Oil palm monoculture induces drastic erosion of an Amazonian forest mammal fauna.
ABSTRACT: Oil palm monoculture comprises one of the most financially attractive land-use options in tropical forests, but cropland suitability overlaps the distribution of many highly threatened vertebrate species. We investigated how forest mammals respond to a landscape mosaic, including mature oil palm plantations and primary forest patches in Eastern Amazonia. Using both line-transect censuses (LTC) and camera-trapping (CT), we quantified the general patterns of mammal community structure and attempted to identify both species life-history traits and the environmental and spatial covariates that govern species intolerance to oil palm monoculture. Considering mammal species richness, abundance, and species composition, oil palm plantations were consistently depauperate compared to the adjacent primary forest, but responses differed between functional groups. The degree of forest habitat dependency was a leading trait, determining compositional dissimilarities across habitats. Considering both the LTC and CT data, distance from the forest-plantation interface had a significant effect on mammal assemblages within each habitat type. Approximately 87% of all species detected within oil palm were never farther than 1300 m from the forest edge. Our study clearly reinforces the notion that conventional oil palm plantations are extremely hostile to native tropical forest biodiversity, which does not bode well given prospects for oil palm expansion in both aging and new Amazonian deforestation frontiers.
Project description:The rapid expansion of oil palm cultivation in the Neotropics has generated great debate around possible biodiversity impacts. Colombia, for example, is the largest producer of oil palm in the Americas, but the effects of oil palm cultivation on native fauna are poorly understood. Here, we compared how richness, abundance and composition of terrestrial mammal species differ between oil palm plantations and riparian forest in the Colombian Llanos region. Further, we determined the relationships and influence of landscape and habitat level variables on those metrics. We found that species richness and composition differed significantly between riparian forest and oil palm, with site level richness inside oil palm plantations 47% lower, on average, than in riparian forest. Within plantations, mammalian species richness was strongly negatively correlated with cattle abundance, and positively correlated with the density of undergrowth vegetation. Forest structure characteristics appeared to have weak and similar effects on determining mammal species richness and composition along riparian forest strips. Composition at the landscape level was significantly influenced by cover type, percentage of remaining forest and the distance to the nearest town, whereas within oil palm sites, understory vegetation, cattle relative abundance, and canopy cover had significant effects on community composition. Species specific abundance responses varied between land cover types, with oil palm having positive effects on mesopredators, insectivores and grazers. Our findings suggest that increasing habitat complexity, avoiding cattle and retaining native riparian forest-regardless of its structure-inside oil palm-dominated landscapes would help support higher native mammal richness and abundance at both local and landscape scales.
Project description:Expansion of oil palm plantations across the humid tropics has precipitated massive loss of tropical forest habitats and their associated speciose biotas. Oil palm plantation monocultures have been identified as an emerging threat to Amazonian biodiversity, but there are no quantitative studies exploring the impact of these plantations on the biome's biota. Understanding these impacts is extremely important given the rapid projected expansion of oil palm cultivation in the basin. Here we investigate the biodiversity value of oil palm plantations in comparison with other dominant regional land-uses in Eastern Amazonia. We carried out bird surveys in oil palm plantations of varying ages, primary and secondary forests, and cattle pastures. We found that oil palm plantations retained impoverished avian communities with a similar species composition to pastures and agrarian land-uses and did not offer habitat for most forest-associated species, including restricted range species and species of conservation concern. On the other hand, the forests that the oil palm companies are legally obliged to protect hosted a relatively species-rich community including several globally-threatened bird species. We consider oil palm to be no less detrimental to regional biodiversity than other agricultural land-uses and that political pressure exerted by large landowners to allow oil palm to count as a substitute for native forest vegetation in private landholdings with forest restoration deficits would have dire consequences for regional biodiversity.
Project description:While the conservation role of remaining natural habitats in anthropogenic landscapes is clear, the degree to which agricultural matrices impose limitations to animal use is not well understood, but vital to assess species' resilience to land use change. Using an occupancy framework, we evaluated how oil palm plantations affect the occurrence and habitat use of terrestrial mammals in the Colombian Llanos. Further, we evaluated the effect of undergrowth vegetation and proximity to forest on habitat use within plantations. Most species exhibited restricted distributions across the study area, especially in oil palm plantations. Habitat type strongly influenced habitat use of four of the 12 more widely distributed species with oil palm negatively affecting species such as capybara and naked-tailed armadillo. The remaining species showed no apparent effect of habitat type, but oil palm and forest use probabilities varied among species. Overall, generalist mesocarnivores, white-tailed deer, and giant anteater were more likely to use oil palm while the remaining species, including ocelot and lesser anteater, showed preferences for forest. Distance to nearest forest had mixed effects on species habitat use, while understory vegetation facilitated the presence of species using oil palm. Our findings suggest that allowing undergrowth vegetation inside plantations and maintaining nearby riparian corridors would increase the likelihood of terrestrial mammals' occurrence within oil palm landscapes.
