Borneo: Scientists work hand-in-hand with loggers to investigate forest fragments


Scientists in Borneo have announced the somewhat surprising move to work with loggers in Sabah, Borneo to investigate the effects of forest fragmentation on a huge scale.

Yayasan Sabah (Sabah Foundation), a Malaysian owned company is clearing 7,200 hectares of rainforest and converting it into palm oil plantations. Most of the land in the project area is not primary rainforest as it has already been selectively logged once or twice. However, it also connects landscapes that have never been logged. Oil palm, as we probably already know, is the in-vogue crop of Asia. It's phenomenal yields and application in a range of products from fuel to food is driving the expansion of the industry. But this expansion can come at a cost as rainforest is destroyed to make way the West African palm.

It's very rare that scientists get an opportunity to study the birth and consequences of a giant oil palm plantation such as this. As the authors of the paper explain in Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: "there is a definable need to establish a new, large-scale forest fragmentation experiment that can address a new generation of research and policy questions. Locating such an experiment in a region undergoing heavy logging and rapid conversion to high-intensity agricultural systems, and designing the experiment to mimic the sequence of land-use change and the types of habitats that are being generated by the economic forces in the region will have a direct relevance to high-profile policy issues."

The plan is for the loggers to leave fragments of forest of varying sizes and distances from primary forest and use these to learn how to best to design landscapes to support ecological and market needs. The Stability of Altered Forest Ecosystems Project (SAFE) has been granted permission by Yayasan Sabah to create approximately 800 hectares of fragments on cultivatable land. Another 500 hectares will be left standing, under Malay law, as the forest is on steep slopes or by permanent streams.

The authors state: "the size of the experimental area combined with the land that is legally prohibited from clearance and the amount of land that can be retained for experimental purposes makes it feasible to place fragments in locations that will vary in the amount of forest cover in the landscapes surrounding them. This provides a unique opportunity to assess in a controlled, experimental design the impact of landscape context on a wide range of ecological dynamics in forest fragments."

A large-scale forest fragmentation experiment: the Stability of Altered Forest Ecosystems Project

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