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This is Billy Hau

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This is Billy Hau

I took up the post of Assistant Professor in DEB from September this year. Steve Pointing, who also started in September, introduced himself in the last issue of Porcupine!, so now it is my turn.

I have to say I was brought up by DEB, although when I graduated from the Environmental Life Science Programme in 1991, DEB had not yet been formed.

I started joining ecology as a summer research assistant of Gray Williams in 1990, working on limpets and encrusting algae. Rapidly inspired by Gray’s real science, I devoted my final year B.Sc. project to another rocky shore organism and studied the ecology of the sea urchin Anthocidaris crassispina. After I graduated from HKU, I joined the World Wide Fund for Nature Hong Kong (WWF) as an Assistant Conservation Officer, focusing on the impacts of urban development on Hong Kong’s natural environment. While I was working for WWF, I finished the part-time M.Sc. in Environmental Management, jointly run by DEB and Centre of Urban Planning and Environmental Management (CUPEM).

The job at WWF deepened my knowledge of the biodiversity of Hong Kong and gave me the chance to identify my postgraduate research topic. I finally decided to study the ecology of forest regeneration, because the extent of degraded forest land in Hong Kong, southern China and throughout the tropics is so large. Many countries have been experiencing serious disasters, such as droughts and floods, that are attributed to the loss of extensive forest cover. For this reason, tropical reforestation has gradually moved from plantation forestry for timber production towards restoring forest function and conserving biodiversity. The latter has been a popular research topic in the tropics since the early 1990s and is still a growing discipline. There are ample opportunities for more research work in this area and the current focus is on "accelerated natural regeneration", i.e. speeding up the natural process of forest recovery.

I started pursuing my Ph.D. degree on forest restoration ecology in September 1994, under the supervision of Richard Corlett. The primary aim of this project was to identify the various physical and biological barriers to natural forest regeneration on Hong Kong’s degraded hillside. My research results suggested that seedling establishment is the most critical stage in tree regeneration on degraded hillside sites in Hong Kong. Insufficient seed input, seed predation by rodents and poor seed germination in dry and exposed conditions significantly reduce the availability of tree propagules. However, once tree seedlings are established, no other factors, except anthropogenic hill fires, significantly affect the growth and survival of the native tree species tested at the three typical hillside sites in this study. More planting trials will be needed to identify the native tree species most suitable for planting at such sites.

I joined the Kadoorie Farm and Botanic Garden (KFBG) in February 1998 as a Senior Conservation Officer. My two main duties at KFBG involved the planning and development of the Hong Kong native tree project and the South China Biodiversity Conservation Programme (SCBCP). The former project aims at promoting forest restoration for wildlife conservation and the emphasis is therefore on planting native tree species. Apart from setting up a native tree nursery for production and research purposes, associated education projects relating to tree planting and habitat restoration for the public, secondary school teachers and students, have been developed over the years. The SCBCP aims at minimizing the loss of forest biodiversity in south China: Guangxi, Guangdong and Hainan Provinces. Stage one of the programme mainly involved rapid biodiversity assessments at selected forest nature reserves in south China, but a number of small scale conservation, education and community development projects targeted at biodiversity conservation have also been initiated. The main focus of the programme now is field report compilation, for which my role as an editor continues.

My primary research interest is forest restoration. I should like to determine the most cost-effective strategy to restore the extensive degraded hillside habitats in Hong Kong and South China. I am currently planning experiments on direct seeding, selecting framework tree species for afforestation and accelerating natural reforestation. As for teaching, my goal is to introduce more China biodiversity elements in the undergraduate programme, hoping that this will raise students' interest in biodiversity conservation. Both Hong Kong and mainland China need more new blood in the conservation field.


Billy Hau




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