What are plantation crops

Palm oil plantations at the expense of the rainforest

Tuesday, September 23, 2008, 8:05 p.m.

Oil palm plantations are no substitute for tropical rainforests as a habitat - this is confirmed by a recent study in the journal "Trends in Ecology and Evolution". The international research group appeals to the responsible governments of Southeast Asia to act quickly in order to preserve the remaining tropical rainforest.

Precise lines for maximum yield on palm oil plantations 

Oil palms are one of the fastest growing crops in the world. In Southeast Asia in particular, palm oil production is a rapidly growing economic segment. Regardless of the ecological consequences, tropical rainforests are being converted into profitable monocultures - with devastating effects on climate change and biodiversity.

Palm oil is the most processed vegetable oil in the world. It is used, among other things, as food, in cosmetics or as biofuel, which is increasingly in demand in western industrialized countries. Due to global demand, around 130,000 square kilometers are now cultivated in Malaysia and Indonesia, which corresponds to about a third of the area of ​​Germany. Most of the arable land is a former tropical rainforest, which is one of the most biodiverse habitats in the world.

The research group around Carsten Brühl from the University of Koblenz-Landau is evaluating for the first time the few studies published to date on the species richness of birds, bats, ants and various other animal groups in oil palm plantations and were able to show: On average, less than a sixth of the species survive there, which are known from primary rainforests. Even forests used for forestry or plantation crops such as cocoa, rubber trees or coffee are more species-rich than the oil palm plantations.

"The negative consequences of the demand for biofuels and the production of palm oil on biodiversity are already being discussed intensively in public. With the study we would like to underpin the discussion with a solid scientific foundation," says Brühl. The environmental scientist has been researching on Borneo in Malaysia for over 15 years and has been able to follow the dramatic changes in the landscape on site. After the gradual degradation, the majority of the lowland rainforests were converted into a comprehensive oil palm monoculture through the removal of valuable timber.

If the biodiversity in Indonesia and Malaysia is to have a future, action must be taken quickly, according to the international research group. The governments in Southeast Asia must issue appropriate guidelines with which the still existing rainforest can be protected and no further clearing falls victim. In Indonesia, for example, satellite technology has already been tested to prevent illegal logging and to put public pressure on companies with such machinations.

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