Sustainable Singapore: Dream vs Reality

The city-state of Singapore is often portrayed as a utopia in terms of quality of life, economy, and sustainability. In fact, the Sustainable Cities Index 2016 ranked it first in Asia and second globally. On paper, the Sustainable Singapore Blueprint looks ideal. But environmental utopian models such as ‘eco-cities’ have poor track records when it comes to implementation. My question is: has Singapore managed to turn these environmental dreams into reality?

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Improving NParks’ Nature Ways

I conducted a research project on the biodiversity of NParks’ Nature Ways (NWs) for several months last year. A relatively new undertaking, NWs are stretches alongside roads planted with selected tree and shrub species that aim to “facilitate the movement of animals like birds and butterflies between two green spaces”. They are strategically located to 1) link biodiversity-rich areas to urban communities, 2) serve as wildlife habitats and 3) increase residents’ accessibility to nature. These green corridors beautify our immediate surroundings and are designed to inculcate greater appreciation of Singapore’s abundant (read: remaining) biodiversity.

These short routes may seem unlikely havens, given their locations — sometimes beside major four-lane roads — that are highly disturbed by both vehicular and foot traffic, besides regular maintenance by NParks’ stuff such as pruning (a necessity to prevent shrubs from becoming overgrown and thus inciting negative public feedback). However, over the course of several months, I was pleasantly surprised to come across several common and not-so-common butterfly and bird species, including the striking Tailed Jay (below, left). While relatively common, this species frequents treetops and is rarely spotted at ground level; presumably, it was attracted to the flowers of the nearby Ixora. I also recorded one sighting of the “Moderately Rare” (Khoon, 2010) King Crow (below, right).

 

 

Some photos of my other personal favourites are in the collage below. From top to bottom, in the left column: Leopard Lacewing, Blue Glassy Tiger, Peacock Pansy; right column: Brown shrike, Common flameback, and Yellow-vented bulbul.

 

 

While these sightings indicate that certain species do utilise the NWs for forage and shelter, these are largely limited to the common ones, generalists with a wide range of suitable caterpillar host plants or food sources.

I believe that this is one way the NWs can be improved upon. Instead of further expanding the already extensive habitat of the generalist species, more focus could be placed on enhancing these locations to increase their suitability as habitat for other species — for instance, by planting a greater selection of host plants, as was done to great success at the Alexandra Hospital butterfly trail in the past.

This is also a good opportunity to introduce a new citizen science programme centred on the enhancement of biodiversity on NWs. This could be targeted at nearby residents, who will directly benefit from improvements made to these areas, and for whom the volunteering programme would be relatively accessible. It would entail the provision of caterpillars of less-common species (bred from local stock where possible) to the volunteers, who would rear and release them upon eclosion. Leaves of the host plants could be obtained from the NWs to feed the caterpillars. To maximise resident involvement, a poll could be conducted before the commencement of the project allowing residents to vote for their preferred species to care for. This being a child-friendly project, it would also help cultivate interest and curiosity for nature in the young, which is an important step towards a nation of like-minded people who care for the environment.

 

References

Khoon, S. K. (2010). A field guide to the butterflies of Singapore. Singapore: Ink On Paper Communications Pte. Ltd.

Roadkills in Singapore—one too many?

As we all know, the fragmentation of natural habitats is one of the many repercussions brought about by urbanisation. Roads especially, have both positive and negative impacts, the latter being the increased likelihoods of roadkill and the former being increased connectivity.

While the benefits for us are clear, there has yet to be any significant benefits for wildlife in general (Fahrig & Rytwinski, 2009).

Singapore is known for its extensive green cover, where even the roads and highways are lined with trees and shrubs. Although this helps to ameliorate the impacts of the Urban Heat Island (UHI) effect, it might inadvertently attract more animals to the vicinity, increasing the chances of roadkill; with the ubiquity of street lights in Singapore further exacerbating the issue.

Roadkills in Mandai

Sunda pangolin (Photo by: Author)

The recent reports of roadkills (a Leopard cat, Sunda pangolin and Sambar deer) have been saddening news [Animals affected by Mandai park works: Wildlife groups; March 24, 2018], and a multitude of concerns have been raised. Mammals are uncommon in Singapore, with small mammals making up the majority of the population. It does not help that smaller vertebrates—which are already threatened by habitat loss and fragmentation—were found to be at greater risk of roadkill (Rodríguez-Castro et al., 2017).

