Published on 12 Apr 2021

Setting aside land beside rivers makes oil palm plantations more sustainable – if it’s done right – shows new study from Sabah

How to promote biodiversity in palm oil plantations

In a recent publication in the Journal of Applied Ecology ASE Asst Prof Eleanor Slade and her (London-based) graduate student Joseph Williamson show that the efficacy of these buffer zones depends very much on their quality; they work well only if they are wide enough (80m), contain different kinds of plants and topography also needs to be taken into account.

Deforestation of tropical rainforest drastically alters the local microclimate making it warmer and drier. Preserved strips of forests along rivers, also known as riparian buffers, shelter the sun and preserve humidity, providing a microclimate refuge for forest species stranded in the agricultural landscape.

The researchers used remote sensing and microclimate dataloggers to measure the quality of riparian buffer zones in palm oil plantations in Sabah, Borneo. For comparison, they also took measurements in palm oil plantations and continuous logged forest in the area.

The study confirmed that riparian buffer zones were cooler and moister than oil palm plantations, and continuous forest even more so. At a distance of 80 – 100 meters from the plantation edge (on each side of the river), riparian buffers were as cool and moist as continuous forest. A with of 20 – 30 meters on each side of the river, as is widely legislated today, leaves a lot of potential benefits of the riparian buffer unused.

The study shows that by designing better riparian buffers, including restoring forests in the buffer zones, the ecological value of these set-aside zones could greatly increase, supporting water quality and hydrological processes as well as biodiversity and other ecological benefits, in oil palm plantations.

 

Original publication: Riparian buffers act as microclimatic refugia in oil palm landscapes

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