Can oil palm plantations be made more hospitable for forest butterflies and birds?
Rising global demand for palm oil is likely to exacerbate deforestation rates in oil palm-producing countries. This will lead to a net reduction in biodiversity unless measures can be taken to improve the value of oil palm plantations. Here, I investigate whether the biodiversity of oil palm plantations can be increased by determining how forest-dwelling butterflies and birds in these plantations are affected by vegetation characteristics at the local level (e.g. epiphyte prevalence) and by natural forest cover at the landscape level (e.g. old-growth forests surrounding oil palm estates). Across transects, vegetation variables explained 0-1.2% of the variation in butterfly species richness and 0-7% of that in bird species richness. The most important predictors of species richness across transects were percentage ground cover of weeds for butterflies; and epiphyte prevalence and presence of leguminous crops for birds. Across estates, natural forest cover explained 1.2-12.9% of the variation in butterfly species richness and 0.6-53.3% of variation in bird species richness. The most important predictors of species richness across estates were percentage cover of old-growth forests surrounding an estate for butterflies; and percentage cover of young secondary forests surrounding an estate for birds. Synthesis and applications. In order to maximize biodiversity in oil palm plantations, oil palm companies and local governments should work together to preserve as much of the remaining natural forests as possible by, for example, creating forested buffer zones around oil palm estates or protecting remnant forest patches in the landscape.