Losing any individual of these already endangered species is a huge blow to their respective populations—and one too many for Singapore.

Proposed eco-link bridge (Photo by: Mandai Park Holdings)

It was heartening to know that in addition to the proposed eco-link bridge, several other structures (e.g. green acoustic wall barriers) that protect and facilitate the movement of wildlife would be built, including the retention of existing culverts (MPH, 2016). However, current mitigation measures—like road signs and speed bumps—are still inadequate as wildlife in the vicinity have no structures to aid their movement across the temporary fauna crossing, rendering them vulnerable to vehicular strikes.

Traffic calming measures. (Photo by Mandai Park Holdings)

Apart from mammals, birds should be taken into consideration during the implementation of mitigation measures as well. Despite (most birds) having the ability to fly, some birds are territorial and rely on their songs to find potential mates, thus noise pollution would affect their hearing, forcing them to go closer to roads. Light pollution from street lights and vehicles pose threats too, as migratory birds often rely on starlight for navigation, hence rendering them vulnerable to collisions (Glista et al., 2009).

Animals in the vicinity are already facing significant levels of stress from the construction works and shepherding; ergo, relevant authorities should not be complacent, and look into enhancing roadkill mitigation measures by consulting nature groups for further improvements. Emulating its predecessor (Eco-Link @ BKE) should be a given, but there are definitely areas that could still be improved upon. Beneficial design elements from other wildlife crossings, like the Sungai Yu wildlife corridor and Banff National Park, should be taken into consideration for incorporation into Mandai, as well as future projects.

If we truly wish to bask in the beauty of nature and reap its benefits, the onus is on us to retain, or better yet, enhance the connectivity in our highly disturbed environment, with inconveniences borne by us and not the wildlife.

Sungai Yu Eco-viaduct (Photo by: MYCAT)

Towards a “car-lite” society

On the other hand, the suggestion to designate Mandai Lake Road as a ‘car-lite’ zone is a feasible one and should be taken into consideration [Make Mandai vehicle-light to reduce roadkill; Mar 29, 2018]. After all, Singapore is in the process of shifting to a ‘car-lite’ society, and has in fact designated some areas of the upcoming Tengah estate to be ‘car-free’ [New Tengah HDB town heavy on greenery, light on cars; Sep 9, 2016]. The Jurong Lake District has also been designated as a ‘car-lite’ area as well [Fewer car parks, more cycling paths in Jurong Lake District; Aug 25, 2017]. With a car-lite society, roadkills would hopefully be reduced, if not kept to a minimum.

Another suggestion would be abolishment of the car park in the East Arrival Node, which is situated near the Central Catchment area (MPH, 2016). Having a single carpark outside of the sensitive Central Catchment area, with designated buses shuttling visitors in and out of the wildlife park would significantly reduce traffic along Mandai Lake Road, and hopefully, roadkill incidents too.

Roadkills, regardless of the conservation status of the animal, are detrimental to Singapore’s sensitive ecosystems. For this reason, I implore Mandai Park Holdings (MPH), the parent company behind Wildlife Reserves Singapore (WRS), to make roadkill statistics available to nature organisations and institutions, so that they can analyse the data and provide constructive feedback. In highly urbanised Singapore, incidents of roadkill are bound to occur, even with robust mitigation measures. I hope that authorities can learn from the mistakes of Mandai, and put more measures in place for the upcoming Tengah estate, in order to best preserve what precious little wildlife Singapore has left.

 

References

Fahrig, L. & Rytwinski T. (2009). Effects of roads on animal abundance: an empirical review and synthesis. Ecology and Society 14(1): 21. Retrieved from: http://www.ecologyandsociety.org/vol14/iss1/art21/

Glista, D. J., DeVault, T. L., & DeWoody, J. A. (2009). A review of mitigation measures for reducing wildlife mortality on roadways. Landscape and Urban Planning. http://doi.org/10.1016/j.landurbplan.2008.11.001

Mandai Park Holdings [MPH]. (2016). Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) report. Mandai Park Holdings. Available at: https://www.mandai.com/download/pdf/Final%20EIA_Main%20Chapters.pdf (Accessed 14 April 2018).

Rodríguez-Castro, K. G., Ciocheti, G., Ribeiro, J. W., Ribeiro, M. C., & Galetti, P. M. (2017). Using DNA barcode to relate landscape attributes to small vertebrate roadkill. Biodiversity and Conservation, 26(5), 1161–1178. http://doi.org/10.1007/s10531-017-1291-2

 

Golf Courses in Singapore: What’s next?

