Prescillano M. Zamora, Ph.D.
Mount Apo Natural Park is one of ten priority protected areas in the Philippines. It is also one of four priority protected areas in the Mindanao Biogeographic Zone. This unique and beautiful park is one of the nation’s important heritage sites and a part of the United Nations List of National Parks and Equivalent Reserves. It has an area of 52,262 hectares and includes the highest peak in the Philippines (2,984 meters).
As a protected area in the country’s National Integrated Protected Area System (NIPAS), the park is sanctuary for countless wildlife species, including plants, animals and microorganisms. This includes the Philippine Eagle and a host of other endemic life forms that, together, make up a priceless genetic pool. The importance and value of this genetic pool to the future generations is immense, as it can be tapped as source materials for improving agricultural, medicinal, arboreal and industrial species, or products for the eventual benefit of people far into the future.
This book is about the characteristic plant and animal life of the 701-hectare development area and the 10-kilometer radial influence area of the Philippine National Oil Company geothermal project site at the Mount Apo Natural Park in Mindanao.
The development of the geothermal energy power station at Mount Apo was seen to be incompatible with the very purpose of the park. However, like most of the 60 protected areas in the NIPAS in the 16 Biogeographic Zones in the country, Mount Apo Natural Park has long been disturbed by both migrant and native human communities.
Thus, while the 701-hectare geothermal block is still 80 percent covered by primary and secondary forest growth, the balance has been kaingin-ed or are open areas. A substantial part of the plant’s 10-kilometer radial influence area is also mainly occupied by agriculture. The result of this is that the plants and animals of Mount Apo are now both natural and cultivated or domesticated life forms (crops and domestic animals).
However, the presence in the park of key government entities such as the DENR and PNOC can be a deterrent against further environmental deterioration due to the influx of unsustainable populations. These agencies also provide positive influence on the conservation of valuable life forms by subsidizing and implementing conservation measures, minimizing unnecessary loss of environmental resources.
The higher forms of life (plant and animal) in the project site, and the lower forms of life – bacteria or menorans, protistas and viruses, fungi and lichens, algae, flatworms, nematodes or roundworms, annelids, insects and other anthropods which, to be sure, occur but were not surveyed – represent a kind of biodiversity referred to as species diversity. And the site itself represents a kind of diversity referred to as ecosystem diversity.
Biodiversity is the linking of the words “biological” and “diversity” and represents the natural wealth of the world: the life forms referred to previously (species diversity), the genes they contains (genetic diversity), and the intricate ecological complexes they build into the living system (ecosystem diversity). The three components of biodiversity as explained in various sources of information on the subject (WWF, UNEP, IUCN and other publications, 1990, 1992) are:
Genetic Diversity. Genes are the biochemical packages passed on by parents which determine the physical and biochemical characteristics of their offspring. Though most of the genes are the same, subtle variations occur in some cases. Such genetic diversity makes it possible to produce new breeds of crops and domestic animals. And, in the wild, genes allow species to adapt to changing conditions of the natural environment.
Species Diversity. A groups of organisms so genetically similar that they can interbreed and produce fertile offspring is called a species. Species are usually recognizably different in appearance, allowing an observer to distinguish one from the other, but sometimes the differences are extremely subtle. Species diversity is usually measured in terms of the total number of species within geographic boundaries, e.g., the Mount Apo Geothermal Project Site.
Ecosystem Diversity. An ecosystem consists of communities of living and non-living elements. The relationships within and among these communities and their environment are frequently complex, but they are the mechanisms of major ecological processes, i.e., water cycle, soil formation, nutrient cycling and energy flow. These processes provide the sustenance required by the living communities and so a critical interdependence results.
Two different phenomena are frequently referred to under ecosystem diversity: one, the variety of species within different ecosystems; two, the variety of ecosystems found within certain biogeographic boundaries, e.g., the Mount Apo Natural Park in the Mindanao Biogeographic Zone.
ISSUES ON BIODIVERSITY
The earth’s genes, species and ecosystems are the products of four billion years of evolution (WWF, IUCN, UNEP, 1992). These have enabled the human race to adapt or respond to changes in the environment. Bio-resources (biological resources), the portion of biodiversity that is of use to people, provide the basis for most human enterprises. They have multiple values and are directly important t all humanity for their consumptive value and productive use value and, indirectly, for their non-consumptive value, option value and existence value (McNeely et al 1990: Figure 1).
However, evidence proves that overpopulation is leading to serious loss of biodiversity. With continuous growth in human population and the related economic activity, the loss of biodiversity is far more likely to continue than to stabilize. There are four main causes of loss of species: habitat loss or modification, over-exploitation, chemical pollution and biological pollution (UNEP-DENR Philippine Biodiversity Country Study Report, 1996).
Habitat Loss or Modification. This is the result of forest fires, logging (legal and illegal), conversion, destructive harvesting (fishing) methods, etc. As a rule, reduction of the size of a particular habitat (forest land, wetland, marine areas, farmland) by 90 per cent will reduce the number of species by half (UNEP, 1992).
Over-exploitation. Commercial harvesting has been a threat to commercial timber and non-timber species, commercial marine species, and wildlife for trade. The combination of over-exploitation and biological pollution has caused the extinction of 15 out of 18 species of endemic cyprinids from Mindanao’s Lake Lanao (Davies, 1988; Davies et al, 1990; Escudero, 1994).
Chemical Pollution. This is caused by domestic discharges, hazardous wastes, agricultural fertilizers and pesticides. Pesticides have affected several species of birds and other organisms (UNEP, 1992). Both air and water pollution damage ecosystems and cause the reduction of populations of sensitive species.
Biological Pollution. This is caused by the introduction of non-native species. Biological pollution threatens native flora and fauna by competition or by altering the natural environment.
Wildlife (plant and animal) species and the genetic variation within them make substantial contributions to the development of agriculture, medicine and industry. Perhaps even more important is that many species are basic to climate stabilization, protection of watersheds, prevention of soil erosion, and protection of nursery and breeding grounds.