, Volume 19, Issue 2, pp 519-529
Date: 20 Feb 2009

Fuelling the biodiversity crisis: species loss of ground-dwelling forest ants in oil palm plantations in Sabah, Malaysia (Borneo)

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Abstract

Oil palm plantations today cover large areas of former tropical lowland rain forest in Southeast Asia and are rapidly expanding on the island of Borneo. Study of the community of ground-dwelling ants in different plantations in Sabah, Malaysia, over 2 years using tuna baiting, revealed that the oil palm plantation ground ant community was severely reduced in species richness in comparison to the forest interior, regardless of age, undergrowth cover, or proximity to neighbouring forest. The results indicate that oil palm plantation habitats, now covering more than 15% of Sabah’s land area, can sustain only about 5% of the ground-dwelling ant species of the forest interior. Nine of the 23 ant species baited in the plantations were never recorded inside forest. All numerically dominant ants were non-forest species. The most common species was Anoplolepis gracilipes, an invasive species present at 70% of all bait sites and known to cause ‘ecological meltdowns’ in other situations. The low frequency and species number of forest ground ants indicates that oil palm plantations act as effective dispersal barriers leading to community isolation in rain forest remnants. The replacement of natural forests with oil palm plantations poses a serious threat to the conservation of biodiversity on Borneo if similar results are confirmed in other taxa.