[ICCB 2019] In Southeast Asia, oil palm expansion threatens biodiversity and the work of conservationists. Knowing where oil palm might go next then, helps inform conservation, says Molly Hennekam, an applied ecologist at the University of Adelaide, Australia.
(Photo: A composite map of Southeast Asia showing Key Biodiversity Areas and areas of potential oil palm expansion. “Suitability” here refers only to ecological factors like climate and soil. Credit: Hennekam, Sarira, Koh)
They do so by checking the overlap between designated Key Biodiversity Areas and suitability of oil palm growth. Key Biodiversity Areas are sites identified by IUCN standards as crucial sites that support global biodiversity.
Lots of land
The team found that globally, there are around 5.5 million hectares of potential future oil palm areas located outside Key Biodiversity Areas, as well as biodiversity hotspots and the range of any threatened amphibian, bird and mammal species.
In Southeast Asia, they found that about 31% of Key Biodiversity Areas (about 215,000 km2 out of 704,000 km2) in Southeast Asia are ill-suited for oil palm. Hennekam presented the results on 22 July at the ICCB.
Hennekam sees that 31% in a positive light. “Areas of low oil palm suitability have more opportunities for conservation because they experience less pressure from industry,” she said in her presentation.
Two data sets
The results came from comparing two sets of data.
They took locations of Key Biodiversity Areas in Southeast Asia provided by IUCN and Birdlife International. They derived the gradients that showed ecological suitability of oil palm from models of the Global Agro-Ecological Zones.
The data was imposed onto a map of Southeast Asia. Finally, they removed existing oil palm estates (though small holders might not be accounted for), agriculture and urban sites from this composite map.
The product is a map (see photo) depicting areas for potential oil palm expansion, how suitable those areas are for oil palm and where they overlap with Key Biodiversity Areas.
But Hennekam’s map shows only a facet of oil palm expansion. She has only looked at where oil palm can grow ecologically.
“One of the biggest caveats of this suitability map is it’s not taking into account any of the social, political and economic factors” that also determine oil palm expansion, Hennekam tells Macaranga.
“It’s not a silver bullet,” says Hennekam. “It’s just an additional small piece of information that conservation practitioners can use to better understand” the risk of oil palm expansion at their sites.
The team started this project as part of a IUCN report–Oil palm and biodiversity–which was published in 2018. But for Hennekam, the map remains a work-in-progress. They will next refine it at country-specific scale.
“We will continue taking this further and further, purely because we are really interested in the outcomes,” says Hennekam.
This is a part of our reporting on the International Congress for Conservation Biology, July 21-25, 2019, Kuala Lumpur.