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Cambridge NERC Doctoral Training Partnerships

Graduate Research Opportunities
Restoration plot at RERTA

Lead Supervisor: Edgar Turner, Zoology

Co-Supervisor: Sarah Luke, Zoology

Brief summary: 
Working as part of a long-term restoration experiment, based in Riau, Indonesia, this project will assess the potential of different management options for reforesting river margins in established oil palm plantations.
Importance of the area of research concerned: 
Palm oil is now the number one source of vegetable oil worldwide (making up 40% of global vegetable oil production), grown across over 18 million hectares of the tropics. It is clear that expansion of oil palm has come at a large cost to tropical forests and the biodiversity they contain and that minimising further expansion is key to conserving global biodiversity. However, much can still be done within existing plantations to develop more sustainable management practices that support a higher number of species, and reduce long-term negative impacts of cultivation on the environment. Within oil palm, healthy river margins have the potential to minimise water pollution and erosion, and provide habitat for a range of species, and so are a key focus for sustainability bodies such as the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO). However, little work has yet assessed the best methods for managing these areas, or for reforesting river margins that are already deforested.
Project summary : 
Based within a large-scale oil palm restoration experiment in Riau, Indonesia (the Riparian Ecosystem Restoration in Tropical Agriculture (RERTA) Project), this project will compare alternative river margin restoration treatments. Using a large dataset of seedling measurements, it will assess: (1) the impact of maintaining mature oil palm trees and seedling identity on seedling growth and survival, (2) whether seedlings grow better when surrounded by conspecifics or a mix of species. The project will build on existing data to examine: (3) whether different restoration treatments alter seedling herbivores and herbivory, (4) the impacts of restoration treatments on surrounding oil palm. As well as contributing to core ecological understanding, results of this project will be important for informing best management practices for restoration in oil palm landscapes.
What will the student do?: 
The student will work with industry scientists, based in Sinar Mas Agro Resources and Technology Research Institute (SMARTRI), in Riau, Indonesia, to collate and analyse long-term seedling growth and survival data collected from replicated river margin plots that have had different restoration treatments applied. These long-term data will be complemented with additional field-based data collection to assess the impacts of restoration treatments on herbivores and the surrounding oil palm system. The large existing long-term dataset, together with a strong existing partnership with Indonesian scientists ensures that this project is robust to the impacts of COVID. It is anticipated that the student will spend part of their time within SMARTRI, collating existing data, working with Indonesian collaborators, and collecting novel field data, with the rest of their time being based in the Museum of Zoology, Cambridge.
References - references should provide further reading about the project: 
Luke SH, Foster WA, Advento AD, Aryawan AAK, Adhy DN, Ashton-Butt A, Barclay H, Drewer J, Dumbrell A, Eycott AE, Harianja MF, Hinsch JA, Hood A SC, Kurniawan C, Kurz DJ, Mann DJ, Matthews Nicholass KJ, Naim M, Pashkevich MD, Prescott GW, Sudharto Ps, Pujianto, Purnomo D, Purwoko RR, Putra S, Rambe TDS, Slade EM, Soeprapto, Spear DM, Suhardi, Tan D, Tao1 H-H, Tarigan RS, Wahyuningsih R, Waters HS, Widodo RH, Woodham CR, Caliman J-P, Snaddon JL, Turner EC (2020) The Biodiversity and Ecosystem Function in Tropical Agriculture (BEFTA) Programme: using large-scale experiments to test and develop more-sustainable oil palm management. Frontiers in Forests and Global Change. 2:75. doi: 10.3389/ffgc.2019.00075
Luke SH, Slade EM, Gray CL, Annammala KV, Drewer J, Williamson J, Agama AL, Ationg M, Mitchell SL, Vairappan CS, Struebig MJ (2019) Riparian buffers in tropical agriculture: Scientific support, effectiveness and directions for policy. Journal of Applied Ecology, 56:85–92. doi: 10.1111/1365-2664.13280
Barclay H, Gray CL, Luke SH, Nainar A, Snaddon JL & Turner EC (2017) RSPO Manual on Best Management Practices (BMPs) for Management and Rehabilitation of Riparian Reserves. White paper report for the Round Table on Sustainable Palm Oil.
You can find out about applying for this project on the Department of Zoology page.
Dr Edgar Turner
Department of Zoology Graduate Administrator