Mitigation at Palm Oil Sites Does Little to Enrich Biodiversity

Recent efforts to make Southeast Asia’s ubiquitous palm oil plantations less environmentally destructive have done little or nothing to slow the loss of biodiversity, according to a new study. A paper in The Journal of Applied Ecology showed that amelioration efforts, such as sowing beneficial plants or weeds among the rows of palm oil trees, increased species richness among butterflies by only 0.4 percent and among birds by 2.2 percent. Creating buffer zones between the plantations and adjacent forest was only marginally more helpful. Researchers found that palm oil plantations supported one to 13 butterfly species — as opposed to 85 in undisturbed rain forest — and seven to 14 bird species, as compared with 103 in neighboring areas of intact jungle. Palm oil production has risen more than 10-fold in the past 40 years and is now the main driver of deforestation in many parts of Indonesia and Malaysia.