Northwestern portion of the island of New Guinea

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The northwestern portion of the island of New Guinea is called the Vogelkop, or Bird's Head, Peninsula. Although this is meant to refer to the shape of the peninsula, it is also appropriate considering the large number of birds endemic to the area. The Vogelkop Montane Rain Forests [AA0127] represent isolated tropical montane areas surrounded by ocean or lowland forest. A number of globally unique species that are adapted to upland conditions have evolved in this isolation, and although some of the mountain ranges are not large, they are still relatively pristine.

  • Scientific Code
  • Ecoregion Category
  • Size
    8,500 square miles
  • Status
  • Habitats

Location and General Description
This ecoregion consists of montane forests (greater than 1,000 m) in the Tamrau (to 2,582 m), Arfak (to 2,444 m), Fakfak (to 1,203 m), Kumawa (to 1,490 m), and Wandamen-Wondiwoi (to 2,552 m) mountains in northwestern Irian Jaya, Indonesia, on the island of New Guinea. The ecoregion itself is distributed in four disjunct areas, with the largest area in the northern Vogelkop Peninsula. The climate of the ecoregion is tropical wet, which is characteristic of this part of Melanesia, located in the western Pacific Ocean north of Australia (National Geographic Society 1999). Northern New Guinea is a very active tectonic area with a complex geologic history (Bleeker 1983). The surface geology of this scattered ecoregion is varied. The Wandamen-Wondiwoi Mountains are metamorphic, the Fakfak and Kumawas are composed of limestone, and the Arfak and Tamrau (Vogelkop) mountains are a diverse mix of sandstone, limestone, and volcanics (Petocz 1989).

The ecoregion is composed predominantly of tropical montane evergreen forest and tropical wet evergreen forest, with lesser amounts of tropical montane forest on limestone, limestone forest, and tropical semi-evergreen forest (MacKinnon 1997). The montane forest in this ecoregion is dominated by Castanopsis in the lower elevations, but with altitude the vegetation changes to moss-draped, Antarctic beech (Nothofagus) forests, which sometimes occur as monotypic stands, and then into coniferous forests of Podocarpus, Dacrycarpus, Dacridium, and Papuacedrus (Petocz 1989).

Biodiversity Features
The overall richness and endemism of this ecoregion are low to moderate compared with those of other ecoregions in the Indo-Pacific.

The ecoregion harbors forty-two mammal species, seven of which are endemic or near endemic (table 1). The Arfak ringtail (Pseudocheirus schlegeli) is known only from its type specimen from the Arfak Mountains and has never been seen anywhere else in the world (Flannery 1995; Flannery and Groves 1998; Bonaccorso et al., in press). The mammalian fauna consists of a wide variety of tropical Australasian marsupials, including tree kangaroos (Flannery 1995). The Arfak long-beaked echidna (Zaglossus bruijni) was considered endangered before it was split from the Papuan echidna (Zaglossus bartoni) (IUCN 2000), and presumably it would still be considered so because it is a focal prey item for humans (Flannery 1995; Bonaccorso et al., in press). Doria's tree-kangaroo, a Central Cordillera species found only in the Wandammen Mountains within this ecoregion, is considered vulnerable (IUCN 2000).

Table 1. Endemic and Near-Endemic Mammal Species.

Family Species
Tachyglossidae Zaglossus bruijni
Dasyuridae Phascolosorex doriae
Peroryctidae Microperoryctes murina
Macropodidae Dendrolagus ursinus
Pseudocheiridae Pseudocheirus schlegeli*
Muridae Leptomys elegans
Muridae Hyomys dammermani

An asterisk signifies that the species' range is limited to this ecoregion.

The avifauna of the ecoregion has a clear Australasian flavor, including representatives of several Australasian families including Ptilonorhynchidae, Eopsaltridae, Meliphagidae, and Paradisaeidae. There are 304 bird species in the ecoregion, of which 20 are endemic or near endemic (Beehler et al. 1986; Coates 1985). The ecoregion is equivalent to the West Papuan highlands EBA (Stattersfield et al. 1998) and harbors twenty restricted-range bird species, nine of which are found nowhere else on Earth (table 2). Several are limited to one small mountain range. The grey-banded munia (Lonchura vana) is considered vulnerable (IUCN 2000).

Table 2. Endemic and Near-Endemic Bird Species.

