Oil palm plantation on Sumatra, Indonesia. There, the scientists investigate the consequences of the conversion of lowland rainforests into oil palm plantations.
Photo: © Claudia Dislich

23.09.2016

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An interdisciplinary team of scientists from Germany and Indonesia assessed the ecosystem functions in oil palm plantations as compared to lowland forests. They found that in oil palm plantations, eleven out of 14 ecosystem functions showed a net decrease, some with an irreversible global impact.

Large areas of tropical lowland forests have been replaced by oil palm plantations, with major impact on environment and people. An interdisciplinary team of scientists from the University of Göttingen, the Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research (UFZ) in Leipzig – both in Germany - and Bogor Agricultural University in Indonesia has now performed a complete and multidisciplinary assessment of all ecosystem functions in oil palm plantations as compared to lowland forests. They found that in oil palm plantations, eleven out of 14 ecosystem functions showed a net decrease, some with an irreversible global impact. The results also reveal mitigation options that can reduce damage and benefit multiple ecosystem functions simultaneously. The study was published in Biological Reviews.

So far, research on the environmental impact of oil palm cultivation has been scattered and patchy. Synthesizing about 1000 scientific studies and reports, the scientists were now able to give a balanced report on the changes in all 14 ecosystem functions, including gas and climate regulation, water regulation and supply, moderation of extreme events, provision of food and raw materials, as well as medicinal resources.

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