Plants in glass domes and the “Garden City” dream

The latest Singaporean icon is a futuristic glass doughnut known as Changi Jewel. Over the weekend, I’ve seen dozens of photos of the famous Rain Vortex and Canopy Park. It looked absolutely stunning to me – so stunning in fact, that literally half a million people signed up for the preview to see it last week (Kiasuism, maybe).

According to lead architect Moshe Safdie, Jewel echoes Singapore’s reputation as “The City in a Garden”.[i] Indeed, Singaporeans seemed to have developed a fondness for plants in glass domes. Around the same time of Jewel’s opening, Gardens By the Bay (GBTB) opened a new attraction: Floral Fantasy. This is in addition to the two existing conservatories, Cloud Forest and Flower Dome.

The similarities between Jewel and the GBTB attractions are obvious. The exterior glass structure aside, these buildings feature vibrant, exotic blooms imported from all over the world. The air conditioners are always turned on high, and the walking paths are kept free of dirt and soil so visitors can enjoy the best of what nature has to offer while dressed in heels and dress shirts for the perfect photo opportunity.

It appears these structures offer an “enhanced” version of nature, in comparison to our muddy, muggy and mozzie-ridden reserves. Though I think these glass structures are beautiful and exciting developments, I’m afraid that Singaporeans may one day ditch what’s left our naturalistic green spaces in favour of more manicured greenery – referring to the study[ii] we covered in class, survey respondents preferred for more land to be allocated to managed landscapes in the future.

The key difference between wild spaces and managed greens is that the former keeps us alive, while the latter relies on us to stay alive. Air-conditioned greenhouses can’t offer us ecosystem services like watershed protection or refugia for wildlife (I struggled to find even a single ant in the GBTB conservatories). Instead of sequestering carbon, they probably are probably huge emitters, given the amount of energy it takes to keep the building cool.

As such, I think it is crucial that we don’t neglect our outdoor green spaces as well. Getting dirty can be fun too, and the chances of spotting different species of animals add an element of surprise to each visit. Not to mention, the health benefits of a good workout and taking a break from the ‘gram cannot be extolled enough.

A question to ponder: How does the glorification of manicured green spaces, as part of efforts to promote Singapore as a “City in a Garden”, affect how we think about nature and our will to protect it?


[i] Kaur, K. (2019, April 11). Jewel Changi Airport ready for its coming-out party and plans to wow 500,000 visitors over next six days. The Straits Times. Retrieved from

[ii] Khew, J. Y. T., Yokohari, M., & Tanaka, T. (2014). Public perceptions of nature and landscape preference in Singapore. Human Ecology42(6), 979-988.

Is Singapore becoming an eco-city?

Recently, I attended a guided tour by URA at the Draft Master Plan 2019 exhibition. This tour was organised to engage representatives from different nature groups to get feedback on the Master Plan. The Master Plan is a land use plan that demarcates zones for different functions and is reviewed every five years to meet Singapore’s changing development needs. This year, the Master Plan has five focus areas, two of which interest me: (i) Liveable and inclusive communities, and (ii) Sustainable and resilient city of the future.

A first glance at the draft master plan raised a critical issue: Why are there still designated “Reserve Sites” at Chek Jawa and Mandai mudflats, making them vulnerable to future development?

You may have heard about the struggles against possible reclamation project at Chek Jawa in 2002. Since 1992, the eastern tip of Chek Jawa is designated for reclamation. In early 2001, National Parks Board and Raffles Museum of Biodiversity Research documented the biodiversity of Chek Jawa before reclamation works start.  In May 2001, URA held a public forum, and views on preserving Chek Jawa as an important biodiversity site housing rare and unique flora and fauna took the media and public by storm. And yet, URA remained adamant that the planned reclamation of Chek Jawa would proceed. This then sparked public campaigns and guided tours to raise awareness and urge the government to review the reclamation plans. After an arduous struggle, in January 2002, the reclamation of Chek Jawa was put on hold. Still, as long as Chek Jawa is not designated as a protected area, it remains vulnerable.

