Biodiversity, ecosystem functions and policy across a tropical forest modification gradient

Lead Research Organisation: University of Oxford
Department Name: Zoology

Abstract

Tropical forests support over two-thirds of the world's terrestrial biodiversity. However, between 35% and 50% of tropical forests have already been degraded, and the rate of deforestation continues to increase. Secondary forests, plantations and other human-modified habitats now dominate tropical landscapes, leading to concerns that human degradation of these landscapes will elevate greenhouse gas emissions and jeopardise ecosystem services at local, regional and global scales. The area of protected forests is unlikely to increase greatly in the future, so the persistence of tropical biodiversity and the important biogeochemical cycles and ecosystem services associated with it will depend to a large extent on the way we treat the wider tropical landscape. The Human Modified Tropical Forests programme seeks to 'significantly improve our understanding of the links between biodiversity and biogeochemical cycles in tropical forests' through 'integrated observations and modelling linked to gradients in forest modification'. To contribute towards this goal our consortium will use surveys along a modification gradient within the SAFE landscape in Sabah (Malaysian Borneo) to detect patterns, combined with manipulative field experiments to gain a mechanistic understanding of biodiversity-function linkages. We will assess links between above- and belowground components of tropical biodiversity and investigate the extent to which different elements of biodiversity (e.g. species of conservation concern) are associated with measures of ecosystem function (decomposition processes and biogeochemical cycles). We will then upscale from the experimental sites to the landscape-scale to generate spatial layers of ecosystem function, biodiversity, and greenhouse gas fluxes to inform policy scenario modeling. Our work will thus (1) characterise soil microbial function and measuring associated biogeochemical fluxes; (2) Experimentally test the links between aboveground biodiversity and soil function; (3) Build and add to existing datasets for bird and mammals, and explore correlations between ecosystem functioning and the distribution of species of conservation concern; and (4) Explore policy scenarios for optimising biodiversity and function protection.

Planned Impact

The project will generate high quality research that will improve our comprehension of the impact of anthropogenic land-use alterations on the natural world. It will contribute greatly to the pool of excellent studies being published by UK academics, supporting our reputation as world-leaders in the field of global environmental change. To this end, the project is highly relevant to the NERC mission and delivers in relation to both its strategic 'biodiversity' and 'climate system' themes.
Who might benefit from this research? We have identified 5 key stakeholder groups listed below.
1: Academic community: please refer to the 'Academic Beneficiaries' section for details.
2: Oil palm and forestry industry groups: including oil palm producers (e.g. Sime Darby, Benta Wawasan), government agencies (e.g. Malaysian Palm Oil Board, MOPB; Indonesian Palm Oil Association, GAPKI; Sabah Forestry Department; Sabah Parks Department), research organisations (e.g. Center for International Forestry Research, CIFOR; Royal Society's SEnSOR programme) and consultancies (e.g. WildAsia Malaysia, Daemeter Consulting Indonesia, People Nature Consulting Indonesia, REDD+ Task Force).
3: UK and EU policy-makers: such as the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC; UK government department for international climate policy), Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra; producer of the UK Statement on Sustainable Palm Oil), Department for International Development (DFID; funder of research into poverty alleviation through oil palm production), and the European Commission (who make EU-wide decisions pertaining to palm oil production and consumption via instruments such as the Renewable Fuels Directive).
4. Non-governmental organisations: comprising of those working in forest-agricultural landscapes (e.g. Hutan- Kinabatangan Orangutan Conservation Project, Greenpeace, WWF, Conservation International, Rainforest Foundation).
5: General public: who demonstrate a keen awareness of tropical forest ecology, threatened species, oil palm production and climate change issues.

