Dec. 21 (UPI) -- The growth of oil palm plantations in Southeast Asia is responsible for the clearing of thousands of acres of forest. But new research suggests the threat of oil palm plantations extends beyond habitat destruction.
According to a new study published in the journal Nature Communications, the plantations are fueling a wild boar population boom, yielding significant ecological destruction.
Scientists found wild boar populations are increasing by as much as hundred-fold in forests adjacent to oil palm plantations, even when the farm and protected acreage are separated by more than a half mile.
"For 10 years, we saw that plants and small trees on the forest floor were disappearing but we didn't understand why," Matthew Luskin, a research fellow at Nanyang Technical University in Singapore, said in a news release. "Once we started looking outside the forest to the surrounding oil palms, the story became clear."
An excess of fruit produced by the plantation palms and encouraging increased reproduction rates. When wild boars become pregnant, they create nests by clearing away vegetation on the forest floor.
While variation in species abundance is natural, ecosystems evolve balance over millions of years. Unnatural shifts in habitat and the dramatic changes in population that result can throw that balance off and cause a variety of consequences.
Researchers say more work needs to be done to understand how sudden increases in monkey and wild boar populations can harm the environment.
"I've personally seen population eruptions of pigs and macaque monkeys in forests near oil palms across Peninsular Malaysia, Borneo, and Sumatra," Luskin said. "This may become a huge conservation issue for the entire region."
Luskin hopes conservationists and wildlife managers will work together with farmers and local communities to find ways to control the growth of wild boar and feral pig populations.