And so are Mandai mudflats. When the Mandai mudflats was recognised as an important stopover habitat for migratory shorebirds and to be conserved as a nature park, the nature community cheered.  But its fate in the future is uncertain.

Figure 1. Top: URA Draft Master Plan 2019 designating Mandai mudflats as a “Reserve Site” (yellow). Bottom: National Parks Board designating Mandai mudflats as a nature park.

But it is not all doom and gloom. Singapore is actively trying to create an eco-city, while still meeting the needs of the nation. To foster greater appreciation for nature, the Master Plan designated more areas for greening, and playgrounds will be designed with a biophilic element. One of the strategies that caught my attention was the “Greater Rustic Coast”: a 50 km continuous belt, taking you through not just Singapore’s biodiversity, but also our cultural and heritage sites. Another aspect worth applauding is the plan to naturalise our waterways. Riding on the success of Bishan-AMK park, URA plans to have more of such naturalised waterways along Kallang River, such as the Bishan-Braddell ABC Waters.

There are, of course, still controversies over issues such as the development of Tengah Town, which will destroy almost 90% of the Tengah Forest, threaten many forest-dependent species and disrupt connectivity between the Western and Central catchment areas. One of the key features is the 100 m wide, 5 km long Forest corridor in a bid to facilitate connectivity. But is this elongated and narrow stretch of forested area enough to protect wildlife?

In our last lecture, we asked: what makes an eco-city? And where does Singapore lie in terms of “Ecoscape integrity” and “Ecological awareness”? Singapore has come a long way, and it is a challenge to balance the needs of a growing and aging population, and the duty to preserve biodiversity. How can we be urbanised and maximise the utility of the limited green spaces? Perhaps we could densify urban areas more, leaving more land for green spaces. Or we could plant more food and nesting trees, to promote diversity of urban adapters. Or we could possibly re-direct certain roads to create more connected areas.

Figure 2. Redirecting Mandai Road northwards (red line), to improve connectivity of the patches adjacent to Upper Seletar reservoir

It is no easy task to balance urbanisation and conservation. As such, I encourage everyone to drop by the Draft Master Plan 2019 exhibition at URA Centre, which is on until 24th May. Do provide feedback as well, and let’s play our part in making Singapore an eco-city!


National Library Board, Singapore (2014). Chek Jawa. Retrieved from:

National Parks Board (2018). Mandai Mangrove and Mudflat will be conserved as a Nature Park. Retrieved from:

Nature Society Singapore (2018). Nature Society Singapore (NSS)’s Position on HDB’s Tengah Forest Plan. Retrieved from:

Urban Redevelopment Authority (2019). Draft Master Plan 2019. Retrieved from:

Urbility: Campaign to increase demand of local produce

By 2030, Singapore aims to produce 30% of its nutritional needs. The current level is at 10%. There is a need to encourage people to support local produce. Therefore, our group came up with a campaign to try to tackle this issue.

The campaign includes a poster and coupon system, where people will get a discount when they support local produce.

This video would also be part of the campaign and aims to educate the public on the benefits of supporting local produce, and the varieties of local produce. It will be spread by messaging applications such as WhatsApp and social media platforms such as Facebook.

It would also be ideal to work with Singapore Food Agency so that the campaign can be implemented on a bigger scale and reach a wider audience.

Ministry of the Environment and Water Resources, Singapore & Singapore Food Agency. (2019). Formation of the Singapore Food Agency. Retrieved from—formation-of-the-singapore-food-agency.pdf

Urban Decay

(Disclaimer: This post has nothing to do with the make-up brand you see on the shelves of Sephora.)

We have been talking about urbanisation and its impacts on biodiversity the entire semester, but there is one area of urbanisation that we didn’t get the opportunity to talk about – urban decay.

