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(BEFTA) Project - biodiversity and eco-system services of palm oil plantation

last modified Oct 29, 2013 12:07 PM

The Biodiversity and Ecosystem Function in Tropical Agriculture 

William Foster and Ed Turner, University Museum of Zoology. Cambridge


Palm oil is among the most important sources of vegetable oil worldwide. With increasing demand as a feedstock for biofuel production, its global demand is set to increase. It is clear that forest conversion to oil palm plantation has severe impacts on biodiversity. However, little research has focussed on methods that can be employed to increase biodiversity within plantation habitats.

The Biodiversity and Ecosystem Function in Tropical Agriculture (BEFTA) Project aims to quantify the effect of habitat complexity within oil palm plantations on biodiversity and the role of this biodiversity in ecosystem functioning and productivity. By working closely with its project partner, Sinar Mas Agro Resources and Technology Corporation Research Institute (SMARTRI), BEFTA will manipulate the understory and epiphyte complexity within the oil palm landscape to assess the potential for biodiversity-friendly management to enhance ecosystem services and crop production.

In particular the project will:

  • quantify the effect of habitat complexity in maintaining biodiversity, ecosystem function and ecosystem services within oil palm 
  • develop novel experimental approaches for partitioning the effects of habitat structural complexity  and aspects of biodiversity on ecosystem functioning
  • predict and model optimal cover of understory and epiphyte vegetation in oil palm plantations so as to maximize biodiversity and economic profitability through ecosystem services.

Although only at the end of its first year, the project has already established experimental study plots in Sinar Mas plantations in Riau, Sumatra, collected baseline data on habitat structure and complexity, carried out comprehensive surveys of a wide range of taxonomic groups, measured a range of ecosystem functions, and recorded levels of palm oil productivity in the plots since January 2013. The project will deliver important information on the potential for more biodiversity-friendly management in oil palm plantations without reducing yield.