Using Google Earth to improve management of threatened limestone karst ecosystems in Peninsular Malaysia
Biodiversity conservation is now about prioritisation, especially in a world with limited resources and so many habitats and species in need of protection. However, we cannot prioritise effectively if historical and current information on a particular habitat or species remains scattered. Several good platforms have been created to help users to find, use and create biodiversity information. However, good platforms for sharing habitat information for threatened ecosystems are still lacking. Limestone hills are an example of threatened ecosystems that harbour unique biodiversity, but are facing intensifying anthropogenic disturbances. As limestone is a vital resource for the construction industry, it is not possible to completely halt forest degradation and quarrying in developing countries such as Malaysia, where 445 limestone hills have been recorded in the peninsula to date. As such, there is an urgent need to identify which hills must be prioritised for conservation. To make decisions based on sound science, collating spatial and biological information on limestone hills into a publicly accessible database is critical. Here, we compile Malaysia’s first limestone hill GIS map for 445 limestone hills in the peninsula based on information from geological reports and scientific literature. To assist in conservation prioritisation efforts, we quantify characteristics of limestone hills in terms of size, degree of isolation, and spatial distribution patterns and also assessed the degree of habitat disturbance of each limestone hill in terms of buffer area forest degradation and quarrying activity. All this information is stored in a KMZ file and can be accessed through the Google Earth interface. This product should not be viewed as a final output containing basic limestone hill information. Rather, this database is a foundational platform for users to collect, store, update and manipulate spatial and biological data from limestone hills to better inform decisions regarding their management.