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Southeastern Asia: Philippines

This ecoregion features lowland and hill forests on a number of large Philippine islands that, though currently disconnected, were part of one island during the height of the last ice age. These islands harbor Philippine warty pigs, Philippine deer, the Philippine tarsier, flying lemurs, and some of the last strongholds of the charismatic Philippine eagle. Most lowland forest has been cleared from the islands, but some large patches of hill and montane forest remain (the montane forest is a separate ecoregion). Tiny Camiguin Island, with two strictly endemic mammals of its own, is a unique feature of this ecoregion.

  • Scientific Code
  • Ecoregion Category
  • Size
    40,600 square miles
  • Status
  • Habitats

Location and General Description
This ecoregion includes the lowland (less than 1,000 m elevation) on the main islands of Mindanao, Samar, Leyte, Bohol, and numerous smaller satellite islands, including Biliran and Basilan. The climate of the ecoregion is tropical wet (National Geographic Society 1999). The northern Visayas (northern portions of Samar and Leyte) are in the main typhoon track that so strongly influences the more northerly Philippine islands. These typhoons typically occur from July to November: As much as one-third of an island's total annual precipitation may be collected during typhoon events. Mindanao is south of the main typhoon track (Dickinson et al. 1991).

Mindanao and the Visayas were transported across the western Pacific to their present location during the last 25 million years. Most of these islands have been uplifted above water only in the last 15 million years or less (Hall and Holloway 1998). During the Pleistocene, Mindanao, Samar, Leyte, and Bohol were all one island-Greater Mindanao-and their faunal affinities to each other persist to this day (Heaney 1986; Heaney and Regalado 1998).

Vegetation types on Mindanao and in the Eastern Visayas originally included beach forest, mangroves, lowland rain forest, and more open forest at higher elevations up to 1,000 m (Stattersfield et al. 1998).

The stunted beach forest contains Casuarina and Barringtonia mixed with other lowland species. Palms, vines, bamboo, and Pterocarpus indicus are present only in rare back-beach swamps. This habitat type is extremely rare because of coastal habitation (Heaney and Regalado 1998).

The dominant forest type in the Mindanao lowlands and the rest of the Philippines was dipterocarp forest. This group of trees is known as Philippine mahogany in the timber trade. This forest type occurred from sea level to elevations of 400 m or higher. Individual dipterocarps occur to 1,500 m. Philippine dipterocarp forest is quite tall (45-65 m) and dense, with three canopy layers. Lianas and bamboo are rare in mature forest but common in poorly developed evergreen forest. Ferns, orchids, and other epiphytic plants are found on the larger trees. At higher elevations there are only two canopy layers, tree stature is lower, and there are more epiphytes. Upper hill dipterocarp forest is found at elevations of 650 to about 1,500 m and contains dominant Shorea polysperma and oaks, chestnuts, and elaeocarps (Heaney and Regalado 1998).

Biodiversity Features
Mindanao and its neighbor, Basilan, situated adjacent to the Sulu Archipelago, have been influenced by immigration from Borneo, although in recent millennia movement has been primarily in the other direction (Dickinson et al. 1991). During the most recent ice ages, the Mindanao faunal region has developed its own unique fauna, with a large number of endemic vertebrates.

Tiny Camiguin Island (ca. 265 km2) contains two strictly endemic and as yet undescribed mammal species: a small forest mouse (Apomys sp.) and a large moss-mouse (Bullimus sp.) (Heaney and Tabaranza 1995), in addition to an endemic frog. Several taxa found on Mindanao, only a short distance away, are absent from Camiguin, including squirrels, some murid rodents, flying lemurs, tarsiers, and deer. Camiguin is the smallest island in the Philippines known to have unique mammal species. Consisting of a series of active volcanic cones reaching a maximum elevation of 1,713 m, the island is surrounded by deep water. Fortunately, the island still has good forest cover (Heaney et al. 1998).

There is also variation within the island of Mindanao. Thirty-one bird species are polytypic on the island. Sixteen of these variations are based on differences between isolated mountain ranges, and seven species have races associated with the Zamboanga Peninsula and Basilan Island. There are three species that vary between the uplands and lowlands (Dickinson et al. 1991).

Approximately 80 percent of Greater Mindanao's nonvolant mammal species are found nowhere else in the world. Whereas flying lemurs, tree shrews, tree squirrels, and tarsiers are found on the islands of Greater Mindanao, they are not found on the other large Philippine island, Luzon, just 25 km from the northern tip of Samar (Heaney and Regalado 1998). More than 30 percent of nonvolant mammals in the ecoregion are endemic to Mindanao only, but the other islands in the ecoregion generally share their species with Mindanao. However, tiny Dinagat island, located just north of Mindanao, contains three of its own endemic mammals (Heaney 1986), including the endangered Dinagat Island cloud-rat (Crateromys australis). There are sixteen endemic or near-endemic mammal species in the ecoregion (table 1).

