Tropical Savannas CRC > Education & Training > PhD projects 2001-2007 > Timor Leste: Plants and wildlife

TS-CRC Student project - Responses of wildlife to environmental variation and land use in Lautem District, East Timor (Timor Leste)

  Sungai Vero valley, Timor Leste

The Sungai Vero valley, a near pristine landscape dominated by tropical forest, but with agriculture eating away at the edges

  Timor Leste coast to Paitchau ranges

From coast to the Karst hills of the Paitchau range: biologically important habitat for Timor Leste's endemic fauna
Photos: Colin Trainor

Biological hotspot

Timor Leste is a new nation which gained independence in 2002. It is part of a global centre of evolution, known variously as the Wallacea hotspot or Timor and Wetar Endemic Bird Area (Stattersfield et al 1998, Myers 2000).

Isolation, numerous colonisation events and subsequent divergence has created many endemic and globally restricted range of birds, frogs, reptiles as well as trees and invertebrates.

In East Timor only a few small patches of globally threatened and biologically important, closed canopy tropical dry forests remain. Many of the endemic wildlife are dependent on this habitat type. The largest remaining block (300 km2) is currently being established as a National Park by the East Timor government. The forest edge will continued to be used for by communities for shifting agriculture and grazing.

  Timor Black Pigeon

The Timor black pigeon (Photo: Colin Trainor)

Charles Darwin University

Colin Trainor

Summary | Conservation and national parks in East Timor | Aims | Biological hotspot | References | Supervisors |


This study seeks to understand how wildlife species (birds, reptiles, mammals, plants and some invertebrate groups) respond to a complex array of land uses including ‘reference’ conservation areas in the newly established developing country of East Timor (Timor Leste).

There is a large body of research on how wildlife responds to landscape fragmentation, especially in relation to patch size and isolation. Much of this research has focused on developed nations and tropical countries that have undergone broadscale and rapid habitat loss due to land uses such as logging and where patches of natural habitats remain.

In much of the developing world, where agricultural landscapes dominate, a high proportion of natural habitats have been converted and used by subsistence communities for a broad range of uses including slash and burn agriculture, rice fields, hunting, grazing land, timber collection and plantations.

The biological value of these land use areas under a variety of landscape contexts has rarely been considered, and approaches to enhance the conservation value of these off-reserve areas has also been subject to little research.

Conservation and national parks in East Timor

Timor Leste has a history of highly limited systematic biological sampling. Such sampling helps understand species distribution and abundance and inform conservation management.

During the UNTAET administration of East Timor (1999–2002) there was a brief floristic survey of the proposed Conis Santana National Park. The report (Whistler 2002) includes local names of about 300 plant species covering some of the major habitats in the reserve. In 2003, preliminary assessments of the status of threatened and restricted range bird species at several East Timor sites, including the proposed Conis Santana National Park (Trainor et al. 2003).

The National Park provides habitat for many endemic and globally threatened wildlife species (Trainor et al. 2003). This includes five of the six globally threatened bird species present on Timor: the Timor green pigeon Treron psittacea (Endangered), Timor imperial pigeon Ducula cineracea (Endangered), Timor black pigeon Turacoena modesta (Vulnerable), Yellow-crested cockatoo Cacatua sulphurea (Critically endangered) and Timor sparrow Padda fuscata (Vulnerable); and probably the Wetar ground-dove Gallicolumba hoedtii (Endangered).

Recent reviews of these species highlight how little is known of Timor Leste’s threatened wildlife (BirdLife International 2001) and there must be concerns as to whether this National Park is can support viable populations of some of these mobile species especially given ongoing hunting pressure.

The extent to which wildlife utilise elements of the surrounding agricultural landscape matrix is also unknown, but there may be key habitats that are important seasonally for particular species. Knowledge such as this would be valuable to inform broader landscape-scale conservation management in the National Park, District and nation.


This project aims to compare and contrast the distribution and abundance of wildlife in natural landscapes to that of wildlife in various landscapes under a diverse range of uses. A particular focus will be how traits (for example, global distribution, body size, mobility, endemicity) influence the response of species to landscape change and the various land uses, and hunting, and identify key habitats within the agricultural landscape that must be given special consideration for the maintenance of sustainable wildlife populations in the broader landscape. Specifically:

  • Describe the distribution and abundance of Timor Leste’s wildlife (vertebrate, selected invertebrates and trees) across available natural environmental variation (units) and a mosaic of anthropogenic land use types.
  • Determine the spatio-temporal variation in the abundance of forest fruit in relation to the seasonal distribution and abundance of frugivores.
  • Document levels of species specific hunting off-take and population trends of target species (particularly forest frugivores), and determine the sustainability of harvest, and implications for regeneration of particular tree species.

  • Provide reserve design and general conservation recommendations to better protect key wildlife and habitat poorly covered by the static protected area network in Lautem District.


Birdlife International. (2001) Threatened Birds of Asia: the Birdlife International Red Data Book.Cambridge, UK.: BirdLife International. (

Bowman, D. M. J. S., Woinarski, J. C. Z., Sands, A. P. A., Wells, A and McShane, V. J. (1990). Slash-and-burn agriculture in the wet coastal lowlands of Papua New Guinea: response of birds, butterflies and reptiles. Journal of Biogeography 17: 227–239.

Myers, N., Mittermeier, R. A, Mittermeier, C. G, da Fonseca, G. A. B., Kent, J., (2000). Biodiversity hotspots for conservation priorities. Nature 403: 853–858.

Shankar Raman, T. R., Rawat, G. S., and Johnsingh, A. J. T. (1998). Recovery of tropical rainforest avifauna in relation to vegetation succession following shifting cultivation in Mizorum, north-east India. Journal of Applied Ecology 35: 214–231.

Shankar Raman., and Sukumar, R. (2002). Responses of tropical rainforest birds to abandoned plantations, edges and logged forest in the Western Ghats, India. Animal Conservation 5: 201–216.

Stattersfield, A. J., Crosby, M. J., Long, A. J. and Wege, D. C. (1998) Endemic Bird Areas ofthe world: priorities for biodiversity conservation. Cambridge, U.K.:BirdLife International (BirdLife Conservation Series No. 7).

Trainor, C. R., Santana, F., Xavier, A., Xavier, F., and Da Silva, A. (2003). Status of globally threatened birds and internationally significant sites in Timor-Leste (East Timor) based on rapid participatory biodiversity assessments. Report to BirdLife International – Asia Programme.

Whistler, A. (2001). Ecological survey and preliminary botanical inventory of the Tutuala beach and Jaco Island protected natural areas, East Timor. Report for UNTAET.

Woinarski, J. C. Z., and Ash, A. J. (2002). Responses of vertebrates to pastoralism, military land use and landscape position in an Australian tropical savanna. Austral Ecology 27: 311–323.


Dr Richard Noske, CDU

Dr John Woinarski, NT DIPE