UP study reveals high biodiversity in Zambales’ Mt. Tapulao

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A TEAM of biologists and biodiversity experts from the University of the Philippines (UP) in Diliman and the Diliman Science Research Foundation found at least 304 species of plants and 142 species of animals thriving in Mt. Tapulao in Zambales, Central Luzon’s tallest mountain.

Of these, the murrid rodents Rhycomys tapulao and Apomys brownorum can only be found in Mt. Tapulao, and six other plant species can only be found in Luzon, disclosed Maximo Dichoso, executive director of the regional Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) here.

Of the 142 animal species studied in Mt. Tapulao, 78 are endemic to the country. Similarly, 41 out of the 304 plant species studied in the area are also found endemic to the Philippines. 

“The UP findings confirmed earlier studies that Mt. Tapulao is a natural treasure trove for Central Luzon in terms of species richness and diversity,” he said even as he called for greater public vigilance to protect Mt. Tapulao and adjoining forests from threats of poaching and human encroachments.

The nine-month biodiversity study included various species of trees, vines, lianas, herbs, palms, mammals, amphibians, birds, and reptiles.

According to Arthur Salazar, deputy DENR director for protected areas, wildlife and coastal zone management, the study also established a new distribution record for the insectivorous bat species Myotis rufopictus (Orange-fingered myotis) and Desmalopex leucopterus (Mottled winged flying fox).

M. rufopictus was found in the mountain at 1,820 meters above sea level (masl) and D. leucopterus was found at elevations of 230 masl and 896 masl.

Seven insectivorous bats were also recorded in the area, three of which are endemic to the Philippines: the yellow-faced horseshoe bat (Rhinolophus virgo), the large-eared horseshoe bat (Rhinolophus philippinensis), and the orange-fingered myotis (Myotis rufopictus).

But while species richness and endemicity is high in Mt. Tapulao, three species of bird categorized as “Vulnerable” by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) were also found in Mt. Tapulao, namely the flame-breasted fruit dove (Ptilinopus marchei), Philippine eagle-owl (Bubo philippensis), and the ashy thrush (Zoothera cinerea).

Mt. Tapulao also harbors 14 plant species found in the DENR list of threatened species, with one timber species, Tristaniopsis decorticata, considered as critically endangered (CR).

Mt. Tapulao covers more than 17,000 ha of intact forests stratified into four vegetation types that included lowland forest (200-900 masl), montane forest (1200- 1600 masl), pine forest (1700-1800 masl), and mossy forest (1900-2000 masl).

Mt. Tapulao rises to about 2,037 masl and is considered the second tallest mountain in Luzon, after Mt. Pulag in Benguet. The mountain was named after the Sumatran Pine “tapulao” which grows abundantly in the Zambales mountain range.

Straddling the towns of Palauig, Iba and Masinloc in Zambales and parts of Tarlac, Mt. Tapulao is one of the key biodiversity areas and new protected areas models in the country under the New Conservation Areas in the Philippines Project (NewCAPP) jointly funded by the Global Environmental Facility (GEF) and the United Nations Development Program (UNDP).

NewCAPP is a five-year project that started in 2011 and which seeks to expand and strengthen the terrestrial protected area (PA) system in the Philippines by developing new PA models managed by local government units (LGU), indigenous cultural communities/indigenous peoples (IP) and local communities.