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At their highest altitudinal limits, montane forests are covered by moss-draped bushes and epiphytes (orchids, ferns, moss, lichen, and liverworts). In general, the higher the altitude, the lower the canopy height.

© A. Christy Williams / WWF
Dense forest landscape of the northeast tip of Borneo, in the Malaysian state of Sabah, the habitat of the endemic Bornean Pygmy elephant (Elephas maximus borneensis). Sabah, North Borneo, Malaysia.
© A. Christy Williams / WWF

Reaching for the top

Montane forests cover the Borneo highlands from around 1,000 metres to 3,300 metres (Mt Kinabalu, Sabah). At the higher end of this range, forests are dominated by oaks (Quercus species) and laurels (Lauraceae family) and rhododendrons (belonging to family Ericaceae) and pitcher plants are easily found.

Wildlife of the highlands

You will find fewer plant and animal species in montane forests compared to lowland rainforests because montane regions have adverse climate, a lack of shelter and food shortages.

For example, on Gunung Mulu in Sarawak, 171 bird species can be found on its lowland slopes. The range of most species does not exceed 900 metres and at the boundary of the upper montane region at 1,300 metres, only 12 species are found.

Prominent montane birds include laughing-thrushes and the treepie. 21 near-endemic and 2 endemic bird species are found in these forests. These include 2 threatened species, the blue-banded kingfisher (Alcedo euryzona) and the migratory fairy pitta (Pitta nympha).

Over 150 mammal species live in Borneo’s montane forests, which makes them the most species-rich compared to similar forests in the Indo-Pacific region. 18 mammals have adapted to montane forests to such a degree that they are found nowhere else on the island, including various squirrels, tree shrews and rats – of these, 13 are threatened.

Orangutans (Pongo pygmaeus species), gibbons (Hylobatidae family), langurs (species), gibbons (Colobinae subfamily) and macaques (Macaca species) are found in both lowland and montane forests. Undisturbed areas can even support such large mammals as the endangered Sumatran rhinoceros (Dicerorhinussumatrensis).
© Michel Terrettaz / WWF
Nepenthes sp. Pitcher plant Kinabalu National Park, Malaysia
© Michel Terrettaz / WWF