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Oil palm plantations having a catastrophic effect on wildlife
Conservationists have discovered that forest fragmentation driven by demand for palm oil is having a catastrophic effect on multiple levels of biodiversity in central Peninsular Malaysia.
In a paper published by Ecology Letters, the team, including Dr Matthew Struebig from the University of Kents Durrell Institute of Conservation and Ecology (DICE) and Queen Mary University of London (QMUL), explains that unless certain steps are taken to safeguard and manage the remaining forest then certain species will struggle to survive.
Having decided to use bats as an indicator of environmental change, the team conducted bat surveys in pristine forest and also in forest patches of varying size in the region. They recorded the numbers of different species present and also assessed the level of genetic diversity within populations of some species.
When the team compared the number of species present to genetic diversity within populations they found that fragmentation appeared to have an even greater impact on genetic loss, which might also be important for long-term population viability.
Dr Struebig, who was lead author on the paper, explained: We found that smaller forest areas support fewer species, and that those species that remain face an eventual decline, potentially leading to local extinction in the long-term.
We also found that in order to retain the numbers of bat species seen in pristine forest, forest patches had to be larger than 650 hectares – however, to retain comparable levels of genetic diversity, areas needed to be greater than 10,000 hectares.
Co-author Dr Stephen Rossiter from QMUL emphasised that the findings could have important implications for forest management in the face of the ever-growing demand for oil palm plantations.
He said: We found that while more species existed in larger forest patches, even small fragments contributed to overall diversity. Therefore, conservation managers should aim to protect existing small fragments, while seeking to join up small forest areas to maximise diversity.
Parallel declines in species and genetic diversity in tropical forest fragments (Matthew J Struebig; Tigga Kingston; Eric J Petit); Steven C Le Comber; Akbar Zubaid; Adura Mohd-Adnan and Stephen J Rossiter) was published in Ecology Letters on 13 May 2011.
Story published at 2:28pm 18 May 2011