• Biodiesel;
  • biodiversity hotspot;
  • biofuel;
  • deforestation;
  • habitat loss


Oil palm is one of the world's most rapidly expanding equatorial crops. The two largest oil palm-producing countries—Indonesia and Malaysia—are located in Southeast Asia, a region with numerous endemic, forest-dwelling species. Oil palm producers have asserted that forests are not being cleared to grow oil palm. Our analysis of land-cover data compiled by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization suggests that during the period 1990–2005, 55%–59% of oil palm expansion in Malaysia, and at least 56% of that in Indonesia occurred at the expense of forests. Using data on bird and butterfly diversity in Malaysia's forests and croplands, we argue that conversion of either primary or secondary (logged) forests to oil palm may result in significant biodiversity losses, whereas conversion of pre-existing cropland (rubber) to oil palm results in fewer losses. To safeguard the biodiversity in oil palm-producing countries, more fine-scale and spatially explicit data on land-use change need to be collected and analyzed to determine the extent and nature of any further conversion of forests to oil palm; secondary forests should be protected against conversion to oil palm; and any future expansion of oil palm agriculture should be restricted to pre-existing cropland or degraded habitats.