skip to content

Dr Ed Turner recently held an interactive online talk on the pros and cons of oil palm expansion.  In this talk Ed, the Museum’s Curator of Insects, discussed some of the negative impacts of oil palm expansion, but also the positives of its very high productivity.

What is palm oil? Palm oil is made from the fruits of oil palms. Originally from Africa, these trees were introduced to Indonesia and Malaysia in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. They grow naturally in tropical rainforest areas, but are now being cultivated intensively all over the tropics, particularly in South East Asia.  Palm oil is an ingredient in many of our everyday supermarket items from cosmetics and shampoos to crisps and biscuits.

Agricultural areas have expanded dramatically in the tropics, providing food for the world’s population, but also posing a severe threat to natural habitats and tropical biodiversity. Oil palm in particular has attracted a lot of negative media coverage due to its association with high levels of deforestation.

Ed talked about the ways that oil palm can be managed for biodiversity and beneficial ecosystem functions, such as pest control and pollination. He also explored ways to make oil palm farming more sustainable.

As well as being the Museum’s Curator of Insects, Ed is also a Cambridge University lecturer. He runs two large scale experiments in South East Asia, investigating the role of habitat complexity in supporting biodiversity in human modified landscapes. In the UK, he works on threatened chalk grassland butterfly species. He is particularly interested in finding ways that landscapes can be managed more sustainably to support higher levels of biodiversity while still allowing human use.  

This interactive online talk was organised by The Institution of Environmental Sciences. For further information about The Institution of Environmental Sciences go to