Soil life thrives between oil palm fronds

March 02, 2020

The threat to insects and other small creatures from rainforest clearance and the consequences for the environment in tropical regions are recognised. What has not been studied so far is whether, and how, the oil palm plantations are able to sustain the populations of tiny below-ground animals that work to keep the soil healthy. In a new study led by the University of Göttingen, scientists have discovered high levels of biological activity in regions above ground level that may serve as oases for soil organisms. They identified that the suspended soil in the gaps where the frond grows out of the palm trunk may in fact provide novel microhabitats where soil creatures can thrive. The research was published in Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment.

The rapid expansion of oil palm plantations throughout Southeast Asia due to increasing global food demand has knock-on effects for the environment. Rainforests may be cleared resulting in major losses of soil structure, fertility and biodiversity. In the soil, many creatures are important for ecosystem functions: making nutrients available, forming soil structures, and providing other services such as decomposition, pollination and pest-control. To find out about the biological activity in soil in oil palm plantations, researchers from the University of Göttingen examined soil communities in six different microhabitats in a 16-year-old oil palm plantation in Sumatra, Indonesia. Scientists from the Collaborative Research Centre EFForTS (Ecological and Socioeconomic Functions of Tropical Lowland Rainforest Transformation Systems) collected 9,205 individuals of macrofauna (earthworms and large arthropods such as ants, fly larvae and millipedes), 40,229 of mesofauna (small arthropods such as springtails and mites), 2,895 nematodes, and 4,467 testate amoebae (single-celled microorganisms that have a protective shell around them).

"Since many oil palm plantations may be with us to stay, it is imperative to get a better understanding of soil biodiversity across microhabitats," explains Dr Anton Potapov from the University of Göttingen. "This will help farmers and plantation-owners to develop more sustainable methods that can preserve ecosystem functioning." One of the microhabitats the researchers studied is formed from the accumulation of dead leaves and other detritus in the gaps at the base of palm fronds. The detritus forms soil-filled crevices suspended above the ground, which make little corners and recesses for soil life. The scientists' analysis showed there were far more active soil dwellers in these suspended soils than below ground.

"It is important to realize that high activity in the suspended soil does not compensate for the degradation of soil below ground," adds Dr Valentyna Krashevska. "But now we can take advantage of this knowledge and better preserve suspended soil during plantation management, which may partly offset the damage caused by oil palm agriculture to soil-borne processes and biodiversity."
Original publication: Potapov A et al. Aboveground soil supports high levels of biological activity in oil palm plantations. Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment (2020).

Paper also available here:


Dr Anton Potapov
University of Göttingen
JF Blumenbach Institute of Zoology and Anthropology
Untere Karspüle 2, 37073 Göttingen, Germany
Tel: +49 (0) 551 39 25800

Dr Valentyna Krashevska
University of Göttingen
JF Blumenbach Institute of Zoology and Anthropology
Untere Karspüle 2, 37073 Göttingen, Germany
Tel: +49 (0) 551 3925410

University of Göttingen

Related Biodiversity Articles from Brightsurf:

Biodiversity hypothesis called into question
How can we explain the fact that no single species predominates?

Using the past to maintain future biodiversity
New research shows that safeguarding species and ecosystems and the benefits they provide for society against future climatic change requires effective solutions which can only be formulated from reliable forecasts.

Changes in farming urgent to rescue biodiversity
Humans depend on farming for their survival but this activity takes up more than one-third of the world's landmass and endangers 62% of all threatened species.

Predicting the biodiversity of rivers
Biodiversity and thus the state of river ecosystems can now be predicted by combining environmental DNA with hydrological methods, researchers from the University of Zurich and Eawag have found.

About the distribution of biodiversity on our planet
Large open-water fish predators such as tunas or sharks hunt for prey more intensively in the temperate zone than near the equator.

Bargain-hunting for biodiversity
The best bargains for conserving some of the world's most vulnerable salamanders and other vertebrate species can be found in Central Texas and the Appalachians, according to new conservation tools developed at the National Institute for Mathematical and Biological Synthesis (NIMBioS) at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville.

Researchers solve old biodiversity mystery
The underlying cause for why some regions are home to an extremely large number of animal species may be found in the evolutionary adaptations of species, and how they limit their dispersion to specific natural habitats.

Biodiversity offsetting is contentious -- here's an alternative
A new approach to compensate for the impact of development may be an effective alternative to biodiversity offsetting -- and help nations achieve international biodiversity targets.

Biodiversity yields financial returns
Farmers could increase their revenues by increasing biodiversity on their land.

Biodiversity and wind energy
The location and operation of wind energy plants are often in direct conflict with the legal protection of endangered species.

Read More: Biodiversity News and Biodiversity Current Events is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to