The BEFTA Understory Vegetation Project aims to quantify the effect of habitat complexity within oil palm plantations on biodiversity and the role of this biodiversity in ecosystem functioning and productivity. By working closely with industry partners, Sinar Mas Agro Resources and Technology Corporation Research Institute (SMARTRI), the project is experimentally manipulating the oil palm landscape to link recorded changes in biodiversity with ecosystem functions and crop production.
- quantify the effect of habitat complexity in maintaining biodiversity, ecosystem function and ecosystem services within oil palm
- develop experimental approaches for partitioning the effects of habitat structural complexity and aspects of biodiversity on ecosystem functioning
- predict and model optimal cover of understory and epiphyte vegetation in oil palm plantations so as to maximize biodiversity and economic profitability through ecosystem services.
Experimental set up
Fieldwork is based in Riau, Sumatra in plantations, owned and managed by SMARTRI. We established 18 plots of 150m x 150m (2.25 ha) in area. The experimental set-up includes three levels of habitat complexity, each replicated six times across the landscape. The project encompasses the range of habitat complexities that arise from existing management practices across the industry (Fig. 1).
Treatments consist of:
- Reduced complexity – highly destructive management and will include the removal of all understory and epiphyte trunk vegetation using herbicides
- Normal complexity – standard industry practice
- Enhanced complexity – reduced-input management/conservation treatment and will include reduced herbicide input and understory cutting.
The BEFTA team is collecting data on a wide variety of environmental factors, taxonomic groups, ecosystem functions, and crop productivity and management. By collecting intensive data on multiple factors in the same areas both before and after the experimental treatment, analyses take existing habitat variability into account.