Golf courses can increase property values and contribute to economic growth. They also attract wealthy tourists and are recognised as useful sites for business deals. The vast green spaces and well-maintained turf can be aesthetically appealing to some people and provide recreation.

With over 1,500 hectares (approximately 2%) of Singapore’s land area covered by 17 golf courses, there are concerns that they are taking up too much space and are environmentally unsustainable. In this article, I address these concerns and Singapore’s plans.

The New Tanjong golf course at Sentosa. Photo by Amelia Lim.

Environmental impacts of golf courses

Golf course management involves the use of pesticides and fertilisers, which can contaminate the environment (including water bodies), although mitigation measures are already in place. The use of pesticides and fertilisers is controlled and regulated by Public Utilities Board (PUB), and products are limited to a list of approved chemicals. But golf courses are also heavily irrigated. Even though this water comes from water bodies that collect rainwater, and water recycling is widely practiced, it takes a lot of energy to water the turf, in addition to what’s required for overall maintenance of the golf course (e.g., machinery).

Golf courses can also support biodiversity because they are home to species that are adapted to fragmented tree patches and open areas. In some instances, they can even enhance biodiversity, like in Tanah Merah Country Club, where planted, exotic vegetation attracts birds, such as red jungle fowl and herons. But that typically only happens in golf courses built on barren, reclaimed land. For golf courses built on non-reclaimed lands, the disturbance to the natural habitat can be extensive.

Although golf courses inevitably have detrimental impacts on the environment, the sustainability of their practices are improving with time.

 

So, what’s next

Based on the Ministry of National Development’s Land Use Plan released in 2013, over 200 hectares of golf courses will be freed up for other uses. Two golf courses (Jurong Country Club and Raffles Country Club) must vacate their premises by August 2017 and July 2018, respectively. There will be no new lease offered to some others, including Marina Bay Golf Course, Keppel Club, and Champions Public Golf Course. This is a welcome change, especially given that the 1999 Land Use Plan included up to 29 new golf courses. It seems that the government recognises the concern that golf courses take up too much space, especially considering that less than 1 % of the population plays golf.

However, do fewer golf courses mean more housing development? According to the 2013 Land Use Plan, land allocated to parks and nature reserves will increase from 5,700 hectares in 2010 to 7,250 hectares in 2030. Furthermore, the projected increase will mainly come from urban parks in housing estates. This may seem promising because residents use urban parks more than golf courses. But do urban parks hold higher ecological value? This warrants further studies on comparing the ecological values between urban parks and golf courses. While the death of some golf courses frees up land for development and more parks, it is important to note that quality, not quantity, of green spaces matters.

 

References

Soh A (2014) 200 ha of golf course land freed. The Business Times. http://www.businesstimes.com.sg/top-stories/200-ha-of-golf-course-land-freed

Colding J & Folke C (2009) The role of golf courses in biodiversity conservation and ecosystem management. Ecosystems, 12: 191−206.

Heng J (2017) Fewer golf greens, but more greenery from parks and trails. The Straits Times. http://www.straitstimes.com/singapore/environment/fewer-golf-greens-but-more-greenery-from-parks-and-trails

Ministry of National Development (2013) A high quality living environment for all Singaporeans. Land use plan to support Singapore’s future population. Ministry of National Development. https://www.mnd.gov.sg/landuseplan/e-book/files/assets/basic-html/index.html#page1

Neo H (2001) Sustaining the unsustainable? Golf in urban Singapore. The International Journal of Sustainable Development & World Ecology. 8(3): 191−202.

Neo H (2010) Unpacking the Postpolitics of Golf Course Provision in Singapore. Journal of Sport and Social Issues, 34(3): 272−287.

Building Residential Areas in Coney Island – Perhaps a bad idea?

