Southeastern Asia: Islands of Timor and Wetar in I

The Timor and Wetar Deciduous Forests [AA0204] are found on both inner and outer island arcs at the collision point of the Eurasian and Australian tectonic plates. The seasonally dry forests found in this dynamic geologic setting are part of the region known as Wallacea, which contains a very distinctive fauna representing a mix of Asian and Australasian species. Nearly two-thirds of the original extent of forest has been cleared, and the ecoregion contains only fragments of natural habitat, which are themselves threatened.

  • Scientific Code
  • Ecoregion Category
  • Size
    12,900 square miles
  • Status
  • Habitats

Location and General Description
This ecoregion represents the semi-evergreen dry forests of Timor, Wetar, and some smaller islands in the provinces of Nusa Tenggara and Maluku in the eastern Indonesian Archipelago. This ecoregion has a dry climate, with the most xeric being the mountains of Timor. Moa, in the Leti Islands, receives an average of 1,329 mm rainfall spread over just sixty-six days of the year. Based on the Köppen climate zone system, this ecoregion falls in the tropical dry climate zone (National Geographic Society 1999). The geology of the islands is a combination of inner and outer volcanic island arcs. Wetar, Romang, Damar, and the Banda Islands are part of the inner arc, and Timor, the Leti Islands, Sermata, and Babar are part of the outer arc. The inner arc islands are a result of the subduction and partial melting of the Australian tectonic plate below the Eurasian plate. With the exception of Wetar, the inner arc islands represent young volcanoes that have coalesced with lava and sediment. The basement rock of the outer islands, on the other hand, is composed of actual continental margin from the Australian plate that has not been subducted. These outer islands are less than 4 million years old. The resulting surface geology consists of complex sedimentary and metamorphic rocks: uplifted coral reefs over complex basement rocks (Monk et al. 1997).

The forest types in the ecoregion are dry deciduous, dry evergreen, and thorn forests. Below 1,000 m the common tree species include Sterculia foetida and Calophyllum teysmannii (both of which produce oil-bearing seeds) and Aleurites moluccana. The lowland monsoon forests are dominated by Pterocarpus indicus, especially in the lowland monsoon forest remnants of West Timor and in the well-drained, dry soils north of Oebelo on the Bena coastal plain in south Timor (Monk et al. 1997). Semi-evergreen rain forest is found on southern hill slopes at Buraen, which are kept moist by southeast trade winds, and on the Damar Islands (Monk et al. 1997). East Timor's few remaining forest patches contain the last natural stands of Eucalyptus urophylla (now widely used in plantations) and Santalum album, the sandalwood tree (Whitten and Whitten 1992). The shrub layer in these forests includes Verbenaceae, Rubiaceae, and Euphorbiaceae, and the herbs include Acanthaceae, Tacca palmata, the root parasite Balanophora fungosa, and ground orchids such as Corymborkis (Monk et al. 1997). Four types of savanna are found here, each characterized by palm, Eucalyptus, Acacia spp., and Casuarina spp. On Timor's larger coastal plains, the vegetation ranges from grassland to open stands of deciduous trees, with increasing forest cover toward the moister southern mountains.

Biodiversity Features
This ecoregion has the greatest number of bird species of any tropical dry forest ecoregion in the Indo-Pacific region. Because of the long isolation with the mainland communities, there are several endemic species from several taxonomic groups.

The ecoregion has thirty-eight mammal species, five of which are endemic or near endemic (table 1). Both Asian species and an Australasian cuscus (Phalanger orientalis timorensis) are found on the islands. Crocidura tenuis (Soricidae), possibly introduced by man, and the Flores giant rat (Papagomys armandvillei) are considered vulnerable (IUCN 2000).

Table 1. Endemic and Near-Endemic Mammal Species.

Family Species
Sorcidae Crocidura tenuis*
Pteropodidae Pteropus chrysoproctus
Rhinolophidae Rhinolophus canuti
Muridae Papagomys armandvillei*
Muridae Rattus timorensis*

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

The bird fauna consists of about 229 species. The bird fauna also represents a mix of mostly Asian species with some Australasian birds. Endemism is extremely high for these islands, with thirty-five species that are endemic or near endemic (table 2). The ecoregion encompasses with the Timor and Wetar EBA (Stattersfield et al. 1998). Thirty-five restricted-range bird species are found in the Timor and Wetar EBA, twenty-three of which are found nowhere else on Earth. Five of these species are considered vulnerable: black cuckoo-dove (Turacoena modesta), Wetar ground-dove (Gallicolumba hoedtii), Timor green-pigeon (Treron psittacea), Timor imperial-pigeon (Ducula cineracea), and iris lorikeet (Psitteuteles iris).

Table 2. Endemic and Near-Endemic Bird Species.

