Fragmented Ecosystem Restoration Network
FERN is an initiative from University of West England in Bristol to understand and reduce the negative effects of palm oil expansion. The focus of FERN is to conserve and restore native biodiversity in oil palm landscapes by protecting and increasing the number of epiphytic ferns in plantations. The ferns support a wide range of biodiversity, from microbes to insects and other organisms, and provide ecosystem services such as nutrient cycling and pest control. Ecosystem services such as these are vital for ecosystems to function.
In tropical rainforest canopies bird’s nest ferns (Asplenium nidus) contain very high numbers of invertebrates such as earthworms, beetles and centipedes. They also support vertebrate animals such as reptiles, amphibians and mammals.
FERN builds a mosaic of bird’s nest ferns in the plantation by attaching them to the stems of oil palms. These provide a habitat to be colonised by microbes and invertebrates, and can provide a home for rainforest species in the oil palm landscape. These rainforest animals disperse throughout the plantation using the new ferns as a network of stepping stones and biodiversity is increased.
FERN have developed this plant into a general ecosystem model to show why each of the species that make up tropical biodiversity is so important to the survival of ecosystems, and how the roles played by these organisms change with habitat disturbance and climate change.
Bird’s nest ferns
Bird’s nest ferns are epiphytes, meaning that they grow on other plants, but are not parasites. They get their moisture and nutrients from the air, the rain or leaves and debris that fall into their bowl of leaves. The ferns grow naturally throughout the rainforest canopy and are commonly found in human landscapes such as oil palm plantations and even cities. They are also one of the world’s favourite houseplants!
In the rainforest bird’s nest ferns support very high levels of biodiversity. The soil they accumulate soaks up moisture and stays cooler than the surrounding canopy. This makes them the perfect oasis to escape harsh conditions in the canopy, and also harsh conditions in oil palm plantations.
FERN have shown that it is possible to transplant ferns from healthy forests into plantations where they continue to support rainforest animals. This means that rainforest invertebrates and microbes can live in oil palm plantations with the ferns providing resources and shelter, just like they do in the rainforest. The ferns are naturally abundant in plantations, but increasing the number of ferns can provide even more opportunity to revive biodiversity and ecosystem function in oil palm landscapes as well as improve their sustainability by supporting Integrated Pest Management (IPM), soil sustainability and water protection.
WHO WE ARE
We are a group of researchers, science communicators, horticulturalists and volunteers working together to increase biodiversity in oil palm plantations.