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Riparian Buffers Can Mitigate Biodiversity Declines in Oil Palm Plantations

Riparian buffer in an oil palm plantation. Photo credit Matthew Struebig.

The expansion of oil palm across Borneo has fragmented forest habitats and created barriers to movement for many forest animals resulting in a loss of biodiversity in these human-modified landscapes. Riparian buffers (strips of vegetation alongside waterways) are important patches of remaining forest habitat that provides refugia and corridors for movement. As part of a large consortium project (Land use Options for Maintaining BiOdiversity and eKosystem functions (LOMBOK)) data was collected on how wide riparian buffers need to be to support a range of animals (mammals, birds, insects, aquatic invertebrates).

We found that in general buffer widths 40-100m each side of the river supported similar numbers of species as continuous areas of nearby logged forest (Figure 3a). However, how wide a buffer should be depended on the particular animal group studied, with some taxa, such as dragonflies, birds and fish requiring smaller widths than the larger mammals and their associated dung beetles, which need larger buffer widths to support all species (Figure 3b). Forest-dependent species also needed larger widths than generalist species. Importantly, the largest biodiversity gains (i.e. largest increases in number of species per metre increase in width) are achieved by increasing the narrowest buffers. For example an increase from 20m to 40m each side of the river would double to relative number species occurring in the buffer of most of the animal groups surveyed.

Read the full paper here published in Frontiers in Ecology and Evolution and led by Nick Deere at the University of Kent, UK


We also produced a science brief summarising our results to help aid decision makers and stakeholders on the ground in taking up the scientific evidence base when considering policy and management of riparian areas.

Written by: Dr. Eleanor Slade

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