Coney island is a small island, spanning approximately 2km.  It used to be much smaller, but land reclamation efforts beginning from 1975 had expanded the land area by almost 5-fold, to its’ current size (source).  The natural state of the island was barely disturbed, in hopes of retaining the rustic feel of the island.  Renovations to construct toilets and other amenities were done so with minimal disturbance and utilised environmentally friendly features such as toilets that flush with rainwater, solar-powered water pumps, and also recycled timber to construct bridges and benches.  It was opened up to the general public in 2015. It was home to a large number of animals, birds, and plant species.  Even the 2 native surviving species of Cycads which have lost their ‘homes’ in urban Singapore was relocated to Coney Island (source).  Even when visitors complained of the sandfly infestation, NParks refused to intervene, mentioning that it was intentional that they left the place as ‘natural’ as it was (source).  I personally feel that Coney Island is a place that they should refrain from unnecessary development, but still allow visitors to enter the island. Basic amenities such as bins, shelters, and toilets should continue to be maintained to allow visitors to have enjoyable visits, but I do not agree with allotment of land to build residential estates.

 

Disclaimer:

There haven’t been any studies done on the arthropods of Coney Island, neither can I provide the most reliable information. However, I am a frequent visitor of the island, with weekly visits last year and monthly visits this year.  As I am armed with my camera with each visit, I pay close attention to the arthropod diversity on the island, and walk the same paths during each visit, approximately at the same time of the day for each visit.  Hence, I do keep a record of the arthropod diversity through photographs (to the best of my ability) and through observations.  As a disclaimer, I mainly focus on mantid diversity, but do make other observations too. As there have been absolutely no published study on local mantids, I can only rely on my own experiences and observations in Singapore, amounting to more than 5 years, to make statements and claims.

 

Before Construction:

Ever since construction of residential estates began in early 2018 according to the land use plan (source), I have observed major changes in Coney Island.  For the mantids, Odontomantis sp. and Tenodera sp. used to be the only two mantid species observed before construction began.

  • Odontomantis sp. is found all over urban Singapore, despite having great ant mimicry due to their size and overall appearance, they are quick to react and run very quickly from threats

(Above: Odontomantis sp. 1st instar nymphs)

(Below: Odontomantis sp. adult female)

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Reasons for lack of lower stratifications in urban forests, and its implications

Ang Ju Hui (Jasmine) A0131255R

Following lectures on urban plants, I was curious to know more about the significance of a lack of understorey/ shrub/ herb/ ground layer in urban forests. Hence, this post is dedicated to answering two questions:  Why is there a lack of understory/herb/shrub layer in urban forested areas, and what are the implications of this?

Why is there a lack of understory/herb/shrublayer in urban forested areas?

The effect of urbanisation on the types and patterns of vegetation in the city is very pronounced, and has resulted in its own unique mix of species, community compositions and structures. In terms of structure, urban forests have a more simplified structure. There is often a lack of understorey, herb/shrub layer as well as ground layers. For native species in the ground layer of parks, this is attributed in part to the high levels of disturbance caused by making paths and maintaining vegetation (Guntenspergen et al., 1997).

There is high maintenance of branching vegetation like shrubs in the understory, to increase visibility in green spaces, as well as to look aesthetically pleasing. Increased security linked to increased visibility is more attractive and important to residents and also visitors of the city (Sieghardt et al., 2005). Also, heightened levels of disturbance like human trampling resulted in poorer root development and stem growth (Bhuju & Ohsawa, 1998). Other reasons include disturbance caused by construction of trail or trekking paths. Including Singapore, as nature trails become more popular as a recreational activity in developed countries, disturbance by trampling might become increasingly detrimental to the diversity and growth of the understory because of soil compaction (Bhuju & Ohsawa, 1998). The number of people who live in the vicinity of forest stands is also important in estimating the amount of trampling that affects understorey health, because of increased recreational visits, as demonstrated in Greater Helsinki, Norway (Malmivaara et al., 2002). Singapore, as a highly populated area with a population of almost 6million compared to 1.4million in Greater Helsinki probably means that there is higher frequency of visitorship in forested areas, and hence greater disturbance. Trampling seems to affect plants more than invertebrate fauna, and among invertebrate fauna, spiders suffer the most from trampling effects (Duffey, 1975). In New York City, studies done in several urban parks show that disturbances caused by traffic and fires resulted in the lack of ground layer and seedlings (Guntenspergen et al., 1997).