What is Urban Decay?
Urban decay is when parts of a city are neglected and become so run-down it is undesirable to live in. Such areas may bring economic and social problems to the country. While urban decay is not a common phenomenon, it can happen when a city grows and develops too fast without proper urban planning. Images of derelict buildings, poor housing and sanitation come to mind when we think about a decaying area. In the case of Bangkok, Thailand, excessive urban sprawl with degrading quality of life were indicators of potential deterioration in parts of its city.

Predicted Impacts on Urban Biodiversity
What does urban decay mean for biodiversity then? While there has been little literature that covers the impacts of urban decay/ decline on flora and fauna species, I would like to make several predictions on this matter:

  1. Urban exploiters may persist, but not for long.
    Species that adapt well to the urban environment/ find urban habitats similar to their natural habitat (e.g. buildings akin to cliffs and mountains), may still be able to survive in the resource-limited, far-from-pristine habitat conditions on its decline. However, if abandoned areas of a city are left to decay without renewal efforts, its resources (food, water) are bound to run out and even urban exploiters will have to seek alternatives or face decimation. Poor sanitation in these areas may also result in polluted waters and even the most resilient arthropods may face disease and even epidemic.
  2. Species that persist may evolve alien features.
    If conditions are so bad that phenotypic plasticity (variation in appearance or function across environmental conditions) gives a species an advantage in the survival of the fittest, some exploiters may develop alien features to better exploit the environment. Corals in extreme pHs and under wave-induced stress have been shown to have differing/ extreme phenotypes (appearances/ functions), this might be a possible outcome for urban fauna if left in an urban derelict for extended periods of time (years).

Urban Renewal
Many countries have attempted to revive their decayed urban areas. In Bangkok, Calagary and Taipei, efforts had been put in to renew some of the areas in the cities that were on the decline. While it is unclear how countries decide on the decayed areas they choose to renew, it is safe to assume that the potential economic, social, and ecological value these decayed areas may have if renewed is key in the decision-making process.

The case of urban decay shows the importance of careful urban planning with the aim of building a sustainable city. Haphazard urban development may cause native species to die out, and may just cost the nation more to renew.

Chan, E. & Lee, G.K.L. (2008). Critical factors for improving social sustainability of urban renewal projects. Soc Indic Res, 85, 243-256.

Chang CO., Peng CW. (2018) Urban Renewal and Affordable Housing in Taiwan. In: Altmann E., Gabriel M. (eds) Multi-Owned Property in the Asia-Pacific Region. Palgrave Macmillan, London

Fulton, C. J., Binning, S. A., Wainwright, P. C., & Bellwood, D. R. (2013). Wave-induced abiotic stress shapes phenotypic diversity in a coral reef fish across a geographical cline. Coral reefs32(3), 685-689.

Kulsrisombat N. (2008). De Facto Urban Regeneration: A Case Study of Chiang Mai City, Thailand. In: Kidokoro T., Harata N., Subanu L.P., Jessen J., Motte A., Seltzer E.P. (eds) Sustainable City Regions:. cSUR-UT Series: Library for Sustainable Urban Regeneration, Vol 7. Springer, Tokyo

Putnam, H. M., Davidson, J. M., & Gates, R. D. (2016). Ocean acidification influences host DNA methylation and phenotypic plasticity in environmentally susceptible corals. Evolutionary Applications9(9), 1165-1178.

Tallon, A. (2013). Urban Regeneration in the UK. Routledge.

Using cities as conservation zones

Recently, Forbes published an article about the conservation of endangered parrots in urbanized areas. The post talks about the presence of more than 13 species of parrots in San Diego county, most of which are native to countries in Central or South America and thriving in the city. It got me thinking whether Singapore can make use of a similar method to preserve and protect our local wildlife.


Often, we hear that large patches of pristine habitats are required for successful conservation and protection of wildlife. Yet, Bukit Timah Nature Reserve seems to prove that idea wrong. Singapore lost more than 90% of her forest cover in the 1800s due to agriculture and plantations (O’Dempsey et al., 2014), but has largely recovered amidst urbanization and development plans due to the immense restoration efforts by the government. The recovery of small forest patches allowed for the displaced fauna to return and bounce back.