Project description:Palm oil is the most widely traded vegetable oil globally, with demand projected to increase substantially in the future. Almost all oil palm grows in areas that were once tropical moist forests, some of them quite recently. The conversion to date, and future expansion, threatens biodiversity and increases greenhouse gas emissions. Today, consumer pressure is pushing companies toward deforestation-free sources of palm oil. To guide interventions aimed at reducing tropical deforestation due to oil palm, we analysed recent expansions and modelled likely future ones. We assessed sample areas to find where oil palm plantations have recently replaced forests in 20 countries, using a combination of high-resolution imagery from Google Earth and Landsat. We then compared these trends to countrywide trends in FAO data for oil palm planted area. Finally, we assessed which forests have high agricultural suitability for future oil palm development, which we refer to as vulnerable forests, and identified critical areas for biodiversity that oil palm expansion threatens. Our analysis reveals regional trends in deforestation associated with oil palm agriculture. In Southeast Asia, 45% of sampled oil palm plantations came from areas that were forests in 1989. For South America, the percentage was 31%. By contrast, in Mesoamerica and Africa, we observed only 2% and 7% of oil palm plantations coming from areas that were forest in 1989. The largest areas of vulnerable forest are in Africa and South America. Vulnerable forests in all four regions of production contain globally high concentrations of mammal and bird species at risk of extinction. However, priority areas for biodiversity conservation differ based on taxa and criteria used. Government regulation and voluntary market interventions can help incentivize the expansion of oil palm plantations in ways that protect biodiversity-rich ecosystems.
Project description:Agricultural expansion is one of the leading causes of deforestation in the tropics and in Southeast Asia it is predominantly driven by large-scale production for international trade. Peninsular Malaysia has a long history of plantation agriculture and has been a predominantly resource-based economy where expanding plantations like those of oil palm continue to replace natural forests. Habitat loss from deforestation and expanding plantations threatens Malaysian biodiversity. Expanding industrial plantations have also been responsible for drainage and conversions of peatland forests resulting in release of large amounts of carbon dioxide. The demand for palm oil is expected to increase further and result in greater pressures on tropical forests. Given Malaysia's high biophysical suitability for oil palm cultivation, it is important to understand patterns of oil palm expansion to better predict forest areas that are vulnerable to future expansion. We study natural forest conversion to industrial oil palm in Peninsular Malaysia between 1988 and 2012 to identify determinants of recent oil palm expansion using logistic regression and hierarchical partitioning. Using maps of recent conversions and remaining forests, we characterize agro-environmental suitability and accessibility for the past and future conversions. We find that accessibility to previously existing plantations is the strongest determinant of oil palm expansion and is significant throughout the study period. Almost all (> 99%) of the forest loss between 1988 and 2012 that has been converted to industrial oil palm plantations is within 1 km from oil palm plantations that have been established earlier. Although most forest conversions to industrial oil palm have been in areas of high biophysical suitability, there has been an increase in converted area in regions with low oil palm suitability since 2006. We find that reduced suitability does not necessarily restrict conversions to industrial oil palm in the region; however, lack of access to established plantations does.
Project description:Tropical forests in the Americas are undergoing rapid conversion to commercial agriculture, and many migratory bird species that use these forests have experienced corresponding populations declines. Conservation research for migratory birds in the tropics has focused overwhelmingly on shade coffee plantations and adjacent forest, but both cover types are now in decline, creating an urgent need to evaluate conservation opportunities in other agricultural systems. Here we compare how a community of 42 Neotropical migratory bird species and a subset of five conservation-priority species differ in usage and habitat associations among a secondary forest baseline and four expanding commercial plantation systems in Guatemala: African oil palm, teak, rubber, and mixed-native hardwoods. We found that mixed-native hardwood plantations supported the highest richness and diversity of all migrants and that the three hardwood plantation types generally outperformed oil palm in richness and diversity metrics. Despite this, oil palm supported high abundance of several common and widespread species also experiencing range-wide population declines and may therefore play an important role in conserving common species. Mature secondary forest hosted low abundance and diversity of the full migratory community, but high abundance and richness of conservation priority migrants along with native hardwood and teak plantations. Likewise, the percentage of forest cover on the landscape was positively associated with priority migrant abundance and richness but negatively associated with the abundance of migrants in general, highlighting how individual species within the broad group of Neotropical migratory landbirds respond differently to anthropogenic changes in land use. Across all cover types, the retention of tall overstory trees increased the abundance, richness, and diversity of all migrants, which indicates that vertical structural diversity and remnant trees are important habitat features for birds in agricultural landscapes. Our findings show that conservation opportunities exist in hardwood and oil palm plantations, though the species likely to benefit from conservation action will vary among plantation types. For the subset of conservation priority migrants, our results suggest that conservation efforts should combine strategies that retain and restore secondary forest, promote the adoption of native hardwood and teak plantations, and promote the retention of tall, remnant trees in agricultural landscapes.
