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Catastrophic extinctions follow deforestation in Singapore

Abstract

The looming mass extinction of biodiversity in the humid tropics is a major concern for the future1, yet most reports of extinctions in these regions are anecdotal or conjectural, with a scarcity of robust, broad-based empirical data2,3,4. Here we report on local extinctions among a wide range of terrestrial and freshwater taxa from Singapore (540 km2) in relation to habitat loss exceeding 95% over 183 years5,6. Substantial rates of documented and inferred extinctions were found, especially for forest specialists, with the greatest proportion of extinct taxa (34–87%) in butterflies, fish, birds and mammals. Observed extinctions were generally fewer, but inferred losses often higher, in vascular plants, phasmids, decapods, amphibians and reptiles (5–80%). Forest reserves comprising only 0.25% of Singapore's area now harbour over 50% of the residual native biodiversity. Extrapolations of the observed and inferred local extinction data, using a calibrated species–area model7,8,9, imply that the current unprecedented rate of habitat destruction in Southeast Asia10 will result in the loss of 13–42% of regional populations over the next century, at least half of which will represent global species extinctions.

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Figure 1: Observed and projected biodiversity loss in Singapore, 1819–2002.

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Acknowledgements

We thank I. Turner, K. Lim and T. Leong for providing timely answers to our taxonomic queries, and D. Bowman, R. Corlett, P. Whitehead, K. Winker and N. Yamamura for comments on the manuscript. This research was funded by grants from the Raffles Museum of Biodiversity Research, National University of Singapore, Australian Research Council and the Center for Ecological Research Visiting Research Scholar Programme.

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Correspondence to Barry W. Brook or Navjot S. Sodhi.

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Supplementary information

41586_2003_BFnature01795_MOESM1_ESM.doc

Supplementary Information: List of all primary and secondary literature used to evaluate species extinctions in Singapore and the comparative biodiversity of Peninsular Malaysia (excluding those publications cited in the main paper). (DOC 26 kb)

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Brook, B., Sodhi, N. & Ng, P. Catastrophic extinctions follow deforestation in Singapore. Nature 424, 420–423 (2003). https://doi.org/10.1038/nature01795

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