Ecological implications

The presence of a shrub layer increases or maintains the biodiversity in the understorey by being competition for fast-growing opportunistic species that might otherwise take over places with large canopy gaps that let sunlight reach lower heights of the forest (Beckage et al., 2000). This allows for other plants with different life histories and trade-offs to grow, resulting in a more diverse species community. With increased diversity of flora, this increases the number of different niches that can be exploited by animals like arthropods and birds in the understorey. The understorey has a big role in nutrient recycling as well, cycling a greater proportion of its total nutrient (N, P, Ca, Mg, K, Zn, Cu) annually compared to overhead vegetation (Yarie, 1980). A thick understorey can also act as a buffer that softens edge effects especially when forests are next to incompatible land-use, which is often the case in Singapore (Smardon, 1988). Hence, with reduced or absence of these layers in urban forests, forest dynamics are significantly altered, and such benefits are not available.

However, the lack of an understorey has its own benefits too. In a forest study in West Japan, canopy pine trees were shown to suffer from reduced physiological stress when there is a lack of understory because of a lowered level of competition for water and nutrients (Kume et al., 2003). Dense understories also proved to retard forest succession in a meta-analysis by Royo & Carson (2006). A study by Guntenspergen (1997) did not even show significant differences in shrub/ herb layer in terms of presence, composition nor species diversity across an urban gradient. They attributed this to lower visitorship of the forest fragments. As for the understorey component in the same study, there were changes in composition, but the authors attributed it to a combination of both fragmentation in addition to disturbance in urban areas.

 

References

Beckage, B., Clark, J. S., Clinton, B. D., & Haines, B. L. (2000). A long-term study of tree seedling recruitment in southern Appalachian forests: the effects of canopy gaps and shrub understories. Canadian Journal of Forest Research30(10), 1617-1631.

Bhuju, D. R., & Ohsawa, M. (1998). Effects of nature trails on ground vegetation and understory colonization of a patchy remnant forest in an urban domain. Biological Conservation85(1-2), 123-135.

Duffey, E. (1975). The effects of human trampling on the fauna of grassland litter. Biological Conservation7(4), 255-274.

Guntenspergen, G. R., & Levenson, J. B. (1997). Understory plant species composition in remnant stands along an urban-to-rural land-use gradient. Urban Ecosystems1(3), 155.

Kume, A., Satomura, T., Tsuboi, N., Chiwa, M., Hanba, Y. T., Nakane, K., … & Sakugawa, H. (2003). Effects of understory vegetation on the ecophysiological characteristics of an overstory pine, Pinus densiflora. Forest Ecology and Management176(1-3), 195-203.

Malmivaara, M., Löfström, I., & Vanha-Majamaa, I. (2002). Anthropogenic effects on understorey vegetation in Myrtillus type urban forests in southern Finland. Disturbance dynamics in boreal forests: Defining the ecological basis of restoration and management of biodiversity.

Royo, A. A., & Carson, W. P. (2006). On the formation of dense understory layers in forests worldwide: consequences and implications for forest dynamics, biodiversity, and succession. Canadian Journal of Forest Research36(6), 1345-1362.

Sieghardt, M., Mursch-Radlgruber, E., Paoletti, E., Couenberg, E., Dimitrakopoulus, A., Rego, F., … & Randrup, T. B. (2005). The abiotic urban environment: impact of urban growing conditions on urban vegetation. In Urban forests and trees (pp. 281-323). Springer, Berlin, Heidelberg.

Smardon, R. C. (1988). Perception and aesthetics of the urban environment: Review of the role of vegetation. Landscape and Urban Planning15(1-2), 85-106.

Yarie, J. (1980). The role of understory vegetation in the nutrient cycle of forested ecosystems in the mountain hemlock biogeoclimatic zone. Ecology61(6), 1498-1514.

Urban Cats

The air was sour this side of the stone tree forest, right next to the thunderpath. The tomcat quickly scent-marked a stone tree despite his scent being overwhelmed by the pungent breath of the loud shiny beasts, for it was in his nature to mark his territory. He made the pass as quickly as possible, hurriedly slinking back into the sheltering stone spires of the white stone trees.

It was safe neither in the forest nor outside it, for outside he had to beware the two-legs and their beasts, while within the stone tree forest he had to watch out for its other inhabitants. They all shared the same stone tree forest; with too many of them in this small space there were always fights for territory. He usually won, for unlike the other cats he was still whole, and still had his fighting instinct within him.

When passing the dawn-ward border the tom made sure to mark it well, for on the other side was the territory of another tomcat, still whole and a fierce fighter. Their fight over this border two sunrises ago had left his claws sore. It was an intense battle, and despite the threat the tom loved the thrill of the battle. He made a quick pass by the shallow stone creek that ran along the edge of the stone tree for a drink before resuming his patrol.

