Managing neotropical oil palm expansion to retain phylogenetic diversity

Graham W. Prescott, James J. Gilroy, Torbjørn Haugaasen, Claudia A. Medina Uribe, William A. Foster, David P. Edwards

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Abstract

Summary: The expansion of tropical agriculture is a major driver of the extinction crisis. A key question is whether biodiversity losses can be minimized by restricting future expansion to low-productivity farmland and retaining forest fragments, especially in rapidly changing Neotropical landscapes. We investigated these methods in the context of avian phylogenetic diversity, which summarizes the evolutionary history preserved within communities. Evidence suggests that phylogenetic diversity plays an important role in maintaining key ecosystem functions. We collected data on avian communities in the Colombian Llanos, a region highlighted as being optimal for the expansion of oil palm, at the expense of existing habitats including forest remnants and improved cattle pastures. PD, a measure of phylogenetic richness, and MPD, a measure of the phylogenetic distance between individuals in a community in deep evolutionary time, were significantly higher in forest than in oil palm or pasture, but did not differ significantly between oil palm and pasture. MNTD, a measure of distance between individuals in a community at the intra-familial and intra-generic level, was significantly higher in oil palm and pasture than in forest. However, median evolutionary distinctiveness (ED) was highest in pasture, partly due to the abundance of distinct waterbirds, but did not differ between oil palm and forest. PD in oil palm and pasture increased with the extent of remnant forest cover. Synthesis and applications. The PD (a measure of phylogenetic richness) and MPD (a measure of the phylogenetic distance) of bird communities in this region can best be conserved by ensuring that new oil palm plantations replace pasturelands rather than forest. A secondary benefit of preserving forest would be the enhancement of PD in the surrounding agricultural landscape. This strategy will need to be coupled with measures to either reduce pasture demand or to intensify existing cattle production to ensure that forest is not replaced by pasture elsewhere.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)150-158
Number of pages9
JournalJournal of Applied Ecology
Volume53
Issue number1
Early online date14 Dec 2015
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - Feb 2016

Keywords

  • Birds
  • Colombian Llanos
  • Landscape configuration
  • Oil palm
  • Pasture
  • Phylogenetic diversity
  • Tropical agriculture

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