Replacing low-intensity cattle pasture with oil palm conserves dung beetle functional diversity when paired with forest protection

Robert W. Davies, David P. Edwards, Claudia A. Medina-Uribe, Johann S. Cárdenas-Bautista, Torbjørn Haugaasen, James J. Gilroy, Felicity A. Edwards

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Meeting rising demand for oil palm whilst minimizing the loss of tropical biodiversity and associated ecosystem functions is a core conservation challenge. One potential solution is focusing the expansion of high-yielding crops on presently low-yielding farmlands alongside protecting nearby tropical forests that can enhance provision of ecosystem functions. A key question is how this solution would impact invertebrate functional diversity. We focus on oil palm in the Colombian Llanos, where plantations are replacing improved cattle pastures and forest fragments, and on dung beetles, which play key functional roles in nutrient cycling and secondary seed dispersal. We show that functional richness and functional diversity of dung beetles is greater in oil palm than in cattle pasture, and that functional metrics did not differ between oil palm and remnant forest. The abundance-size class profile of dung beetles in oil palm was more similar to forest than to pasture, which had lower abundances of the smallest and largest dung beetles. The abundance of tunneling and rolling dung beetles did not differ between oil palm and forest, while higher forest cover increased the abundance of diurnal and generalist-feeding beetles in oil palm landscapes. This suggests that prioritizing agricultural development on low-yielding cattle pasture will have positive effects on functional diversity and highlights the need for forest protection to maintain ecosystem functioning within agricultural landscapes.

Original languageEnglish
Article number112009
JournalJournal of Environmental Management
Early online date25 Jan 2021
Publication statusPublished - 1 Apr 2021


  • Agriculture
  • Ecosystem function
  • Grassland
  • Landscape configuration
  • Neotropics
  • Scarabaeidae

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