LONDON, May 20 (UPI) -- Oil palm plantations in Malaysia are causing forest fragmentation that threatens wildlife and multiple levels of biodiversity, researchers say.
Scientists from Queen Mary University of London, studying bats as an indicator of environmental change, say they're worried that unless steps are taken to safeguard and manage the remaining forest, certain species will struggle to survive, a university release reported Friday.
The team conducted bat surveys in pristine forest and also in areas of fragmented forest resulting from increased clearing of land for oil palm plantations.
They recorded the numbers of different species present.
"We found that smaller forest areas support fewer species, and that those species that remain face an eventual decline, potentially leading to local extinction in the long-term," researcher Mathew Struebig said.
They found that fragmentation appeared to have an even greater impact on genetic loss, vital for long-term population viability.
"We found that in order to retain the numbers of bat species seen in pristine forest, forest patches had to be larger than 650 hectares (1,600 acres), however to retain comparable levels of genetic diversity, areas needed to be greater than 10,000 hectares (24,000 acres)," he said.
The findings could have important implications for forest management in the face of ever-growing demand for oil palm plantations, the researchers said.