Fireflies (Pteroptyx tener P. bearni P. valida P. malaccae)
Mohamed bin Zayed Species project number 0925338
Objective 1. Documentation of Congregating Fireflies Zones (CFZ) survey and current landuse and threat in Malaysia
Congregating firefly of the genus: Pteroptyx spp. along the mangrove rivers are being threaten mainly from land clearance for agriculture, aquaculture, and flood mitigation activities. Other activities includes urbanisation, infrastrutures, water pollution, and strong light sources along the river which disturbs the flash communication of the fireflies. Due to the threat is more imminent than previously thought, a handbook of the current and historical CFZ will be documented for future reference in congregating firefly conservation, awareness, research, and monitoring. This Handbook will be a guide for decision makers when developing the area. 38 major CFZs were surveyed during the project period. Based on literature research (old data) and personal communications there are another 58 sites (sites status unknown) plus many undiscovered sites. The surveys were limited by the small window period of no moon rise, rainy days, low tides, boatmen knowledge, budget, logistic and accessibility. A CFZ is where the extant of the Malaysian congregating fireflies' colonies (larvae site to the display trees of the Pteroptyx spp) are located along both sides of the river. The compilation will be regularly updated with undiscovered firefly rivers and verification of other sites, and future situation of the documented CFZs. This will required a lot of manhours and dedication, therefore, the next phase will be getting volunteer groups to help in the project. As such, a trial workshop on firefly survey and SWOT evaluation for rivers was conducted in East Malaysia (Borneo) for the Malaysian Nature Society (MNS) members. The Workshop was needed, for MNS members gather firefly data from East Malaysia (budget limitations).
Objective 2. Firefly Conservation Awareness
There are a lot of misconception and understanding about the firefly, the roving fireflies or the congregating fireflies. Many locals (including local authorities) are not aware of the existence of the firefly rivers in their backyard. Many believed that all fireflies are from one species or some will mention two, the bigger firefly or the smaller firefly. Many are unaware of the importance of the fireflies and their associated habitats provide ecological services, food security, etc and socio-economically through eco tourism. Mass media could play a major role here and have to be regular. In future. the training of firefly watching guides and boatmen to be provided with the correct firefly information and the ethics of firefly watching. A firefly awareness poster developed during the project and can be downloaded online at http://www.malaysianfireflies.wordpress.com or at http://www.mns.my
Objective 3. Basic research on the Pteroptyx spp firefly
Not much is known about the currently identified 8 species of Pteroptyx spp. firefly found in Malaysia. Only a few studies had been made on the ecology and morphology of Pteroptyx sp. (P tener, P. valida, P. malaccae and P. effulgens (Papua New Guinea). This project continue the P. tener study done over a period from 1998 to 2001 along Selangor River, by MNS in collaboration with Dr Ohba Nobuyoshi from Ohba Firefly Institute, Japan (previous curator from the Yokosuka City Museum).
The current study for P tener was done in Kerteh River, Terengganu State. The other unstudied species, is P bearni was done in Cherating River, Terengganu State. Both these species are also found along the Kerteh River. But due to the smaller and higher firefly density, Cherating River was chosen for the study of P bearni. P bearni are often found in the more saline regions of the estuarine and P tener prefers the brackish low salinity region. However, their habitat do overlap as in Kerteh River.
P bearni is a non-synchronous congregating firefly species. The fireflies will congregate on the individual leaves of the display trees and the flash communication was observed tend not to synchronise during communications. While P tener is a synchronous congregating firefly and they will flash together during communications. These flash communication patterns are important as they play a role in successful mating and succession of species. The understanding of the flash communication of different sexes plays a role in monitoring the sex ratios population of the firefly.
The current research on P. tener, was to determine the female firefly which is difficult to distinguish from the flash pattern of the male firefly. Video recordings were made and analysed for interpretation. Similar flash pattern study was conducted for the first time for P bearni. No larvae were found for both species.
Besides that, detailed survey was done for the Kerteh River, on the number of firefly colonies and population density, display trees numbers and preference, landuse, and current threats. However, the search for the firefly larvae in Kerteh and Cherating is on going. This is important to determine the CFZ range from the river bank for conservation and protection. Extrapolating from the previous Selangor River study (P tener) and P effulgens, it was estimated to have a radius of 100 meter from display trees, which means at least a 100m buffer zone of mangrove forest along both river banks.
Further research is needed to understand these congregating fireflies, many other Pteroptyx species not studied, for future conservation work. Many other roving fireflies are unknown and unnamed, how many genus and species, which may be threatened by development.This is only the beginning of firefly research and conservation in Malaysia.