NERC El Niño project

Research project: Managing tropical agricultural ecosystems for resistance and recovery of ecosystem processes

This NERC funded project will investigate how extreme weather patterns (such as the 2015/16 El Niño drought event) impact oil palm ecosystems and production. Using the BEFTA large-scale experiments the investigate the potential that different understory management treatments have to provide resistance and recovery of ecosystem processes in oil palm plantations in the face of the drought.

Although oil palm houses far fewer species than the tropical rainforest it replaces, it is still complex compared to most agricultural systems, with a diverse understory of herbaceous plants and numerous epiphytes growing on the oil palm trunks. It is also a long-lived crop, with replanting taking place approximately every 25 years. There is, therefore, considerable scope for management practices to increase biodiversity levels within oil palm plantations, with potential benefits for important ecosystem processes and crop yield. Such an increase in biodiversity may have a particular benefit in El Niño years, as this may make ecosystem processes more resistant to climatic variation and enable faster recovery following the drought. Findings from this work will be of direct relevance to both agricultural practitioners and to the conservation community and will lead to specific management recommendations for improving the sustainable production of this globally-important crops.

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