Peat swamps are being drained for urban or agricultural development at rapid rates. Their acidic waters have commonly been thought to be hostile to life. But Peter Ng, a taxonomist and conservation biologist at the National University of Singapore, has discovered that the peat swamps of Southeast Asia are teeming with rare species of fish and crustaceans.
This article in Nature describes Ng's race to catalogue the life of swamps before they disappear. In the swamps of Selangor, Malaysia, in the early 1990s, he found rare species of catfish that were last recorded in the 1930s. Since 2000, Ng has also conducted surveys on the piles of coral rubble that lie between beaches and tropical reefs. The rubble piles, like the peat swamps, contain species — such as a type of rare crab — previously unknown to science.
Ng's work is often difficult and dangerous — there is no easy way to sample the inaccessible waters — but he is passionate about the urgency of his work. Extrapolating the results of his detailed research has indicated that 42 per cent of the species in Southeast Asia's forests will disappear over the next century if habitat destruction continues at its present rate, and about half of these will be extinctions of species found nowhere else on the planet.