Table 1. Endemic and Near-Endemic Mammal Species.

  Family Species
Erinaceidae Podogymnura aureospinula*
Soricidae Crocidura beatus
Tupaiidae Urogale everetti
Cynocephalidae Cynocephalus volans
Pteropodidae Ptenochirus minor
Rhinolophidae Hipposideros coronatus*
Sciuridae Sundasciurus philippinensis
Muridae Bullimus bagobus
Muridae Batomys salomonseni
Muridae Batomys russatus* (Dinagat only)
Muridae Crateromys australis*(Dinagat only)
Muridae Crunomys melanius*
Muridae Apomys sp. D*(Camiguin only)
Muridae Bullimus sp. A*(Camiguin only)
Muridae Tarsomys echinatus*
Sciuridae Exilisciurus concinnus

An asterisk signifies that the species' range is limited to this ecoregion.

An endemic subspecies of Philippine deer (Cervus mariannus nigricans) is limited to Mindanao. Philippine deer are widespread (though patchily distributed) in the Philippines, being found on Luzon, Mindoro, Samar, Leyte, Mindanao, and the Basilan Islands. The subspecies is threatened by habitat loss and hunting (Wemmer 1998). It has been reported that the endangered Visayan or Philippine spotted deer (Cervus alfredi) was potentially found on Bohol Island, but it seems likely that these reports refer to Cervus mariannus. Cervus alfredi is not found on Bohol (Oliver et al. 1991; Wemmer 1998).

The kagwang (Cyanocephalus volans), or Philippine flying lemur, is also endemic to Greater Mindanao; the only other species of this unique order of mammals is found in Malaysia and Indonesia. These small nocturnal mammals glide between trees for distances up to 135 m. Fortunately, the kagwang actually prefers second-growth forests to old growth, so they are more secure than other Philippine mammals (Heaney and Regalado 1998). However, the species is still considered vulnerable (IUCN 2000).

The ecoregion also supports a population of the Philippine warty pig (Sus philippensis), which the IUCN considers rare and declining. The Philippine warty pig is widely but patchily distributed in the still-forested areas of Luzon, Mindoro, Samar, Leyte, Mindanao, and some of the smaller satellite islands. Many of these forested areas are found in existing national parks. The Philippine warty pig is closely related to Sus barbatus of the Greater Sundas and was once thought to be a subspecies, analogous to the Palawan bearded pig (Sus barbatus ahoenobarbus). This species is still threatened by hunting and habitat loss (Oliver 1993).

Greater Mindanao is also home to an endemic primate, the Philippine tarsier (Tarsius sychrita), which is found on Samar, Leyte, Dinagat, Siargao, Bohol, Mindanao, and Basilan. Although they are also found in primary forests and mangroves, these highly charismatic small mammals seem to prefer second-growth forests, and they are not considered threatened by the IUCN (Nowak 1999a).

The Philippine tree shrew (Urogale everetti), in the order Scandentia, which is found on Mindanao, Dinagat, and Siargao Islands, represents an endemic, monotypic genus. Worldwide there are sixteen species of tree shrew, a diurnal animal that resembles a squirrel but whose dentition, circulatory system, and large braincase are more like those of primates (Nowak 1999a). This species is considered vulnerable (IUCN 2000).

Greater Mindanao also supports an endemic genus of Erinaceidae, Podogymura. There are two moonrat species in this genus, both of which are found in Greater Mindanao. One species is found in the adjacent montane ecoregion of Mindanao (P. truei), and the other (P. aureospinula) is found in the lowland forest of Dinagat, Siargao, and the Bucas Grande Islands (Heaney et al. 1998).

Lowland Greater Mindanao is home to endangered mammals also found in other parts of the Philippines, including the golden-capped fruit bat (Acerodon jubatus) and the mottle-winged flying-fox (Pteropus leucopterus) (found on Luzon and Dinagat) (Heaney et al. 1998; IUCN 2000).

This ecoregion overlaps with the Mindanao and Eastern Visayas EBA, with the exception of the montane areas above 1,000 m, which have been given their own ecoregion. The EBA contains fifty-one restricted-range birds, twenty-four (or possibly twenty-five) of which are lowland and hill forest specialists and are thus resident in this ecoregion. All the restricted-range birds are forest species. The ecoregion contains thirty-six endemic or near-endemic bird species (Kennedy et al. 2000; table 2). Nine of these species are threatened, including the endangered Mindanao bleeding-heart (Gallicolumba criniger). The remainder of the threatened species are considered vulnerable. This situation should be contrasted with the adjacent upland Mindanao montane rain forests ecoregion. Although the upland ecoregion contains more restricted-range species, only one of these is considered threatened (Stattersfield et al. 1998; Collar et al. 1999).