Some examples of fauna that have recovered since then are the Oriental pied hornbill and smooth-coated otters. Now, hornbills and otters are frequently sighted in some of Singapore’s parks and gardens. These animals appear to have adapted to the urban environment, especially so for the Oriental pied hornbill where it is able to live and reproduce in urban habitats if there is sufficient food in the area (Chong, 1998). Another species that has done well in urban environments is the Javan myna. Since its introduction to Singapore in the 1920, the bird has spread considerably and its population was recently predicted to be more than 100,000 individuals (Lin, 2016). These urban species are able to make use of anthropogenic settlements and landscapes to find food, enabling them to survive outside of their native habitats.


Perhaps non-parrot species can also be intentionally released into the concrete jungle as a means of conservation. Since the smooth-coated otters and oriental pied hornbills have rather successfully integrated into man-made environments, it is possible that other species might also be able to find suitable niches and habitats to occupy. Globally threatened animals like the straw-headed bulbul can be considered for urban conservation. Although the preferred habitat of the straw-headed bulbul is in forest edges, urban environments with plenty of green spaces to provide sufficient food and nesting sites might provide the bulbuls an alternative habitat. The omnivorous diet of these bulbuls might be advantageous in helping them make use of the resources in urban settings.


This idea might not be suitable for strictly forest dwelling species but for animals that are able to live in a variety of habitats, conservation in cities might be a possible alternative as long as appropriate regulations are put in place (to prevent poaching in the city). Cities only continue to grow as the urban population grows—and this is estimated to grow by about 2.5 billion by 2050 (United Nations, 2018); why not provide suitable habitats for endangered species within the city to aid in conservation efforts?



Chong, M. H. N., (1998). A survey of hornbills in rain forest habitats of Peninsular Malaysia. In: Poonswad, P. (ed.), The Asian Hornbills: Ecology and Conservation. Thai Studies in Biodiversity, 2: 1–336. pp. 13–22.

Lin, Y. (2016, 22 Apr). The Javan mynah: Today’s pest, tomorrow’s food? The Straits Times. Accessed 15 April 2019. Available from

O’Dempsey, T., Emmanuel, M., van Whye, J., Taylor, N. P., Tan, F. L. P., Chou, C., Yi, G. H. and Heng, C., (2014). Singapore’s changing landscape since c. 1800. In: Barnard, T. (ed.), Nature Contained: Environmental Histories of Singapore. NUS Press, pp. 17–48.

United Nations (2018). World Urbanization Prospects: The 2018 Revision. United Nations Population Division. Accessed 15 April 2019. Available from

Veggie-Table: Your one-stop site to urban farming in HDBs

Urban farming is the growing of food in and around cities. This includes, but is not limited to, small-scale urban agriculture, growing produce in residential areas, rooftop gardens, schools, and restaurant gardens (Source). In a land-scarce and fast-paced country like Singapore, why would anyone bother doing something “extra” like urban farming? Well, urban farming has many benefits for food security, the environment and our health!

That’s why we wanted to encourage Singaporeans to take up urban farming as a part of their lifestyle. From the perception survey we conducted, we realised that many people are interested in and open to the idea, but most don’t know how to get started. So, to help implement urban farming in HDB households, we created Veggie-table – a one-stop site to educate new urban farmers and help them integrate into the local urban farming community. If you’re still on the fence, check out our website to find out more about the benefits of urban farming!

We’ve got tips on what tools you need, what soil or fertilisers to use and what to grow! We cater to everyone: Want to grow greens but don’t have the time? Try “Something Easy”, such as basil or microgreens. Want to be in charge of what goes into dinner tonight? Try “Something Leafy”, such as Kai Lan or Kang Kong. Have more time and want to add some colour to your life? Try “Something Interesting”, such as mandarin oranges or blue pea flower.