How might they benefit from this research?
1: Academic community: please see 'Academic Beneficiaries'
2 & 4. Oil palm and forestry industry groups/Non-governmental organisations: our project findings will provide recommendations on how to maximise profitability of oil palm plantations while maintaining, or even enhancing, ecosystem function and biodiversity. This state-of-the-art knowledge will benefit organisations interested in both sustainable oil palm production and forestry, particularly in the context of policies (REDD+) and certification schemes (e.g. Forest Stewardship Council, FSC; Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil, RSPO; Roundtable on Sustainable Biofuels) . By engaging these organisations in knowledge exchange throughout the programme of research, we can ensure that our work will be of value in terms of 'real-world' implementation and impact.
3: UK and EU policy-makers: increasing sustainable oil palm agriculture and reducing forest degradation/loss are key policy objectives globally. Our results will provide an informative evidence-base to support policy decision-making in this area, which is currently highly controversial, contradictory and dynamic (e.g. the recently introduced 'Nutella Amendment' in France, that has seen taxes on palm oil products increase by 300% due to environmental concerns; the recent decision by the EU to advocate palm oil produced according to RSPO guidelines as 'sustainable').
5: General public: the project will be of interest to the general population worldwide, as indicated by the substantial media coverage on tropical biodiversity and the associated impacts of human activities. This is an important means by which we can engage/inform the public about the value of biodiversity (e.g. its intrinsic worth, economic significance, ecosystem service provision) and promote awareness of sustainable use and conservation.

Publications


10 25 50
 
Description Conservation Asia 2016 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact We ran a symposium on biodiversity in oil palm plantations, as well as giving 8 talks, including 6 student talks, on a vaiety of topics including bat-insect foodwebs, Greenhouse Gases, small and large mammals, birds, carbon and biodiversity, and riparian areas.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
URL http://www.conservationasia2016.org
 
Description ECR workshop: Developing a research agenda to enhance the environmental sustainability of oil palm 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Newton-Ungku Omar Fund Early Career Researcher meeting, Kota Kinabalu, November 2016. Developing a research agenda to enhance the environmental sustainability of oil palm
A 3 day networking event organised by Matt Struebig, Eleanor Slade, Jen Lucey, Agnes Agama, Zoe Davies, Charles Vairappan & Glen Reynolds.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
URL http://lombok.hmtf.info/forthcoming-events/
 
Description GTO Goettingen 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Postgraduate students
Results and Impact Rebecca Morris co-organised symposium on 'Human Modified Tropical Forests' and presented a talk on our work: 'Biodiversity, ecosystem functioning and policy across a tropical forest modification gradient: an overview of research by the LOMBOK consortium'. European Conference of Tropical Ecology, 24th February 2016, Göttingen, Germany.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
 
Description HoB 2015 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Eleanor Slade spoke on 'Preserving Biodiversity-Ecosystem Functioning Relationships in Human Modified Tropical Landscapes' at the Heart of Borneo Conference, 12th November 2015, Kota Kinablau, Sabah, Malaysia.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2015
 
Description HoB 2016 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Co-organised and chaired a workshop on the science-policy interface for conservation in oil palm-dominated landscapes, as part of the Heart of Borneo symposium in Kota Kinabalu, Malaysia, November 2016. Small group discussions, brainstorming on research needs, and formal presentations.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
 
Description ICOPE 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Chaired session and spoke about our work on Greenhouse Gas fluxes at the International Conference on Oil Palm and the Environment (ICOPE): Sustainable Palm Oil and Climate Change: The Way Forward Through Mitigation and Adaptation, 16-18 March 2016, held in Bali, Indonesia.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
 
Description LOMBOK videos 
Form Of Engagement Activity A broadcast e.g. TV/radio/film/podcast (other than news/press)
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Series of videos produced in collaboration with SEARRP, introducing our project and its goals, with footage from the field and interviews with researchers.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
URL https://vimeo.com/205751918
 
Description RSPO HCV working group 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Industry/Business
Results and Impact Eleanor Slade presented our work on "Enhancing Environmental Resilience in Oil Palm Landscapes via Improved Design of Riparian Reserves" at the RSPO Biodiversity and High Conservation Value Working Group Meeting, 26th July 2016, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
 
Description Riparian Stakeholder consultation 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact 22 June 2016 - Knowledge exchange and stakeholder consultation meeting, Sabah Softwoods HQ, Tawau.
Hosted by our project in collaboration with SEARRP. We presented to 35 participants that included oil palm plantation managers and directors of Benta Wawasan and Sabah Softwoods, as well as other key stakeholders from Yayasan Sabah and Sabah Forest Department. The meeting had three aims:
1. Present an update of LOMBOK research activities and address any questions arising. We focused on the soil emission, carbon stock and biodiversity components.
2. Outline proposals to extend the programme to riparian sites. A key suggestion of applied interest to the plantation managers was to investigate the influence of buffer width as well as provisions for pest beetle species.
3. Outline plans for spatial analyses and request input on policy scenarios and economic/ management data.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
URL http://lombok.hmtf.info/riparian-stakeholder-consultation/