Palm Oil Plantations Are Restricting Rainforest Butterflies’ Movement

Posted: Dec 20 2016, 11:51am CST | by , Updated: Dec 20 2016, 8:56pm CST, in News | Latest Science News

 

Oil Palm Plantations are Restricting Rainforest Butterflies’ Movement
Photo Credit: Getty Images
 

Plantations act as a barrier to the movement of butterflies across tropical landscapes.

Human-modified landscapes are having a catastrophic impact on rainforest butterflies. The main threat to the survival of the butterfly population is the massive expansions of palm oil plantations that fulfill the need of cooking, food products and cosmetics. 

In tropical regions, large areas of rainforests have been cleared to make room for oil palm plantations. These plantation makes it difficult for butterflies to cross their habitat boundaries and to reach new locations, thereby reducing connectivity, which is important for the species during their routine migrations.

“It is essential that rainforest species, such as fruit-feeding butterflies, move through the forest freely in order to search for food sources, suitable areas for breeding and mates. By breeding with individuals in neighboring habitats, genetic diversity and stable populations can be maintained.” Lead author Sarah Scriven from University of York’s Department of Biology said.

Researchers have long known that cutting trees and clearing rainforests have an impact on the movement of species across these landscapes. But researchers were not sure how bad the affect could be.

To find out, researchers tracked the movement of butterflies across rainforest oil palm plantation boundaries on Borneo, Southeast Asia. They set up a number of food traps to see which butterflies were able to move from the forest into the plantation. 

Researchers found that small butterflies mostly crossed from rainforest into oil palm plantations compared to larger butterflies. This is because the caterpillars of small butterflies feed on grass that grows in palm oil plantations. Large butterflies were less likely to move into plantations, mainly because their larvae are dependent on herbs, shrubs and trees that do not found in palm oil plantations.  

“Our results, therefore, suggest that oil palm plantations may act as barriers to the movement of forest dependent butterflies, which highlights the importance of conserving existing forest areas that form corridor linking forest reserves.” Professor Jane Hill, project supervisor said.

The movement across boundaries becomes even more important under climate change. As temperature rises, certain rainforest species need to move across plantation in order to reach cooler locations at high elevations. 

Co-author, Dr Colin Beale says. “Oil palm provides a valuable crop to many farmers in the tropics but conservation of rainforest to oil palm plantations results in a dramatic change in habitat structure, making plantation habitats unsuitable for many rainforest species.”

 

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Hira Bashir covers daily affairs around the world.

 

 

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