About Sabah Biodiversity Experiment

The rainforests of Southeast Asia are rapidly disappearing, and with them the important ecosystem services that they provide. A forest acts as water reservoir that protects against drought and is a source and sink for carbon. Established in 2001, the overarching aim of the Sabah Biodiversity Experiment is to ascertain if and how much biodiversity is needed to maintain crucial ecosystem services such as flood protection, nutrient cycling and carbon sequestration. Covering an area of more than 500 hectares with a planned duration of decades, the project is one of the largest ecological experiments ever established.

The experiment is in north eastern Borneo near the Danum Valley Field Centre within a landscape mosaic of logged forest. The primary research of the experiment is assessing forest restoration practices while integrating a multi-species enrichment planting design based on biodiversity theory that supposes increasing diversity improves ecosystem functioning. Specifically, the Sabah Biodiversity Experiment tests how increasing levels of tree diversity in replanted areas will affect flora and fauna recovery, carbon sequestration, nutrient cycling and other ecosystem functions.

A long-term research assistant at the Malua Field Station measuring a study on the importance of within species variation for forest restoration.

Project Design

The project is laid out into two blocks comprised of 124 plots of 4 hectares. Each plot was planted with a single tree species (monocultures), 4 tree species or 16 tree species. This design allows comparisons of tree biomass production, diversity and fauna recovery and nutrient cycling among the three diversity levels to test whether increasing planting diversity positively affects ecosystem functions. The standard restoration practices of Southeast Asian dipterocarp forest typically plant single species; therefore, this design also allows assessments of current practices with modern science-based approaches. However, the initial experiment has grown to include numerous secondary projects. Currently in Malua, field scientists are exploring questions related to biodiversity and conservation of logged forests, forest responses to climate change and forest restoration practices to improve tree and seedling growth and survival.


The Malua Field Station (MFS) is a remote site on the Malua River, approximately a 1 hour drive past the Borneo Rainforest Lodge gate entrance and 1 ¾ hour drive to Danum Valley Field Centre. The MFS offers separate male and female hostels with private outdoor shower blocks, western toilets, and a kitchen for scientists with basic amenities. Electricity is generator operated and runs from 6 pm to 11 pm daily. There is a nursery for more controlled experiments and the MFS has clean and dirty lab spaces including a solar drying room. There is also a recreational area with volleyball and badminton court. The cost for staying at MFS is 20 rm/night in addition to a usage fee to Yayasan Sabah of 15 rm/night.

Research assistants tracking dipterocarp seedling demographics (growth and survival) following the 2010 mast flowering event in Sabah, Borneo.

Research assistants tracking dipterocarp seedling demographics (growth and survival) following the 2010 mast flowering event in Sabah, Borneo.


The SBE is primarily overseen by Mikey O’Brien and Andy Hector and the field manager, Remmy Murus, with 8 full-time research assistants. Please contact Mikey O’Brien directly regarding interest in developing research projects at the Malua Field Station.

Mikey O’Brien is an independent researcher at the Universidad Rey Juan Carlos in Madrid, Spain and is the acting Director of Science Coordination with SEARRP. His research is on plant–climate interactions with a focus on drought impacts in tropical forests. Email: mobrien@searrp.org

Andrew Hector is Professor of Ecology at the University of Oxford. His main research interests are biodiversity, community ecology, ecosystem functioning and ecological services. Email: andrew.hector@plants.ox.ac.uk

Remmy Murus has worked with SEARRP for over ten years on a number of projects throughout Sabah. He has been the field manager at the Malua Field Station since 2015. Email: remmymurus@yahoo.com.my

Staff & Research Assistants

Staff & Research Assistants