Table 2. Endemic and Near-Endemic Bird Species.

  Family Common Name Species
Rallidae Brown-banded rail Lewinia mirificus
Columbidae Mindanao bleeding-heart Gallicolumba criniger*
Columbidae Mindanao brown-dove Phapitreron brunneiceps
Columbidae Grey imperial-pigeon Ducula pickeringii
Cuculidae Black-faced coucal Centropus melanops*
Strigidae Mindanao eagle-owl Mimizuku gurneyi
Apodidae Philippine needletail Mearnsia picina
Alcedinidae Silvery kingfisher Alcedo argentata*
Alcedinidae Blue-capped kingfisher Actenoides hombroni
Bucconidae Mindanao hornbill Penelopides affinis
Bucconidae Samar hornbill Penelopides samarensis*
Bucconidae Writhed hornbill Aceros leucocephalus
Pittidae Azure-breasted pitta Pitta steerii*
Eurylaimidae Wattled broadbill Eurylaimus steerii*
Eurylaimidae Visayan wattled broadbill Eurylaimus samarensis*
Rhipiduridae Blue fantail Rhipidura superciliaris*
Monarchidae Short-crested monarch Hypothymis helenae
Monarchidae Celestial monarch Hypothymis coelestis
Muscicapidae Little slaty flycatcher Ficedula basilanica*
Muscicapidae Cryptic flycatcher Ficedula crypta
Pycnonotidae Zamboanga bulbul Ixos rufigularis*
Pycnonotidae Yellowish bulbul Ixos everetti
Sylviidae Long-tailed bush-warbler Bradypterus caudatus
Sylviidae Rufous-headed tailorbird Orthotomus heterolaemus
Sylviidae Yellow-breasted tailorbird Orthotomus samarensis*
Sylviidae White-browed tailorbird Orthotomus nigriceps*
Sylviidae White-eared tailorbird Orthotomus cinereiceps*
Timaliidae Striated wren-babbler Ptilocichla mindanensis*
Timaliidae Pygmy babbler Stachyris plateni
Timaliidae Rusty-crowned babbler Stachyris capitalis
Timaliidae Brown tit-babbler Macronous striaticeps
Timaliidae Miniature tit-babbler Micromacronus leytensis
Paridae White-fronted tit Parus semilarvatus
Dicaeidae Whiskered flowerpecker Dicaeum proprium
Dicaeidae Olive-capped flowerpecker Dicaeum nigrilore
Dicaeidae Flame-crowned flowerpecker Dicaeum anthonyi

An asterisk signifies that the species' range is limited to this ecoregion.

In addition to the restricted-range species, several widespread threatened species are found in the ecoregion, including the critically endangered Philippine eagle (Pithecophaga jeffreyi) and Philippine cockatoo (Cacatua haematuropygia). Four additional widespread but vulnerable species are also found in the ecoregion (Stattersfield et al. 1998; Collar et al. 1999).

The critically endangered Philippine crocodile (Crocodylus mindorensis) was historically found on Jolo, Luzon, Mindoro, Masbate, Samar, Negros, Busuanga, and Mindanao, but the only remaining populations are found on Mindoro, Negros, Mindanao, and Busuanga. The current wild population may be approximately 100 nonhatchlings (Ross 1998).

Mt. Apo, on Mindanao, is considered a Centre of Plant Diversity (Davis et al. 1995). This spectacular mountain in the southern portion of the Central Cordillera contains primary lowland forest and lower montane forests as well as montane forests found in the Mindanao Montane Rain Forests [IM0128] ecoregion. Much of the lowland forest below 1,000 m has been cleared, but dipterocarp forest is found from 1,000 to 1,600 m.

Current Status
All the islands in the ecoregion were once completely forested, but there is little forest left on most islands, and especially little lowland forest left. The dire situation in the lowlands of Mindanao and Eastern Visayas is highlighted by the contrast in conservation status between the lowland ecoregion and the adjacent upland Mindanao Montane Rain Forests [IM0128] ecoregion. Although the upland ecoregion contains more restricted-range species, only one of these is considered threatened. In fact, the Mindanao and Eastern Visayas EBA contains more threatened birds than any other EBA in the southeast Asian island region, and all but one of these are found in the lowlands (Stattersfield et al. 1998; Collar et al. 1999).

