Biodiversity discovery and capacity building in SE Asia

Museum für Naturkunde (MfN) has been conducting research on the megadiverse fauna of the four SE Asian biodiversity hotspots since the 1990s. Since 2012, these efforts have been upscaled and projects are conducted with a regional network of collaborators. MfN's new Center for Integrative Biodiversity Discovery (since 2018) provides an effective platform for these activities.

In Indonesia, various freshwater focused research projects since 1999 have paved the ground for large scale biodiversity discovery projects such as the IndoBioSys project with the explicit aim of delivering biodiversity data to users in health research within a "Biodiversity and Health" funding program sponsored by the German Federal Ministry for Education and Research (BMBF) was conducted between 2015 and 2018 with partners from the Indonesian Institute of Sciences (LIPI) in Cibinong and the Zoological State Collection in Munich, Germany. More biodiversity exploration and DNA barcoding campaigns are scheduled in Indonesia for the next couple of years, e.g. 2019 and 2020 on Sulawesi (FRESHBIO project, BMBF and ANR, France). In addition to LIPI, university partners in underexplored eastern Indonesia such as Universitas Cendrawasih in Indonesian New Guinea will help to involve students and train them in state-of-the-art biodiversity science.

In Vietnam, MfN is conducting biodiversity exploration jointly with four institutes of the Vietnam Academy of Science and Technology (VAST) in Germany in the BMBF funded project VIETBIO (2017-2020), which has a strong focus on capacity building and thus comprises a strong training component of Vietnamese partners in Berlin This project has already led to several additional research collaborations between MfN and Vietnamese researchers from the participating institutes and beyond and has the explicit aim of establishing a sustainable bilateral research network.

In the Philippines, MfN is leading the four-year BIO-PHIL training project funded by the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD) aiming at implementing key components of modern biodiversity research in the curricula of partner universities. This project comprises a South-South collaboration through participation of a Cambodian. As in all SE Asian projects by MfN, training is coupled with research collaboration and biodiversity discovery, thus several collaborative projects have been initiated including a Malaise trap program to assess and monitor insect diversity with NGS barcoding in urban and rural/natural comparisons at all partner universities.

Regional and international collaboration are key to discovering and preserving SE Asia's biodiversity. MfN has in addition to a project driven approach also organized the last two Southeast Asian Gateway Conferences (SAGE) in Berlin (2013) and Bogor (2017, with LIPI), and will co-organize the next meeting in Manila (2021). The SAGE meetings are the only scientific conference dealing specifically with SE Asian biodiversity and its evolution in an interdisciplinary context.