The dusk-ward border was different. Here, the halfs shared the space. These cats were not normal anymore, not whole. They were changed after being caught by the two-legs and were never whole again. Their ears were clipped, not torn from battle but a clean cut of a two-leg’s touch. The tom knew he could exert his strength and expand his border into the territory of the halfs; they were weak and non-breeding, lacking the fire that made a tomcat, well, a tomcat. He knew they would not fight back. He took his border over by two tail-lengths and sprayed his scent markers over the spires of the stonetree.

There were more and more halfs these days, growing fat on false two-leg food and slinking up to their grubby hands begging for more. It was like the halfs had lost all sense of being a cat. They were unnatural, unable to breed or hunt and reliant on two-legs for protection. Some even slept within the two-leg nests higher up the body of the stonetree.

Unlike them, the tom was whole and strong, and felt a stirring to breed. He was getting restless, it had been many moon cycles since he had last bred a female. Not for the lack of trying, but all the females, while they still smelt whole, were unable to bear kit. They bore the marked ear of one touched by two-legs. One day, he would find a truly whole female.

There were always new cats coming in, brought in by the two-legs. They were weak and died easily when the two-legs did not bring food, for the halfs had forgotten how to hunt. The tom and his neighbour would meet the new cats in stride, whipping them submissive and out of their territories so that they would learn to not trespass. While the tom could not overpower the other in their battle for territory, he was unusually grateful for the rivalry, to have another whole tom with him amongst the shame of halfs.

 

– Excerpt from a potential cat anthropomorphism novel idea, depicting the strays living under HDB blocks.

Rest in peace, little pigeon!

It was a typical Tuesday afternoon when an ominous loud thud from the windows interrupted our professor’s passionate lecture. A feather was left stuck on the glass panel, with suspicious blood stains dotting the glass. I spun around and saw faces of horror and trauma – they had all, unfortunately, witnessed the full speed collision of an unsuspecting bird into the window.

Victim of the bird-building collision, a male Pink Neck Green Pigeon
Photo by Lim Chun Wei

A few weeks ago, in the same room, we learnt that bird-building collision (also known as window strike) is not a rare occurrence in cities. In the United States alone, an estimated 97.6 to 975.6 million birds die each year from window strikes (Klem, 1990). The worldwide death toll is estimated to be in the billions (Klem, 2008)! Singapore, however, does not have a comprehensive study on this issue. To change things up, the Bird Group embarked on a five-year study of migratory bird collisions in Singapore. Their preliminary data documented a total of 47 window strike between September 2014 and April 2015, with 20 in the central business district (Low, 2015).

Reasons for window strikes

So why do birds crash into windows? Can’t they see the glass? Well surprisingly (or not), windows are invisible to them (Klem, 1989). Birds usually cannot differentiate between reflections and real vegetation. They collide into window panes when flying through vegetation in urban areas, either by trying to reach the reflected greenery or attempting to fly through the corridors to vegetation on the other side (Klem, 2006). In some cases, a territorial bird sees its own reflection as a rival and launches repeated attacks on the window pane (Klem, 2006). Lastly, some migratory birds use celestial patterns to find their way at night. Artificial lights from buildings confuse them, thus attracting these birds to their doom (Low, 2015). On an unrelated note, Singapore actually tops the list as one of the world’s worst light polluted country (Falchi et al., 2016).

Perhaps our lights are a bit too bright?
Photo by Rodney Topor
(Image from: https://flic.kr/p/sFYETT)

Contrary to popular belief, most victims of window strikes die not from a broken neck, but instead, due to intracranial haemorrhage. A head on collision ruptures the blood-brain barrier, leading to sub-dural bleeding and brain damage (Klem, 1990a). The most observable external injury is usually a broken beak. And not all birds die from the collision. Some may be stunned or unconscious but then fly off once they recover. Others may merely be startled and fly off immediately (Klem, 1990a).

Ways to prevent window strikes

Over the past few years, many have poured in efforts in search for ways to prevent possible bird-building collision. Here are some of the commonly used methods to counter the window strike problem:

  1. Use of Window Patterns

A relatively simple way to counter window strikes would be to put patterns on the glass, so that the birds can see the windows. In the video below, Christine Sheppard, Collisions Program Manager for the American Bird Conservancy, has being working with her research team to find the most effective window patterns to prevent window collisions.

