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KINABATANGAN: Underproductive oil palm areas has a key role to play in restoring tropical rainforest connectivity, according to a new study published in the journal Forest Ecology and Management.
The study finds that lands naturally regrowing from abandoned oil palm plantations can regenerate forest canopy to levels often found in primary forest in as little as 17 years.
“Our study indicates that natural reclamation of underproductive agricultural lands can provide a cost-effective pathway for the reestablishment of habitat connectivity,” remarked first author Luke Evans, a postdoctoral researcher at the Carnegie Institution for Science and with Danau Girang Field Centre.
The authors of the study also report that natural forest regrowth can provide usable habitat for the endangered Bornean elephant.
“In a time of rapidly dwindling forest cover due to oil palm plantation expansion, any return of less productive land to forest is turning out to be important,” said co-author Greg Asner, of the Carnegie Institution for Science.
“Our study shows that forest recovery is a valuable pathway to generating critical habitat for elephants and other endangered fauna.”
Using airborne laser imaging of the forest from the Carnegie Airborne Observatory, the study quantified the scale of habitat regeneration by examining canopy coverage, tree heights and carbon storage.
These factors were used to assess overall habitat quality and suitability for wildlife.
Evans commented, “We were able to use high-quality habitat data to assess how the forest has naturally regenerated over a 17-year period and subsequently track elephants increasing utilization of the site over the course of six years.”
Asner added, “This study is another key contribution to a project supporting the Sabah Forestry Department’s effort to generate more protected forest area for conservation.”
The findings have important implications for ongoing efforts to put more forest under protection in the Malaysian Bornean state of Sabah.
Dr. Benoit Goossens, Director of Danau Girang Field Centre and Reader at Cardiff School of Biosciences, chipped in “We hope that this study will help to convince plantation owners to aid us in our efforts to restore lowland forest connectivity in Sabah.
“This can be achieved at minimal cost to land owners whilst dramatically aiding public relations.”