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Research shows potential for zero-deforestation pledges to protect wildlife in oil palm

January 20, 2020

New research has found that environmental efforts aimed at eliminating deforestation from oil palm production have the potential to benefit vulnerable tropical mammals.

These findings, published by Conservation Letters, were drawn from an international collaboration led by Dr Nicolas Deere from the University of Kent's Durrell Institute of Conservation and Ecology (DICE), and including the University of Melbourne, University of York, Universiti Malaysia Sabah, and South East Asia Rainforest Research Partnership.

In a promising development, the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) has recently committed to zero-deforestation on plantations certified as sustainable, as a way to prohibit forest clearance during the development of new agricultural areas. This is achieved using the High Carbon Stock (HCS) Approach, a land-use planning tool that aims to protect patches of well-connected, high quality forest.

In their study of forest patches in Borneo Dr Deere and his colleagues found that those forests greater than 100 hectares, and afforded the highest conservation priority by High Carbon Stock protocols, supported larger populations of threatened species particularly sensitive to deforestation, such as sun bears and orang-utans.

Using camera-trap information, the size of the mammal population was greatest in larger and more connected forest patches. However, hunting and forest quality compromised the suitability of the patch for many species, indicating the importance of accounting for the impacts of human activities on wildlife in agricultural areas.

While the study highlights the potential for zero-deforestation approaches to contribute to wildlife conservation, the feasibility of protecting patches large enough to sustain sufficient numbers of species was called into question.

The study found that in the 100 hectares patches (the minimum criterion for high priority conservation status in HCS), only 35% of mammal species that would otherwise be present in continuous forest would be protected. In fact, patches would need to be 30 times larger to support the mammal community, and even larger if the effects of hunting were considered. Preserving forest patches of this size is simply unrealistic in most plantations.

Dr Deere said: 'The HCS protocols seem to work well in prioritising patches of wildlife-friendly forest within oil palm plantations, but it's not enough for many of the species we studied. A switch in emphasis towards joining up forest patches and managing them together across farmland landscapes would really help wildlife conservation in the long term.'
-end-
'Implications of zero-deforestation commitments: Forest quality and hunting pressure limit mammal persistence in fragmented tropical landscape' (Nicolas J Deere, Gurutzeta Guillera-Arroita, Philip J Platts, Simon L Mitchell, Esther L Baking, Henry Bernard, Jessica K Haysom, Glen Reynolds, Dave J I Seaman, Zoe G Davies, Matthew J Struebig) is published at https://doi.org/10.1111/conl.12701

For further information or interview requests please contact the Press Office at the University of Kent.
Tel: 01227 823581
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News releases can also be found at http://www.kent.ac.uk/news
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Notes to Editors

The University of Kent is a leading UK university producing world-class research, rated internationally excellent and leading the way in many fields of study. Our 20,000 students are based at campuses and centres in Canterbury, Medway, Athens, Brussels, Paris, Rome and Tonbridge.

With 97% of our research judged to be of international quality in the most recent Research Assessment Framework (REF2014), our students study with some of the most influential thinkers in the world. Universities UK recently named research from the University as one of the UK's 100 Best Breakthroughs of the last century for its significant impact on people's everyday lives.

We are renowned for our inspirational teaching. Awarded a gold rating, the highest, in the UK Government's Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF), we were presented with the Outstanding Support for Students award at the 2018 Times Higher Education (THE) Awards for the second year running.

Our graduates are equipped for a successful future allowing them to compete effectively in the global job market. More than 95% of graduates find a job or study opportunity within six months.

Known as the 'UK's European university', our international outlook is a major focus and we believe in our students developing a global perspective. Many of our courses provide opportunities to study or work abroad; we have partnerships with more than 400 universities worldwide and are the only UK university to have postgraduate centres in Athens, Brussels, Paris and Rome.

The University is a truly international community with over 40% of our academics coming from outside the UK and our students representing over 150 nationalities.

We are a major economic force in south east England, supporting innovation and enterprise. We are worth £0.9 billion to the economy of the south east and support more than 9,400 jobs in the region.

In March 2018, the Government and Health Education England (HEE) announced that the joint bid by the University of Kent and Canterbury Christ Church University for funded places to establish a medical school has been successful. The first intake of undergraduates to the Kent and Medway Medical School will be in September 2020.

We are proud to be part of Canterbury, Medway and the county of Kent and, through collaboration with partners, work to ensure our global ambitions have a positive impact on the region's academic, cultural, social and economic landscape.

University of Kent

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