(Source: YouTube)

Their experimental results show that most birds avoid flying through a horizontal spacing of less than 2 inches (~5cm) or vertical spacing of less than 4 inches (~10cm). Therefore, decal patterns placed uniformly on the window pane or tape strips can be placed to prevent window strikes. UV stickers that are invisible to our eyes but visible to the birds can also be used to maintain the aesthetic of a “clear” glass (Cornell Lab, 2009). In any case, patterns must be on the outside of the window (facing the birds) for it to be effective.

  1. External window accessories

Do you have problems with birds hitting your windows but don’t want to change your window glass or tediously apply decals? Window screens could be your answer! Small-mesh netting or window screening can be placed outside a window, at least 3 inches away from the glass. If the netting is taut enough, birds can bounce off before colliding with the actual glass. External shutters or sun shade can also be used to block the reflection of the glass, making the window entirely opaque when it is not in use (Cornell Lab, 2009).

Bird screen used on window
(Image from: http://www.birdwatchingdaily.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/04/0413-Windows-BirdscreenOutside.jpg)

  1. Switching off unused lights at night

(Source: YouTube)

For tall commercial buildings, like in the Central Business District, you should consider turning off the lights at night. I understand that a lit up building may create a pretty night-time skyline, but this video above may persuade you otherwise. It discusses reasons why birds might prefer to fly at night and how they are attracted to light sources in buildings (Soh, 2014). One campaign to switch off lights in Chicago resulted in an 80% drop in mortality due to bird-building collisions show how effective this strategy can be. Aside from saving birds’ lives, you get to save on electricity too. So it’s a win-win situation for you!

  1. Relocating bird feeders

For bird lovers who have bird feeders at home, you may want to reconsider their placements. If you would like to place the bird feeder nearer to your home, you should keep it within 0.9m from your window (Cornell Lab, 2009). Anything beyond that, the speed they gathered when taking flight from the feeder to the window can result in a fatal impact. For those who are uncomfortable with a bird feeder so near to home, you can alternatively, place your feeder at least 9m away from your windows (Cornell Lab, 2009). This would then ensure that birds will not associate them as possible habitats when they fly off from the feeder. Don’t let your love for birds be the cause of their death!

Final thoughts

Ever run into glass doors because you were not looking? You may have ended up with a bruised nose but to birds, glass can be fatal. Birds are not just simply pretty to look at, they also play important ecological roles. Birds are great seed dispersers and pollinators. So when the bird populations decline, reproduction rates of many plants also decrease too (Tabur & Ayyaz, 2010). Recognising the importance of birds, cities like Toronto, Chicago and New York City have put in place policies and guidelines to mitigate the bird-building collisions problem. Perhaps it’s about time for Building and Construction Authority (BCA) to look into updating its building regulations too?

 

References

Cornell Lab. (2009). Why Birds Hit Windows—And How You Can Help Prevent It. Retrieved from https://www.allaboutbirds.org/why-birds-hit-windows-and-how-you-can-help-prevent-it/

Falchi, F., Cinzano, P., Duriscoe, D., Kyba, C. C., Elvidge, C. D., Baugh, K., & Furgoni, R. (2016). The new world atlas of artificial night sky brightness. Science advances2(6), e1600377.

Klem, D. Jr. (1990). Collisions between birds and windows: mortality and prevention. Journal of Field Ornithology 61:120–128.

Klem, D. Jr. (1990a). Bird Injuries, Cause of Death, and Recuperation from Collisions with Windows. Journal of Field Ornithology 61 (1): 115-19

Klem, D. Jr. (2008). Avian mortality at windows: the second largest human source of bird mortality on Earth. Tundra to tropics: connecting birds, habitats and people.

Klem, D. Jr. (2006). Glass: a deadly conservation issue for birds. Bird Observer34(2), 73-81.

Low, A. (2015). Migratory Bird Collisions in Singapore. Singapore Bird Group. Retrieved from https://singaporebirdgroup.wordpress.com/2015/05/15/migratory-bird-collisions-in-singapore/

Loh, J. (2014). Lights Out Effort Reduces Deadly Bird-Building Collisions. VOA News. Retrieved from http://www.voanews.com/a/lights-out-effort-stops-deadly-bird-building-collisions/2551290.html

Tabur, M. A., & Ayvaz, Y. (2010). Ecological importance of birds.

