An early morning view of Mount Kinabalu from  the city of Kota Kinabalu  on the west coast of Sabah.  Kota Kinabalu means Fort of Kinabalu in Malay.

Mount Kinabalu (4,095m) is the highest mountain in SE Asia between Myanmar and New Guinea. Scientists believe that  the tropical forests of Borneo have  had the world’s most stable climate over the last 40 million years with the least seasonal variation in rainfall.

During  the occasional droughts,  the many mountainous areas  of Borneo close to the coast have acted as  (very wet) rain traps and plant refuges. The result has been  that the evolution of new plant species on Kinabalu has exceeded the extinction rate over many millions of years.

According to botanist Anthony Van Der Ent,  the forest in the Kinabalu Park has the highest plant diversity per unit area of  any similar sized site in the world.

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Kinabalu Park includes virgin forest from the lowlands up to the bare rocks  above the treeline  at around 3,300m.  Above the treeline you can continue to find stunted shrubs  including a fig growing in clefts in the rock right up to the summit (Low’s Peak)  at 4095 m.
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The numerous different microhabitats within a relatively small area is an additional explanation for the incredibly high diversity of plants and animals on Kinabalu. Differences in temperature, rainfall  and soils all  result in  the eventual evolution of new plant species provided the climate remains stable for  long enough.
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Ficus oleifolia  is a montane fig, here growing in a rock crevice above the tree line on Kinabalu.  Ficus oleifolia is the most common fig recorded from Kinabalu  above 1, 500 m and continues to thrive whilst growing at the  highest altitude  of any fig in the world.  Photo Anthony Van der Ent.
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Ficus oleifolia  with ripe fig fruit growing just below the treeline on Kinabalu.  Photo Anthony Van der Ent.
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Ficus oleifolia with ripe fig fruit growing in the forest understorey at Kinabalu Park HQ. F. oleifolia is extremely variable in shape of fruit and leaf depending on the habitat. Photo Quentin Phillipps.
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Ficus inaequipetiolata is a Borneo endemic  found particularly in areas  of ultramafic soil on Kinabalu. Only a few species of figs are able to tolerate  ultramafic soil with a high nickel content. Photo Anthony Van der Ent.
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Ficus sinuata  is another  common Kinabalu fig. F. sinuata is also found on  the high mountains of Java, Sumatra and in the Malay Peninsula but not in the intervening lowlands, a relic of colder climates in the past when the moutains of Sundland were all conected by motane forest.  Photo Anthony Van der Ent.
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As well as the niche specialist figs illustrated above Kinabalu also hosts most of Borneo’s common lowland figs such as Ficus septica.  The figs of F. septica ripen green and are dispersed by bats. Photo Anthony Van der Ent.
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According to Beaman and Anderson (2004) herbarium records list 83 Ficus species recorded for Kinabalu prior to  2004.  If one deletes a few mistakes and adds  some later records, the total is probably now over 90 species. For example the  strangling fig (Ficus kerkhovenii)  above photographed by Tony Lamb at Poring  is not recorded for Kinabalu by Beaman and Anderson.

Beaman & Anderson (2004) Ficus list for Kinabalu

Corner (1964) A Discussion of the results of the Royal Society Expedition to North Borneo (1964)

Corner (1996) Kinabalu Figs

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