We will also teach you where you can grow in limited space and limited light! While our tips mainly cater to people in HDBs, you can easily apply them to your balconies or private gardens!

We also came up with the concept of “Farmer’s Wallet”, which gives everyone $100 to spend in our Farm Store. The “Urban Farmer Card”, an exclusive membership card for interested and passionate budding urban farmers, offers great discounts at partner stores and supermarkets. Lastly, our Farmer’s Market is an online forum where urban farmers can share tips and foster a close-knit urban farming community.

Excited to find out more? Head on over to our website. We look forward to you joining the farming community! (:

P.S. ‘Farmers’ Wallet’, ‘Urban Farmer Card’, and ‘The Farmer Store’ are concepts made solely for this project and will not actually be in effect. But we still have curated tips on urban farming and a collection of helpful and inspirational tutorial videos, so do check out our website!


Private property as sites for urban ecology studies

The urban vegetation makes up a big component of the biotic urban environment. As we have learnt during our lectures, the distribution of urban vegetation can vary with landuse— streets, parks and privately owned lands. In Singapore, most of the trees are found along the streets and in parks. A small proportion of urban vegetation is owned privately within housing estates, schools and hospitals. Despite being a small proportion, these vegetation usually have vastly different species composition from street trees that are planted and managed by authorities. On private land, we often find plants that are either visually appealing or have edible parts (e.g. fruit trees, vegetables or spices). Ecologically, these urban vegetation might play a different functional role from street trees and can serve to attract wildlife such as various insect pollinators, birds and mammals on privately owned lands.

Examples include, birds such as oriental pied hornbill (Anthracoceros albirostris), rainbow lorikeet (Trichoglossus haematodus) and Brown-throated Sunbird (Anthreptes malacensis) feeding on rambutan (Nephelium lappaceum) fruits in the gardens of private houses.

Bats have also observed to be attracted by the fruit trees planted, and have been recorded to roost in porches. In this instance the owner was rather curious about them and observed and recorded some of their behaviour for quite some time, including licking wooden stips on the roof of the porch for salt. However due to the mess from their leftover food and excrements left behind, they were eventually discouraged to roost (aka chased away) with a bag of chilli.

In other instances, Khoo Teck Phuat Hospital (KTPH) features many host plants of different butterflies, attracting various butterfly species. One such plant is the Aristolochia tagala which is an exotic species that is not found commonly in Singapore, but is a host plant to the common birdwing (Troides helena) and common rose (Pachliopta aristolochiae). This allowed a common rose population to establish and flourish in KTPH during certain years, and was one of many privately owned study sites where Justin studied this butterfly species for his FYP. Justin’s study was unique because it had many private sites as he was targeting a unique host plant that is usually found on privately owned land. However, broader urban ecology studies often overlook privately owned land as shown by a lack of ecological data in many aspects on privately owned land in many cities. Furthermore, urban landscapes are often heterogeneous and various ecological processes such as nutrient cycling, soil organic carbon, wildlife interactions could possibly be different between private and publicly owned land.

Therefore ecological research in various aspects on privately owned lands is necessary but lacking. Hopefully there will be more urban ecology studies on private properties in Singapore in the future. Do check out this paper, which provides some great advice on conducting urban ecology studies on private properties, the frequently cited concerns of researchers and their potential solutions.

Exotic plants: It is not all bad

Throughout my final year, I had the opportunity to examine a exotic butterfly host plant species, Aristolochia tagala, as part of my FYP. As I dug up literature on this specific host plant species, I came across an interesting tidbit, the common birdwing (which is the only native butterfly species listed under Appendix II of CITES and is listed as vulnerable under the Singapore Red Data Book) relies entirely on A. tagala as its only host plant in Singapore. The only known native species of Aristolochia in Singapore is Aristolochia jackii, which is locally extinct. It is hypothesized that the local common birdwing population survived due to the switch from A. jackii to A. tagala. Therefore, the conservation and survival of the common birdwing population here in Singapore is heavily dependent on the cultivation of an exotic host plant species.

