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A review of the ecosystem functions in oil palm plantations, using forests as a reference system


, : A review of the ecosystem functions in oil palm plantations, using forests as a reference system. Biological Reviews of the Cambridge Philosophical Society (): -

NlmCategory="UNASSIGNED">Oil palm plantations have expanded rapidly in recent decades. This large-scale land-use change has had great ecological, economic, and social impacts on both the areas converted to oil palm and their surroundings. However, research on the impacts of oil palm cultivation is scattered and patchy, and no clear overview exists. We address this gap through a systematic and comprehensive literature review of all ecosystem functions in oil palm plantations, including several (genetic, medicinal and ornamental resources, information functions) not included in previous systematic reviews. We compare ecosystem functions in oil palm plantations to those in forests, as the conversion of forest to oil palm is prevalent in the tropics. We find that oil palm plantations generally have reduced ecosystem functioning compared to forests: 11 out of 14 ecosystem functions show a net decrease in level of function. Some functions show decreases with potentially irreversible global impacts (e.g. reductions in gas and climate regulation, habitat and nursery functions, genetic resources, medicinal resources, and information functions). The most serious impacts occur when forest is cleared to establish new plantations, and immediately afterwards, especially on peat soils. To variable degrees, specific plantation management measures can prevent or reduce losses of some ecosystem functions (e.g. avoid illegal land clearing via fire, avoid draining of peat, use of integrated pest management, use of cover crops, mulch, and compost) and we highlight synergistic mitigation measures that can improve multiple ecosystem functions simultaneously. The only ecosystem function which increases in oil palm plantations is, unsurprisingly, the production of marketable goods. Our review highlights numerous research gaps. In particular, there are significant gaps with respect to socio-cultural information functions. Further, there is a need for more empirical data on the importance of spatial and temporal scales, such as differences among plantations in different environments, of different sizes, and of different ages, as our review has identified examples where ecosystem functions vary spatially and temporally. Finally, more research is needed on developing management practices that can offset the losses of ecosystem functions. Our findings should stimulate research to address the identified gaps, and provide a foundation for more systematic research and discussion on ways to minimize the negative impacts and maximize the positive impacts of oil palm cultivation.

US$19.90

PMID: 27511961

DOI: 10.1111/brv.12295


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