Oil palm plantations are no substitute for tropical rainforests

September 16th, 2008 - 5:13 pm ICT by ANI  

Washington, September 16 (ANI): A new study has shown that oil palm plantations are no substitute for tropical rainforests, which makes the protection of the rainforests all the more important.

Emily Fitzherbert from the Zoological Society of London and University of East Anglia carried out the study.

The continued expansion of oil palm plantations will worsen the dual environmental crises of climate change and biodiversity loss, unless rainforests are better protected, warn scientists.

There has been much debate over the role of palm oil production in tropical deforestation and its impacts on biodiversity. We wanted to put the discussion on a firm scientific footing, said Fitzherbert.

Palm oil, used in food, cosmetics, biofuels and other products, is now the worlds leading vegetable oil. It is derived from the fruit of the oil palm, grown on more than 50,000-square miles of moist, tropical lowland areas, mostly in Malaysia and Indonesia.

These areas, once covered in tropical rainforest, the globes richest wildlife habitat on land, are also home to some of the most threatened species on earth.

The review singles out deforestation associated with plantation development as by far the biggest ecological impact, but finds that the links between the two are often much more complex than portrayed in the popular press.

According to co-author Matt Struebig, from Queen Mary, University of London, Most land-cover statistics do not allow us to distinguish where oil palm has actually driven forest clearance.

Oil palm certainly has directly replaced tropical forest in some areas, but oil palm companies also often have close links with timber or paper pulp companies, giving additional motives for deforestation, he added.

Within countries, oil palm is usually grown in a few productive areas, but it looks set to spread further. Demand is increasing rapidly and ”its potential as a future agent of deforestation is enormous, the study said.

Most of the suitable land left is within the last remaining large areas of tropical rainforest in Central Africa, Latin America and Southeast Asia.

Where oil palm has replaced tropical forest the impact on wildlife depends on what species survive in the new oil palm habitat.

The study confirmed that oil palm is a poor substitute habitat for the majority of tropical forest species, particularly forest specialists and those of conservation concern.

By compiling scientific studies of birds, bats, ants and other species, we were able to show that on average, fewer than one-sixth of the species recorded in primary forest were found in oil palm, said Fitzherbert.

Degraded forest, and even alternative crops such as rubber and cocoa, supported higher numbers of species than oil palm plantations, she added. (ANI)

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