Researching insect biodiversity in oil palm plantations through BEFTA
When you picture an oil palm plantation, what comes to mind? Rows and rows of leafy oil palm trees? How about the reddish orange palm fruit being harvested for its oil? Or maybe it’s the gentle buzz of insects working their magic among the fronds and within the soil.
Yes, that’s right — oil palm plantations are teeming with insect biodiversity, and they contribute enormously to how well the ecosystem functions. In our bid to better understand biodiversity within our plantations, our team from the SMART Research Institute (SMARTRI) has been partnering with the University of Cambridge’s Department of Zoology through a programme called BEFTA.
BEFTA, which stands for Biodiversity and Ecosystem Function in Tropical Agriculture, aims to test the role of this biodiversity in an oil palm ecosystem’s functioning and productivity. Through BEFTA, researchers from SMARTRI and the University of Cambridge conduct field studies in our plantations to understand how oil palm ecosystems work. Ultimately, our goal is to come up with habitat management practices that would benefit insect biodiversity and in turn, create better palm oil yield.
Researchers involved in the BEFTA programme, from both SMARTRI and the University of Cambridge. Photo courtesy of Dr. Edgar Turner.
Dr. Edgar Turner, curator of insects at the university’s Museum of Zoology, and one of the pioneers in BEFTA, shares his thoughts on the importance of the work being done under this programme.
“If we can manage oil palm sustainably, if we can maximise productivity of oil palm, that will spare forest lands elsewhere. So I see that as being a big benefit of all these new technologies, all this new understanding, including the work we’ve been doing with SMARTRI to understand how biodiversity within an ecosystem can also help, to support productivity and sustainability in the long term.” Dr. Edgar Turner, University of Cambridge
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