In recent decades, mounting evidence has indicated that the expansion of oil palm (OP) plantations at the expense of tropical forest has had a far pernicious effect on ecosystem aspects. While various deforestation-free strategies have been proposed to enhance OP sustainability, field-based evidence still need to be consolidated, in particular with respect to savanna regions where OP expansion has recently occurred and that present large area with potential for OP cultivation. Here we show that the common management practice creating within the plantation the so-called management zones explained nearly five times more variability of soil biogeochemical properties than the savanna land-use change per se. We also found that clayey-soil savanna conversion into OP increased total ecosystem C stocks by 40 ± 13 Mg C ha-1 during a full OP cultivation cycle, which was due to the higher OP-derived C accumulated in the biomass and in the soil as compared to the loss of savanna-derived C. In addition, application of organic residues in specific management zones enhanced the accumulation of soil organic carbon by up to 1.9 Mg ha-1 year-1 over the full cycle. Within plantation, zones subjected to organic amendments sustained similar soil microbial activity as in neighboring savannas. Our findings represent an empirical proof-of-concept that the conversion of non-forested land in parallel with organic matter-oriented management strategies can enhance OP agroecosystems C sink capacity while promoting microbe-mediated soil functioning. Nonetheless, savannas are unique and threatened ecosystems that support a vast biodiversity. Therefore, we suggest to give priority attention to conservation of natural savannas and direct more research toward the impacts of the conversion and subsequent management of degraded savannas.
Progressive conversion of tropical rainforests to agricultural monocultures in South East Asia increasingly affects landscape types such as riparian areas. The impacts of conversions on soil organic matter (SOM) vary with changing landforms. However, this was often not accounted for in previous studies where SOM in soils in ri-parian areas was combined with SOM from well-drained adjacent slopes. Because riparian areas have a high carbon (C) storage potential, our objectives were i) to assess their C stocks after conversion to rubber and oil palm plantations in Sumatra (Indonesia) and ii) to compare the impacts of land use conversion on C stocks between riparian and well-drained areas. Average soil C stock losses from the top 30 cm were about 14% and 4% following conversion of riparian forest to rubber and oil palm plantations, respectively, indicating a high resistance of C to mineralization. C losses from well-drained areas were twice as high as from riparian areas after the respective conversion. δ 13 C values from riparian areas showed clear heterogeneity down soil profiles that was explained i) by alternating oxic and anoxic conditions, leading to reduced SOM and litter decomposition in riparian areas and ii) by mineral sediments and organic matter deposition and accumulation by erosion from adjacent slopes covered by plantations. We conclude that riparian areas are more resilient in terms of soil C storage towards land-use change than well-drained areas because of sediment deposition and reduced oxygen availability. On this basis, we developed a conceptual model of the effects of land-use change and various ecotone characteristics on SOM mineralization in the top-and subsoil of riparian areas.
The potential of palm-oil biofuels to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions compared with fossil fuels is increasingly questioned. So far, no measurement-based GHG budgets were available, and plantation age was ignored in Life Cycle Analyses (LCA). Here, we conduct LCA based on measured CO2, CH4 and N2O fluxes in young and mature Indonesian oil palm plantations. CO2 dominates the on-site GHG budgets. The young plantation is a carbon source (1012 ± 51 gC m⁻² yr⁻¹), the mature plantation a sink (−754 ± 38 gC m⁻² yr⁻¹). LCA considering the measured fluxes shows higher GHG emissions for palm-oil biodiesel than traditional LCA assuming carbon neutrality. Plantation rotation-cycle extension and earlier-yielding varieties potentially decrease GHG emissions. Due to the high emissions associated with forest conversion to oil palm, our results indicate that only biodiesel from second rotation-cycle plantations or plantations established on degraded land has the potential for pronounced GHG emission savings.
Alternatives to ecologically devastating deforestation land use change trajectories are needed to reduce the carbon footprint of oil palm (OP) plantations in the tropics. Although various land use change options have been proposed, so far, there are no empirical data on their long-term ecosystem carbon pools effects. Our results demonstrate that pasture-to-OP conversion in savanna regions does not change ecosystem carbon storage, after 56 years in Colombia. Compared to rainforest conversion, this alternative land use change reduces net ecosystem carbon losses by 99.7 ± 9.6%. Soil organic carbon (SOC) decreased until 36 years after conversion, due to a fast decomposition of pasture-derived carbon, counterbalancing the carbon gains in OP biomass. The recovery of topsoil carbon content, suggests that SOC stocks might partly recover during a third plantation cycle. Hence, greater OP sustainability can be achieved if its expansion is oriented toward pasture land.
This study contributes to the ongoing discussion on how to attribute and evaluate the contribution of transdisciplinary research to sustainable development. As co-created knowledge is a key product of transdisciplinary research, we tested the hypothesis that the extent to which this knowledge is utilized beyond the project consortia, in different areas – from scientific methods and insights to policy decisions – and across a continuum of geographical scales can be used to identify potential impact pathways. For this purpose, we developed an analytical framework that links the transdisciplinary process to six possible utilization stages, which we used as indicators of the usability of co-created knowledge. We gathered data from 22 research projects active in 36 countries using a survey and semi-structured interviews. Our results show that even during implementation of the projects, co-created knowledge is utilized by multiple actors at different stages, in all areas and at all scales simultaneously, suggesting multiple impact pathways. Project knowledge is predominantly utilized for nationallevel policymaking, and research partners named co-creation of knowledge with key stakeholders as the most frequently used mechanism for promoting knowledge utilization. Closer analysis revealed different understandings of and approaches to knowledge co-creation. These can be linked to weaker or stronger definitions of transdisciplinarity. The analysis shows that researchers using strong transdisciplinarity approaches typically face challenges in encompassing multiple epistemologies and facilitating dialogue. Some results suggest that inclusion and collaboration in co-creating knowledge can empower actors otherwise excluded. Our research shows that although transdisciplinary projects have nonlinear impact pathways, these can be partially assessed using the proposed analytical framework. Further, our results indicate a link between usability, inclusion, and collaboration in transdisciplinary research. We conclude with the observation that transdisciplinarity and its requirements still need to be better understood by actors within and beyond the research community.
Increasing soil organic carbon (SOC) in agroecosystems is necessary to mitigate climate change and soil degradation. Management practices designed to reach this goal call for a deeper understanding of the processes and drivers of soil carbon input stabilization. We identified main drivers of SOC stabilization in oil palm plantations using the well‐defined spatial patterns of nutrients and litter application resulting from the usual management scheme. The stabilization of oil palm‐derived SOC (OP‐SOC) was quantified by δ13C from a shift of C4 (savanna) to C3 (oil palm) vegetations. Soil organic carbon stocks under frond piles were 20% and 22% higher compared with harvest paths and interzones, respectively. Fertilization and frond stacking did not influence the decomposition of savanna‐derived SOC. Depending on management zones, net OP‐SOC stabilization equalled 16–27% of the fine root biomass accumulated for 9 years. This fraction was similar between frond piles and litter‐free interzones, where mineral NPK fertilization is identical, indicating that carbon inputs from dead fronds did not stabilize in SOC. A path analysis confirmed that the OP‐SOC distribution was largely explained by the distribution of oil palm fine roots, which itself depended on management practices. SOC mineralization was proportional to SOC content and was independent on phosphorus availability. We conclude that SOC stabilization was driven by C inputs from fine roots and was independent of alteration of SOC mineralization due to management. Practices favouring root growth of oil palms would increase carbon sequestration in soils without necessarily relying on the limited supply of organic residues.