Further expansion of agriculture in the tropics is likely to accelerate the loss of biodiversity. One crop of concern to conservation is African oil palm (Elaeis guineensis). We examined recent deforestation associated with oil palm in the Peruvian Amazon within the context of the region’s other crops. We found more area under oil palm cultivation (845 km2) than did previous studies. While this comprises less than 4% of the cropland in the region, it accounted for 11% of the deforestation from agricultural expansion from 2007–2013. Patches of oil palm agriculture were larger and more spatially clustered than for other crops, potentially increasing their impact on local habitat fragmentation. Modeling deforestation risk for oil palm expansion using climatic and edaphic factors showed that sites at lower elevations, with higher precipitation, and lower slopes than those typically used for intensive agriculture are at long-term risk of deforestation from oil palm agriculture. Within areas at long-term risks, based on CART models, areas near urban centers, roads, and previously deforested areas are at greatest short-term risk of deforestation. Existing protected areas and officially recognized indigenous territories cover large areas at long-term risk of deforestation for oil palm (>40%). Less than 7% of these areas are under strict (IUCN I-IV) protection. Based on these findings, we suggest targeted monitoring for oil palm deforestation as well as strengthening and expanding protected areas to conserve specific habitats.
Read the full article in Environmental Research Letters.