Bohol is heavily deforested, and almost all of the island's natural forest is to be found in Rajah Sikatuna National Park (RSNP). The conditions in this 9,023-ha area are good, however, and the Philippine Department of Natural Resources is actively reforesting the edges of the park. Both of the Eastern Visayan endemic birds and all four of Bohol's endemic bird subspecies can be found in RSNP. Problems of firewood and rattan collection, hunting and trapping, and slash-and-burn agriculture are effectively limited to the eastern portions of the park (Brooks et al. 1995).

Samar and Leyte each have two areas of closed-canopy forest remaining. The largest blocks are found on Samar. Three of these patches are found in areas of suspended timber license agreements and the remaining forest block, on Leyte, is found in the Philippine National Oil Company Tungonan Forest Reserve (Development Alternatives 1992).

By 1988, approximately 29 percent of Mindanao's forest remained, including both primary and secondary forests (Stattersfield et al. 1998). There is much less today. The Zamboanga Peninsula on southwest Mindanao contains a number of isolated fragments, the largest of which is found in the watershed of Zamboanga City. The remaining patches are scattered in hill and montane areas around the peninsula. These patches contained evidence of recent logging in 1992. In southern Mindanao, some large areas of forest remain in hill and montane areas. Political instability, lack of access, and poor commercial values have helped protect some of these areas. Ironically, some of the areas, which had been under now-suspended timber license agreements, are threatened by encroaching agriculture and fire. There are other large blocks of forest in the rest of Mindanao, but they are similarly limited to hill and montane areas; there is very little lowland dipterocarp forest remaining on Mindanao (Development Alternatives 1992). Southern Mindanao is faced with political instability that poses a challenge for active conservation.

Aerial surveys of Basilan in 1992 revealed less than 2 percent natural forest remaining. Unfortunately, Basilan is also subject to political insurgency that makes active conservation efforts quite difficult (Stattersfield et al. 1998).

Both the Philippine warty pig and Philippine deer suffer from intense hunting pressure and fragmentation of their remaining habitats. The pigs are in an especially poor situation because they tend to raid crops and are regarded as pests; consequently, no protections are in place for them (Oliver 1993). Table 3 details the existing protected areas on the island.

Table 3. WCMC (1997) Protected Areas That Overlap with the Ecoregion.

  Protected Area Area (km2) IUCN Category
Mado Hot Spring 20 III
Sohoton Natural Bridge 40 III
Imelda Lake 40 II
Mahagnao Volcano 30 II
Lake Danao 5 IV
Rajah Sikatuna 110 II
Rizal 10 III
Initao 10 V
Mt. Malindang [IM0302] 160 II
Mt. Apo [IM0302] 130 II
Lake Butig 6 V
Liguasan March GRBS 410 IV
Lake Buluan 80 IV
Agusan Marsh 810 PRO
Basilan 90 II
Total 1,951  

Ecoregion numbers of protected areas that overlap with additional ecoregions are listed in brackets.

Types and Severity of Threats
Many of the factors that have contributed to the loss of habitat in the past still present threats to the future of these forests. They include firewood and rattan collection, hunting and trapping, slash-and-burn agriculture, and commercial forestry (Brooks et al. 1995).

Justification of Ecoregion Delineation
MacKinnon (1997) identified seven subunits in the Philippines, and the Philippine Biodiversity Action Plan (Philippine BAP 1997) demarcated fifteen biogeographic units. Udvardy (1975) identified the Philippines as a single biogeographic province. We delineated nine ecoregions in the Philippine islands, including Palawan. We deviated from Udvardy (1975), MacKinnon (1997), Stattersfield (1998), and the Philippine BAP (1997) in varying degrees and based our delineation of the Philippine ecoregions on Heaney (1993), with the exception of Camiguin, which Heaney separated.

The islands of Leyte, Samar, Dinagat, and Bohol were combined with the lowland rain forests of Mindanao island to form the Mindanao-Eastern Visayas Rain Forests [IM0129]. We also included the Basilan Islands off the southwest peninsula of Mindanao in this ecoregion, based on Heaney (1993). In Mindanao we used the 1,000-m contour from the DEM (USGS 1996) to delineate the montane forests from the lowland forests. The montane forests of Mindanao were placed into their own ecoregion, the Mindanao Montane Rain Forests [IM0128]. In our delineation of the Mindanao-Eastern Visayas Rain Forests [IM0129] and Mindanao Montane Rain Forests [IM0128] ecoregions, we deviated from MacKinnon (1997). MacKinnon placed both of Mindanao's lowland and montane forests in a single subunit (26c). The Basilan Islands were part of subunit 26d, and the islands of Leyte and Samar made up subunit 26e.

References for this ecoregion are currently consolidated in one document for the entire Indo-Pacific realm.
Indo-Pacific Reference List

Prepared by: John Morrison
Reviewed by:


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