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The critical role of natural forest as refugium for generalist species in oil palm-dominated landscapes

Guerrero-Sanchez, Sergio, Goossens, Benoit ORCID:, Saimin, Silvester and Orozco ter Wengel, Pablo ORCID: 2021. The critical role of natural forest as refugium for generalist species in oil palm-dominated landscapes. PLoS ONE 16 (10) , e0257814. 10.1371/journal.pone.0257814

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In Borneo, oil palm plantations have replaced much of natural resources, where generalist species tend to be the principal beneficiaries, due to the abundant food provided by oil palm plantations. Here, we analyse the distribution of the Asian water monitor lizard (Varanus salvator) population within an oil palm-dominated landscape in the Kinabatangan floodplain, Malaysian Borneo. By using mark-recapture methods we estimated its population size, survival, and growth in forest and plantation habitats. We compared body measurements (i.e. body weight and body length) of individuals living in forest and oil palm habitats as proxy for the population’s health status, and used general least squares estimation models to evaluate its response to highly fragmented landscapes in the absence of intensive hunting pressures. Contrary to previous studies, the abundance of lizards was higher in the forest than in oil palm plantations. Recruitment rates were also higher in the forest, suggesting that these areas may function as a source of new individuals into the landscape. While there were no morphometric differences among plantation sites, we found significant differences among forested areas, where larger lizards were found inhabiting forest adjacent to oil palm plantations. Although abundant in food resources, the limited availability of refugia in oil palm plantations may intensify intra-specific encounters and competition, altering the body size distribution in plantation populations, contrary to what happens in the forest. We conclude that large patches of forest, around and within oil palm plantations, are essential for the dynamics of the monitor lizard population in the Kinabatangan floodplain, as well as a potential source of individuals to the landscape. We recommend assessing this effect in other generalist species, as well as the impact on the prey communities, especially to reinforce the establishment of buffer zones and corridors as a conservation strategy within plantations.

Item Type: Article
Date Type: Publication
Status: Published
Schools: Biosciences
Additional Information: This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License
Publisher: Public Library of Science
ISSN: 1932-6203
Date of First Compliant Deposit: 7 October 2021
Date of Acceptance: 13 September 2021
Last Modified: 18 May 2023 10:21

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