Family Common Name Species
Columbidae Dusky cuckoo-dove Macropygia magna
Columbidae Black cuckoo-dove Turacoena modesta*
Columbidae Wetar ground-dove Gallicolumba hoedtii*
Columbidae Timor green-pigeon Treron psittacea*
Columbidae Pink-headed imperial-pigeon Ducula rosacea
Columbidae Timor imperial-pigeon Ducula cineracea*
Psittacidae Olive-shouldered parrot Aprosmictus jonquillaceus*
Loriidae Olive-headed lorikeet Trichoglossus euteles
Loriidae Iris lorikeet Psitteuteles iris*
Alcedinidae Cinnamon-backed kingfisher Todirhamphus australasia
Acanthizidae Plain gerygone Gerygone inornata*
Meliphagidae White-tufted honeyeater Lichmera squamata
Meliphagidae Yellow-eared honeyeater Lichmera flavicans*
Meliphagidae Black-chested honeyeater Lichmera notabilis*
Meliphagidae Crimson-hooded myzomela Myzomela kuehni*
Meliphagidae Black-breasted myzomela Myzomela vulnerata*
Meliphagidae Streak-breasted honeyeater Meliphaga reticulata*
Meliphagidae Timor friarbird Philemon inornatus*
Pachycephalida Fawn-breasted whistler Pachycephala orpheus*
Oriolidae Timor oriole Oriolus melanotis*
Oriolidae Timor figbird Sphecotheres viridis*
Oriolidae Wetar figbird Sphecotheres hypoleucus*
Turdidae Chestnut-backed thrush Zoothera dohertyi
Turdidae Orange-banded thrush Zoothera peronii
Muscicapidae Black-banded flycatcher Ficedula timorensis*
Muscicapidae Timor blue-flycatcher Cyornis hyacinthinus*
Muscicapidae Timor bushchat Saxicola gutturalis*
Zosteropidae Timor white-eye Heleia muelleri*
Sylviidae Timor stubtail Urosphena subulata
Sylviidae Timor leaf-warbler Phylloscopus presbytes
Sylviidae Buff-banded bushbird Buettikoferella bivittata*
Estrildidae Tricolored parrotfinch Erythrura tricolor
Estrildidae Timor sparrow Padda fuscata*
Dicaeidae Red-chested flowerpecker Dicaeum maugei
Nectariniidae Flame-breasted sunbird Nectarinia solaris

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

Timor also harbors the endemic and rare Timor python (Python timoriensis) (Whitten and Whitten 1992).

Current Status
Other than one remaining large block of forest near the center of Timor Island, this ecoregion contains only fragments of natural habitat. Nearly two-thirds of the original extent of forest has been cleared, mostly for agriculture. Most of the original monsoon forest on these islands has been replaced by savanna and grassland. On East Timor, the south escarpment of the Fuiloro limestone plateau originally was covered by primary rain forest, but in the 1950s this area was degraded to secondary forest. Wetar is threatened by poorly managed gold mines that have been passed from company to company, causing major environmental damage. There are twenty-four protected areas that include roughly 10 percent (3,661 km2) of the ecoregion area, but all are small, with the average size being only 152 km2 (Monk et al. 1997) (table 3).

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

Protected Area Area (km2) IUCN Category
Gunung Api 1 I
Pulau Damar 200 PRO
Pulau Babar 620 PRO
Gunung Arnau 420 PRO
Pulau Kambing 20 PRO
Danau Ira Lalora-Pulau Yaco 120 PRO
Lore 110 ?
Gunung Futumasin 30 PRO
Gunung Diatuto 40 PRO
Gunung Talamailu 200 ?
Sungai Clere GR 300 ?
Tilomar 160 PRO
Gunung Mutis 330 PRO
Gunung Timau 340 PRO
Maubesi 80 I
Keluk Kupang 730 I
Baun Forest 80 PRO
Dataran Bena 100 VI
Manipo 50 V
Teluk Pelikan 30 PRO
Watu Panggota/Bondokapu 30 PRO
Bakau Perhatu 20 PRO
Tanjung Pukuwatu 60 PRO
Pulau Dana 10 PRO
Total 4,081  

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

Types and Severity of Threats
Deforestation is occurring very rapidly as people burn the forests for hunting, shifting cultivation, and fodder production (Whitten and Whitten 1992; Monk et al. 1997; WWF-Indonesia n.d.). Logging has also grown in importance; for instance, Damar Island was densely forested until the late 1980s, when logging began on a large scale to supply timber to the outer arc islands, where the forests had already been more heavily exploited. As a result, fire-resistant Casuarina junghuhniana grows in pure stands in cleared areas, and Mt. Mutis, on West Timor, is covered almost exclusively by Eucalyptus urophylla (Monk et al. 1997). This problem is worsening as the human populations expand. Savanna areas are especially prone to erosion. This ecoregion is highly threatened. In previous centuries, many forest resources such as sandalwood were depleted through uncontrolled exploitation (Monk et al. 1997).

Justification of Ecoregion Delineation
The drier forests in Nusa Tenggara were placed in three ecoregions that corresponded to the biogeographic units identified in Monk et al (1997). These are Lesser Sundas Deciduous Forests [AA0201], which includes the chain of islands extending from Lombok, Sumbawa, Komodo, Flores, and the smaller satellite islands corresponding to the Flores biogeographic unit; Timor and Wetar Deciduous Forests [AA0204], corresponding to the Timor biogeographic unit; and the Sumba Deciduous Forests [AA0203], corresponding to the Sumba biogeographic unit. All three ecoregions belong to the tropical dry forests biome. 

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.