Palm Oil Plantations Will Never be ‘Wildlife Friendly’

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Agricultural expansion is one of the main threats to biodiversity. Oil palm plantations have received a lot of attention recently because they are competing with primary rainforests in Southeast Asia. Moreover, oil palm (Elais guineensis) is one of the most rapidly expanding commodity crops. Many studies consistently showed that oil palm plantations support lower animal diversity than native forests.
Aerial view of a palm oil plantation (Photo credit: World Wildlife Fund)

Aerial view of a palm oil plantation (Photo credit: World Wildlife Fund)

In a recently published paper in Ecological Applications*(http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1890/14-1928.1/abstract), Yue and colleagues investigated if oil palm plantation traits could be manipulated to make those plantations more “wildlife friendly”.
 
They set up camera traps in oil palm plantations and adjacent forests in Sabah, Malaysian Borneo to document mammal diversity. They found that species richness dramatically decreased in oil palm plantations with decreasing forest proximity, from 14 species in the forest to about 1 species 2 km into the plantation. They did not find any influence from the plantation traits such as tree height or canopy cover. Their results strongly suggest that manipulating oil palm plantations traits will not make it more welcoming for wildlife. The authors concluded that conservation efforts should mainly focus on land-sparing strategies rather than trying to make oil palm plantations wildlife-friendly.
*Yue S., Brodie J.F., Zipkin E.F. & Bernard H. (2015). Oil palm plantations fail to support mammal diversity. Ecol. Appl., 25, 2285-2292.
  • Marie Sigaud, Research Coordinator
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