Marine life in an urban environment

Marine life in an urban environment

by Crystle Wee

When we think about urban environments, we often fail to notice that our marine environments are just as, if not more, influenced by human development. While the focus in urban ecology has been largely dominated by discussions of terrestrial or freshwater environments, it is also vital to think of how urban development shapes marine ecosystems and habitats.

One of the key ways in which marine environments are degraded in Singapore is through widespread land reclamation and the alteration of our natural coastlines by constructed seawalls. After reclamation work is carried out, the area can be more prone to problems such as soil erosion, and this makes it necessary to build more infrastructure to reinforce coastal stability and mitigate erosion. Did you know that around 63% of Singapore’s coastlines are covered by seawalls? We need the seawalls to dissipate the energy in waves so it does not wear away our beaches and coastal areas. But seawalls are very harsh environments that may not support biodiversity the way natural coastal ecosystems do.  Here’s a short infographic I created on land reclamation, which is what I feel is the biggest challenge to marine life in our coastal waters.

Look at changes in reclamation and development of our coastal areas from the 1950s to 2002. Since then, even more reclamation work has been completed, so much so that most of our coastal environments are different from what they were before (Images courtesy of Ria Tan, WildSingapore)

 

Marine biodiversity that persists despite the pressures of development

Reclamation and development have caused high rates of sedimentation and hence, very turbid waters and Singapore has lost more than 60% of its coral reefs. Nevertheless, Singapore still has an impressive array of marine life: at least 50 sea anemone species, 12 seagrass species and around 255 species of hard corals (Hilton & Manning, 1995; Chou, 2006; Huang et al., 2009). To put that in perspective, we have around a quarter of all hard coral species that can be found in the world!

 Here are pictures of corals I’ve taken in Singapore’s waters! Pretty beautiful right?

 

Solutions to increase biodiversity in affected areas

The Experimental Marine Ecology Lab in NUS, led by Prof. Peter Todd, is researching methods to increase biodiversity along these sea walls by trying concrete tiles with different complex designs. Depending on the type of surface, the tiles can provide different ecological niches and spaces for a variety of marine organisms to colonise. I like this analogy…imagine a hawker centre in Singapore that only serves chicken rice. Now imagine a similar hawker centre, except this one also serves laksa, satay, roti prata and fishball noodles too! Which one do you think will attract more people? I know I’d definitely prefer the one with more variety! In a similar way, a marine environment with a variety of habitats will attract organisms with different habitat preferences. And so tiles with a greater variety of spaces, are more likely to provide suitable homes for a mixture of different organisms.

These concrete tiles can be a more favourable environment for marine snails and other organisms that typically live in rocky shore habitats. (Images courtesy of the Experimental Marine Ecology Lab, NUS)

 

If we want to better understand how human processes shape changes in the ecology and function of marine communities, then we need to focus more attention on urban ecology in marine environments. With more studies, hopefully we can think up better ways to develop sustainably and better consider the marine life we share our home with.

 

References

Chou L.M. (2006). “Marine habitats in one of the world’s busiest harbours,” in The Environment in Pacific Harbours, E. Wolanski, Ed. Dordrecht: Springer, 2006, ch. 22, pp. 377-391. 

Hilton MJ and S. S. Manning, “Conversion of coastal habitats in Singapore: indications of unsustainable development,” Environmental Conservation, vol. 22, pp. 307-322, 1995.

Huang, D., Tun, K. P., Chou, L. M., & Todd, P. A. (2009). An inventory of zooxanthellate scleractinian corals in Singapore, including 33 new records. Raffles Bulletin of Zoology, 22, 69-80. 

Loke LHL, Todd PA. “Structural complexity and component type increase intertidal biodiversity independently of area.” Ecology. 97 (2016) 383-393.

Loke LHL, Liao L, Bouma TJ, Todd PA. “Succession of seawall algal communities on artificial substrates.” Raffles Bulletin of Zoology. 32 (2016) 1-10.

Loke LHL, Ladle RJ, Bouma TJ, Todd PA. “Creating complex habitats for restoration and reconciliation.” Ecological Engineering. 77 (2015) 307-313.

Loke LHL, Jachowski NR, Bouma TJ, Ladle RJ, Todd PA. “Complexity for artificial substrates (CASU): software for creating and visualising habitat complexity.” PLoS ONE (2014) e87990.

Tan, R. (2008). “Loss of coastal ecosystems” Retrieved April 2017. http://www.wildsingapore.com/wildfacts/concepts/loss.htm