Family Common Name Species
Rallidae White-striped forest-rail Rallina leucospila*
Rallidae Chestnut forest-rail Rallina rubra
Caprimulgidae Mountain eared-nightjar Eurostopodus archboldi
Psittacidae Modest tiger-parrot Psittacella modesta
Pachycephalidae Vogelkop whistler Pachycephala meyeri*
Acanthizidae Vogelkop scrubwren Sericornis rufescens*
Eopsaltriidae Green-backed robin Pachycephalopsis hattamensis
Eopsaltriidae Smoky robin Peneothello cryptoleucus
Estrildidae Grey-banded munia Lonchura vana*
Melanocharitidae Obscure berrypecker Melanocharis arfakiana
Ptilonorhynchidae Vogelkop bowerbird Amblyornis inornatus*
Meliphagidae Rufous-sided honeyeater Ptiloprora erythropleura
Meliphagidae Black-backed honeyeater Ptiloprora perstriata
Meliphagidae Cinnamon-browed honeyeater Melidectes ochromelas
Meliphagidae Vogelkop honeyeater Melidectes leucostephes*
Meliphagidae Arfak honeyeater Melipotes gymnops*
Paradisaeidae Arfak astrapia Astrapia nigra*
Paradisaeidae Long-tailed paradigalla Paradigalla carunculata
Paradisaeidae Western parotia Parotia sefilata*
Paradisaeidae Greater melampitta Melampitta gigantea

An asterisk signifies that the species' range is limited to this ecoregion.

Within this ecoregion, the Arfak Range, with twenty-three endemic species, and the Wamdammen Range, with seven endemic species, are both centers of butterfly endemicity on the island of New Guinea (Parsons 1999).

There are several endemic plants in the Arfak and Fakfak mountains, but in general the flora is poorly known. The ecoregions does encompass several Centres of Plant Diversity, including the Arfak Mountains, the Northern and Southern Tamrau Mountains, the Kumawa Mountains, and the Wandammen-Wondiwoi Mountains (Davis et al. 1995).

Current Status
Except for a small area in the eastern part of the ecoregion that has been cleared, most of the habitat is still intact. The ten protected areas include 11,373 km2 (52 percent) of the ecoregion (table 3). Two of the protected areas are more than 2,000 km2, and two other large reserves (Pegunungan Fakfak and Pegunungan Kumawa) also extend into this ecoregion (MacKinnon 1997).

Table 3. WCMC (1997) Protected Areas That Overlap with the Ecoregion.

Protected Area Area (km2) IUCN Category
Jamursba-Mandi 40 PRO
Pegunungan Tamrau Utara 3,440 PRO
Mubrani Kaironi 20 IV
Gunung Meja 3 V
Pegunungan Tamrau Selatan 2,350 PRO
Mingima 40 IV
Pegunungan Arfak 720 IV
Pegunungan Fakfak 1,850 PRO
Pegunungan Kumawa 1,940 PRO
Wondiwoi 970 IV
Total 11,373  

Ecoregion numbers of protected areas that overlap with additional ecoregions are listed in brackets. 

Types and Severity of Threats
The Arfak Mountains, famous for birdwing butterfly diversity, are surrounded by heavily populated areas, and the reserve itself is in danger from encroachment by population expansion (see Petocz 1989). The larger habitat block in the Tamarau Mountains is more remote and less threatened for the moment, although there are plans for logging concessions that seem to conflict with reserve gazettement (Petocz 1989). The Arfak, Fakfak, and Wandammen-Wondiwoi Mountains are all subject to potential population pressure, agricultural development, and sawmilling. Mineral deposits are small and low grade (R. Johns, pers. comm., 2000).

Justification of Ecoregion Delineation
Using Whitmore's (1984) map of the vegetation of Malesia and MacKinnon's (1997) reconstruction of the original vegetation, we delineated the large areas of distinct habitat types as ecoregions. Thus, the Vogelkop-Aru Lowland Rain Forests [AA0128] ecoregion represents the tropical lowland moist forests in the Vogelkop region of New Guinea. The ecoregion largely corresponds to subunits P3d and P3b identified by MacKinnon (1997); however, we placed the tropical montane moist forests (more than 1,000) in the Vogelkop Montane Rain Forests [AA0127]. Udvardy (1975) placed these ecoregions in the Papuan biogeographic province of the Oceanian Realm.

References for this ecoregion are currently consolidated in one document for the entire Indo-Pacific realm.
Indo-Pacific Reference List

Prepared by: John Morrison
Reviewed by:

This text was originally published in the book Terrestrial ecoregions of the Indo-Pacific: a conservation assessment from Island Press. This assessment offers an in-depth analysis of the biodiversity and conservation status of the Indo-Pacific's ecoregions.