic for cloud forests, possibly
through participation in educational campaigns, seminars,
study visits, workshops, and exhibitions organized by the
government and NGOs. Multidisciplinary research (e.g.,
determining the total economic value of intact cloud for-
ests and their ecosystem services) should also be promoted
in cloud forests, which have contributed to only 3% of
biodiversity research in Malaysia (ﬁgure 1), but the results
must be regularly communicated to government agen-
cies to facilitate planning of more ecologically friendly
projects in this delicate and unique ecosystem. We stress
that the best way to protect cloud forests is using less and
preserving more. Still, sustainable use based on the greater
understanding of anthropogenic impacts on cloud forests
is vital. If our recommended strategies are implemented in
Malaysia, and if relevant aspects are adopted to improve
other national cloud forest conservation strategies, we
believe the future of cloud forests in Southeast Asia will
be less nebulous than the status quo.
This article beneﬁted from discussions with researchers
and students at the Swedish Biodiversity Center. We thank
Jonathan Eyal, Lauren Coad, Ruth Swetnam, Neil Burgress,
Geoffrey Davison, Liew Thor-Seng, Sanath Kumaran, and
Wong Khoon Meng for their help and comments on
previous versions of this manuscript. We also thank Ch’ien
C. Lee for the photographs.
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crop farms. Although such activities seem noninvasive,
managers must consider the potential negative impacts of
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“is book is a milestone in the eld of the management
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Principles & Techniques for Zoo Management,
Edited by Devra G. Kleiman, Katerina V. Thompson,
and Charlotte Kirk Baer