Project description:Many major corporations and countries have made commitments to purchase or produce only "sustainable" palm oil, a commodity responsible for substantial tropical forest loss. Sustainability certification is the tool most used to fulfill these procurement policies, and around 20% of global palm oil production was certified by the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) in 2017. However, the effect of certification on deforestation in oil palm plantations remains unclear. Here, we use a comprehensive dataset of RSPO-certified and noncertified oil palm plantations (?188,000 km2) in Indonesia, the leading producer of palm oil, as well as annual remotely sensed metrics of tree cover loss and fire occurrence, to evaluate the impact of certification on deforestation and fire from 2001 to 2015. While forest loss and fire continued after RSPO certification, certified palm oil was associated with reduced deforestation. Certification lowered deforestation by 33% from a counterfactual of 9.8 to 6.6% y-1 Nevertheless, most plantations contained little residual forest when they received certification. As a result, by 2015, certified areas held less than 1% of forests remaining within Indonesian oil palm plantations. Moreover, certification had no causal impact on forest loss in peatlands or active fire detection rates. Broader adoption of certification in forested regions, strict requirements to avoid all peat, and routine monitoring of clearly defined forest cover loss in certified and RSPO member-held plantations appear necessary if the RSPO is to yield conservation and climate benefits from reductions in tropical deforestation.
Project description:Tropical forests are being rapidly altered by logging and cleared for agriculture. Understanding the effects of these land use changes on soil bacteria, which constitute a large proportion of total biodiversity and perform important ecosystem functions, is a major conservation frontier. Here we studied the effects of logging history and forest conversion to oil palm plantations in Sabah, Borneo, on the soil bacterial community. We used paired-end Illumina sequencing of the 16S rRNA gene, V3 region, to compare the bacterial communities in primary, once-logged, and twice-logged forest and land converted to oil palm plantations. Bacteria were grouped into operational taxonomic units (OTUs) at the 97% similarity level, and OTU richness and local-scale ?-diversity showed no difference between the various forest types and oil palm plantations. Focusing on the turnover of bacteria across space, true ?-diversity was higher in oil palm plantation soil than in forest soil, whereas community dissimilarity-based metrics of ?-diversity were only marginally different between habitats, suggesting that at large scales, oil palm plantation soil could have higher overall ?-diversity than forest soil, driven by a slightly more heterogeneous community across space. Clearance of primary and logged forest for oil palm plantations did, however, significantly impact the composition of soil bacterial communities, reflecting in part the loss of some forest bacteria, whereas primary and logged forests did not differ in composition. Overall, our results suggest that the soil bacteria of tropical forest are to some extent resilient or resistant to logging but that the impacts of forest conversion to oil palm plantations are more severe.
Project description:Soil fungi are key players in nutrient cycles as decomposers, mutualists and pathogens, but the impact of tropical rain forest transformation into rubber or oil palm plantations on fungal community structures and their ecological functions are unknown. We hypothesized that increasing land use intensity and habitat loss due to the replacement of the hyperdiverse forest flora by nonendemic cash crops drives a drastic loss of diversity of soil fungal taxa and impairs the ecological soil functions. Unexpectedly, rain forest conversion was not associated with strong diversity loss but with massive shifts in soil fungal community composition. Fungal communities clustered according to land use system and loss of plant species. Network analysis revealed characteristic fungal genera significantly associated with different land use systems. Shifts in soil fungal community structure were particularly distinct among different trophic groups, with substantial decreases in symbiotrophic fungi and increases in saprotrophic and pathotrophic fungi in oil palm and rubber plantations in comparison with rain forests. In conclusion, conversion of rain forests and current land use systems restructure soil fungal communities towards enhanced pathogen pressure and, thus, threaten ecosystem health functions.
Project description:Tropical agriculture is expanding rapidly at the expense of forest, driving a global extinction crisis. How to create agricultural landscapes that minimise the clearance of forest and maximise sustainability is thus a key issue. One possibility is protecting natural forest within or adjacent to crop monocultures to harness important ecosystem services provided by biodiversity spill-over that may facilitate production. Yet this contrasts with the conflicting potential that the retention of forest exports dis-services, such as agricultural pests. We focus on oil palm and obtained yields from 499 plantation parcels spanning a total of ?23,000 ha of oil palm plantation in Sabah, Malaysian Borneo. We investigate the relationship between the extent and proximity of both contiguous and fragmented dipterocarp forest cover and oil palm yield, controlling for variation in oil palm age and for environmental heterogeneity by incorporating proximity to non-native forestry plantations, other oil palm plantations, and large rivers, elevation and soil type in our models. The extent of forest cover and proximity to dipterocarp forest were not significant predictors of oil palm yield. Similarly, proximity to large rivers and other oil palm plantations, as well as soil type had no significant effect. Instead, lower elevation and closer proximity to forestry plantations had significant positive impacts on oil palm yield. These findings suggest that if dipterocarp forests are exporting ecosystem service benefits or ecosystem dis-services, that the net effect on yield is neutral. There is thus no evidence to support arguments that forest should be retained within or adjacent to oil palm monocultures for the provision of ecosystem services that benefit yield. We urge for more nuanced assessments of the impacts of forest and biodiversity on yields in crop monocultures to better understand their role in sustainable agriculture.