Deforestation is being driven by global demand for food and biofuels. Oil palm is an edible vegetable oil from the oil palm tree that is primarily produced in Indonesia and Malaysia, accounting for 87% of global production. Although it has been proposed that the cultivation of oil palm has led to a decline in biodiversity, few studies have attempted to quantify the environmental impact. Koh et al. use GIS to analyze land use in Southeast Asia, quantify the amount of peatland transformed by oil palm production and quantify the effect of cultivation on biodiversity.
A land cover map (250-m spacial resolution) and digital elevation data was used to map the oil palm cultivation in Southeast Asia. Land cover was classified into clusters using an algorithm which were then assigned to one of five types of land cover (water, forest, plantation/ regrowth, mosaic or open) and 12 land cover classes. Accuracy of identification was assessed using satellite images at 1-m resolution. According to Koh et al., 98% of the area analyzed was correctly categorized to be oil palm and 85% of closed canopy oil palm could be identified. A majority of the land that was used for oil palm production was not peatland (90%) and only “6% of total peatlands within our study region had been planted with oil palm” (5129). Sub-regions had the highest percentages of peat-swamp loss to oil palm with the most affected regions being North Sumatra, Bengkulu and Peninsular Malaysia. These data show that the analysis used was able to correctly identify large (>200 ha) oil palm plantations and that plantations have had a larger impact on the sub-region level than on the regional level.
Koh, L. P., Miettinen, J., Liew, S. C., & Ghazoul, J. (2011). Remotely sensed evidence of tropical peatland conversion to oil palm. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 108(12), 5127-5132.
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