New paper on the global abundance of tree palms

Robert Muscarella and Thaise Emilio led a large group of researchers to study the relative abundance of tree palms at a global scale. The paper was published in Global Ecology and Abundance.

Abstract

Aim

Palms are an iconic, diverse and often abundant component of tropical ecosystems that provide many ecosystem services. Being monocots, tree palms are evolutionarily, morphologically and physiologically distinct from other trees, and these differences have important consequences for ecosystem services (e.g., carbon sequestration and storage) and in terms of responses to climate change. We quantified global patterns of tree palm relative abundance to help improve understanding of tropical forests and reduce uncertainty about these ecosystems under climate change.

Location

Tropical and subtropical moist forests.

Time period

Current.

Major taxa studied

Palms (Arecaceae).

Methods

We assembled a pantropical dataset of 2,548 forest plots (covering 1,191 ha) and quantified tree palm (i.e., ≥10 cm diameter at breast height) abundance relative to co‐occurring non‐palm trees. We compared the relative abundance of tree palms across biogeographical realms and tested for associations with palaeoclimate stability, current climate, edaphic conditions and metrics of forest structure.

Results

On average, the relative abundance of tree palms was more than five times larger between Neotropical locations and other biogeographical realms. Tree palms were absent in most locations outside the Neotropics but present in >80% of Neotropical locations. The relative abundance of tree palms was more strongly associated with local conditions (e.g., higher mean annual precipitation, lower soil fertility, shallower water table and lower plot mean wood density) than metrics of long‐term climate stability. Life‐form diversity also influenced the patterns; palm assemblages outside the Neotropics comprise many non‐tree (e.g., climbing) palms. Finally, we show that tree palms can influence estimates of above‐ground biomass, but the magnitude and direction of the effect require additional work.

Conclusions

Tree palms are not only quintessentially tropical, but they are also overwhelmingly Neotropical. Future work to understand the contributions of tree palms to biomass estimates and carbon cycling will be particularly crucial in Neotropical forests.

New paper on orangutan detection with a thermal camera under a drone is out!

We just published a paper in the Journal of Unmanned Vehicle Systems on the successful detection of orangutans with a thermal imaging camera under a drone.

ABSTRACT

We investigated the efficacy of a drone equipped with a thermal camera as a potential survey tool to detect wild Bornean orangutans (Pongo pygmaeus) and other tropical primates. Using the thermal camera we successfully detected 41 orangutans and a troop of proboscis monkeys, all of which were confirmed by ground observers. We discuss the potential advantages and limitations of thermal-equipped drones as a tool to complement other methods, and the potential of this technology for use as a future survey tool.

Small room for compromise between oil palm cultivation and primate conservation in Africa

We just published a new paper in PNAS on the potential expansion of oil palm in Africa and its potential impacts on primates. See the abstract here:

Abstract

Despite growing awareness about its detrimental effects on tropical biodiversity, land conversion to oil palm continues to increase rapidly as a consequence of global demand, profitability, and the income opportunity it offers to producing countries. Although most industrial oil palm plantations are located in Southeast Asia, it is argued that much of their future expansion will occur in Africa. We assessed how this could affect the continent’s primates by combining information on oil palm suitability and current land use with primate distribution, diversity, and vulnerability. We also quantified the potential impact of large-scale oil palm cultivation on primates in terms of range loss under different expansion scenarios taking into account future demand, oil palm suitability, human accessibility, carbon stock, and primate vulnerability. We found a high overlap between areas of high oil palm suitability and areas of high conservation priority for primates. Overall, we found only a few small areas where oil palm could be cultivated in Africa with a low impact on primates (3.3 Mha, including all areas suitable for oil palm). These results warn that, consistent with the dramatic effects of palm oil cultivation on biodiversity in Southeast Asia, reconciling a large-scale development of oil palm in Africa with primate conservation will be a great challenge.