Increasing demand for natural rubber necessitates a robust sustainability initiative to mitigate impacts on tropical biodiversity

Eleanor Warren-Thomas, Paul Dolman, David Edwards

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Strong international demand for natural rubber is driving expansion of industrial-scale and smallholder monoculture plantations, with >2 million ha established during the last decade. Mainland Southeast Asia and Southwest China represent the epicenter of rapid rubber expansion; here we review impacts on forest ecosystems and biodiversity. We estimate that 4.3–8.5 million ha of additional rubber plantations are required to meet projected demand by 2024, threatening significant areas of Asian forest, including many protected areas. Uncertainties concern the potential for yield intensification of existing cultivation to mitigate demand for new rubber area, versus potential displacement of rubber by more profitable oil palm. Our review of available studies indicates that conversion of forests or swidden agriculture to monoculture rubber negatively impacts bird, bat and invertebrate biodiversity. However, rubber agroforests in some areas of Southeast Asia support a subset of forest biodiversity in landscapes that retain little natural forest. Work is urgently needed to: improve understanding of whether land-sparing or land-sharing rubber cultivation will best serve biodiversity conservation, investigate the potential to accommodate biodiversity within existing rubber-dominated landscapes while maintaining yields, and ensure rigorous biodiversity and social standards via the development of a sustainability initiative.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)230–241
Number of pages12
JournalConservation Letters
Issue number4
Early online date17 Apr 2015
Publication statusPublished - Jul 2015


  • Agroforestry
  • carbon emission
  • plantation
  • monoculture
  • Ecosystem services
  • forest loss
  • Land-use change
  • land-sparing
  • land-sharing
  • Hevea brasiliensis

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