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Original Research ARTICLE Provisionally accepted The full-text will be published soon. Notify me

Front. For. Glob. Change | doi: 10.3389/ffgc.2019.00075

Managing oil palm plantations more sustainably: large-scale experiments within the Biodiversity and Ecosystem Function in Tropical Agriculture (BEFTA) Programme

 Sarah H. Luke1*,  Andreas D. Advento2,  Anak Agung K. Aryawan2, Dwi N. Adhy3,  Adham Ashton-Butt4, 5,  Holly Barclay6,  Jassica P. Dewi2,  Julia Drewer7,  Alex J. Dumbrell8, Edi Edi9,  Amy E. Eycott1, 10,  Martina F. Harianja1,  Julie K. Hinsch1, 11,  Amelia S. Hood1, Candra Kurniawan2, David J. Kurz1, 12, Darren J. Mann13,  Kirsty J. Matthews Nicholass8,  Mohammad Naim2, Michael D. Pashkevich1,  Graham W. Prescott1, 14, Sudharto Ps2, Pujianto Pujianto2, Dedi Purnomo2,  Rizky R. Purwoko2, Syafrisar Putra2,  T. Dzulfikar S. Rambe2,  Eleanor M. Slade15, 16,  Soeprapto Soeprapto2,  Dakota M. Spear1, Suhardi Suhardi2,  David J. Tan17,  Hsiao-Hang Tao15, 18,  Ribka S. Tarigan2,  Resti Wahyuningsih2, Helen S. Waters1, Rudi H. Widodo2, Whendy Whendy19, Christopher R. Woodham15, 20,  Jean-Pierre Caliman2,  Jake L. Snaddon4, 21,  William A. Foster1 and  Edgar C. Turner1
  • 1Department of Zoology, University of Cambridge, United Kingdom
  • 2SMART Research Institute (SMARTRI), Smart Agribusiness and Food, Indonesia
  • 3Sinar Mas Agro Resources Technology PT Ivo Mas Tunggal, Palapa Estate, Indonesia
  • 4School of Biological Sciences, University of Southampton, United Kingdom
  • 5Department of Biological and Marine Sciences, Faculty of Science and Engineering, University of Hull, United Kingdom
  • 6Monash University Malaysia, Malaysia
  • 7Centre for Ecology and Hydrology (CEH), United Kingdom
  • 8School of Biological Sciences, Faculty of Science and Health, University of Essex, United Kingdom
  • 9Sinar Mas Agro Resources Technology PT Ivo Mas Tunggal, Ujung Tanjung Estate, Indonesia
  • 10Faculty of Biosciences and Aquaculture, Nord University Steinkjer, Norway
  • 11Center for Macroecology, Evolution and Climate, Natural History Museum of Denmark, University of Copenhagen, Denmark
  • 12Department of Environmental Science, Policy, and Management, University of California, Berkeley, United States
  • 13Museum of Natural History, University of Oxford, United Kingdom
  • 14Department of Biological Sciences, Faculty of Science, National University of Singapore, Singapore
  • 15Department of Zoology, University of Oxford, United Kingdom
  • 16Asian School of the Environment, College of Science, Nanyang Technological University, Singapore
  • 17Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum, National University of Singapore, Singapore
  • 18Institute of Oceanography, College of Science, National Taiwan University, Taiwan
  • 19Sinar Mas Agro Resources Technology PT Ivo Mas Tunggal, Kandista Estate, Indonesia
  • 20Department of Plant Sciences, Mathematical, Physical and Life Sciences Division, University of Oxford, United Kingdom
  • 21Department of Geography and Environment, Faculty of Social, Human and Mathematical Sciences, University of Southampton, United Kingdom

Conversion of tropical forest to agriculture results in reduced habitat heterogeneity, and associated declines in biodiversity and ecosystem functions. Management strategies to increase biodiversity in agricultural landscapes have therefore often focused on increasing habitat complexity; however, the large-scale, long-term ecological experiments that are needed to test the effects of these strategies are rare in tropical systems. Oil palm (Elaeis guineensis Jacq.)—one of the most widespread and important tropical crops—offers substantial potential for developing wildlife-friendly management strategies because of its long rotation cycles and tree-like structure. Although there is awareness of the need to increase sustainability, practical options for how best to manage oil palm plantations, for benefits to both the environment and crop productivity, have received little research attention.
In this paper we introduce the Biodiversity and Ecosystem Function in Tropical Agriculture (BEFTA) Programme: a long-term research collaboration between academia and industry in Sumatra, Indonesia. The BEFTA Programme aims to better understand the oil palm agroecosystem and test sustainability strategies. We hypothesise that adjustments to oil palm management could increase structural complexity, stabilize microclimate, and reduce reliance on chemical inputs, thereby helping to improve levels of biodiversity and ecosystem functions. The Programme has established four major components: (1) assessing variability within the plantation under business-as-usual conditions; (2) the BEFTA Understory Vegetation Project, which tests the effects of varying herbicide regimes; (3) the Riparian Ecosystem Restoration in Tropical Agriculture (RERTA) Project, which tests strategies for restoring riparian habitat; and (4) support for additional collaborative projects within the Programme landscape. Across all projects, we are measuring environmental conditions, biodiversity, and ecosystem functions. We also measure oil palm yield and production costs, in order to assess whether suggested sustainability strategies are feasible from an agronomic perspective.
Early results show that oil palm plantation habitat is more variable than might be expected from a monoculture crop, and that everyday vegetation management decisions have significant impacts on habitat structure. The BEFTA Programme highlights the value of large-scale collaborative projects for understanding tropical agricultural systems, and offers a highly valuable experimental set-up for improving our understanding of practices to manage oil palm more sustainably.

Keywords: Habitat heterogenity, palm oil, sustainability, riparian buffer, Biodiversity, Plantation management, Tropical agriculture, Understory vegetation

Received: 31 Mar 2019; Accepted: 30 Oct 2019.

Copyright: © 2019 Luke, Advento, Aryawan, Adhy, Ashton-Butt, Barclay, Dewi, Drewer, Dumbrell, Edi, Eycott, Harianja, Hinsch, Hood, Kurniawan, Kurz, Mann, Matthews Nicholass, Naim, Pashkevich, Prescott, Ps, Pujianto, Purnomo, Purwoko, Putra, Rambe, Slade, Soeprapto, Spear, Suhardi, Tan, Tao, Tarigan, Wahyuningsih, Waters, Widodo, Whendy, Woodham, Caliman, Snaddon, Foster and Turner. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (CC BY). The use, distribution or reproduction in other forums is permitted, provided the original author(s) and the copyright owner(s) are credited and that the original publication in this journal is cited, in accordance with accepted academic practice. No use, distribution or reproduction is permitted which does not comply with these terms.

* Correspondence: Dr. Sarah H. Luke, Department of Zoology, University of Cambridge, Cambridge, United Kingdom,