The planting A.tagala in forested areas to support the birdwing population may not be an option to conserve the common birdwing population. NParks actively removes exotic species from forested areas in Singapore and discourage the planting of exotics near forested areas. Therefore, A. tagala is almost exclusively found in cultivated green spaces. This may not be ideal as the common birdwing is a forest adapted species. This provide a conservation dilemma for decision makers which they have to balance not actively introducing an exotic host plant species into forested areas and the conservation of a common birdwing in Singapore.

A possible strategy that could implement is the reintroduction of A. jackii back into Singapore using individuals from other countries. This may allow more extensive planting throughout Singapore. However, using individuals from other countries may have complications due to genetic differences between sub-species that was in Singapore and other countries. In addition, it is uncertain whether the common birdwing will actively switch back to its native host plant species.

In my opinion, exotic plants often have a negative association with biodiversity, which many people view exotics as harmful and detrimental to native biodiversity. In many cases, that might be true. However, this is a good example which the introduction of an exotic ornamental plant species may have prevented the local extinction of a native butterfly species.



Davison, G. W., Ng, P. K., & Ho, H. C. (2008). The Singapore red data book: Threatened plants & animals of Singapore. Nature Society.

Jain, A. (2016). Ecology and conservation of butterflies in a transformed tropical landscape (Doctoral dissertation).

National Parks Board. (2014) Invasive Alien Species. Retrieved from (accessed 7 April 2019).

Tan, H., & Khew, S. K. (2012). Caterpillars of Singapore’s Butterflies. National Parks Board.

Sprout 2019

As I was doing my research for our Urban Ecology Group Projects, I came across an event, which I would like to share. As our projects this year focus on urban farming, I would like to spread the word about this upcoming event, known as “Sprout”

Sprout made its debut last year on 07 July as Singapore’s inaugural farmer’s market. This year, it is back again on 11 and 12 May 2019 at Suntec Singapore Convention Centre.

This event allows the public to learn more about urban farming in Singapore, and provides local farmers with a platform to showcase local produce and sustainable agricultural practices. During this event, the public will also be able to buy local produce directly from these farmers as well as learn how to farm in their own backyard (or community gardens).

This year, there are over 70 local exhibitors, such as local farmers and those specializing in urban farming. One local exhibitor for urban farming is “Comcrop Rooftop Produce” which employs the disabled and elderly for the seeding, harvesting, and packing of local produce. I would certainly support a company that not only gives such members of our society a chance at employment but also produces local produce. If you are unable to visit Comcrop Rooftop Produce during the Sprout event, fret not, as their local produce can also be found in local supermarkets such as RedMart.

Currently, Singapore imports over 90% of its food supply. That makes us very vulnerable in terms of food security, as we are very susceptible to changes in global food production and supply, especially with the threat of climate change affecting food yields worldwide. To counter this, the Singapore Food Agency (SFA) has recently set a target that 30% of our food supply should be produced locally by 2030. The foods targeted by SFA are locally produced fruits, vegetables, and proteins. To hit this target, there needs to be a greater awareness and support for local produce in Singapore.

Due to Singapore’s urban landscape, most members of the public are unaware that there is local farming happening right here on our tiny island. In my opinion, this event provides a wonderful opportunity for members of the public to try local produce, meet the farmers behind urban farming and learn more about urban farming in Singapore.

It is also a great initiative that can help to raise awareness about local produce, and encourage its consumption. This could, in turn, help to raise the demand and supply of local produce, and we might even be able to hit SFA’s target by 2030, but more importantly, it will also ensure Singapore’s food security in the long run.

I would encourage everyone to go, as well as spread the word about Sprout. This event happens after the exam period and admission is free! In fact, if you register to receive updates about Sprout, you have the chance to win a free goodie bag!

I hope there will more such events in the future and growing support for local produce.



Mahmud, A. H. (2019, March 07). Singapore aims to produce 30% of its nutritional needs by 2030, up from less than 10%. Retrieved from