The study confirmed that oil palm is a poor substitute habitat for the majority of tropical forest species, particularly forest specialists and those of conservation concern.
Emily Fitzherbert continues: "By compiling scientific studies of birds, bats, ants and other species, we were able to show that on average, fewer than one-sixth of the species recorded in primary forest were found in oil palm. Degraded forest, and even alternative crops such as rubber and cocoa, supported higher numbers of species than oil palm plantations."
Even this estimate is likely to be optimistic, because forest habitats are more difficult to survey and some species inhabit plantations briefly before going extinct.
There is little potential to help wildlife within plantations, so ensuring that new plantations do not replace forest and protecting what is left of native forest in and around plantations are the only real options for protecting the majority of species, the researchers say.
International policies demanding evidence of environmental responsibility, in particular that land of high conservation value is not converted to oil palm, can help.
"There is enough non-forested land suitable for plantation development to allow large increases in production without further deforestation," said co-author Ben Phalan, from the University of Cambridge.
However, in identifying these areas, there needs to be a careful distinction between degraded land that is of low conservation value, such as imperata grasslands, and partially logged or degraded forest areas which can still harbour relatively high levels of biodiversity and bring greater wildlife and carbon storage benefits if restored.
"Unless governments in producer countri
|Contact: Sian Halkyard|
Queen Mary, University of London