Category Archives: In Press

RANCHING AND CONSERVATION OF BIRDWING AND SWALLOWTAIL BUTTERFLY SPECIES IN THE OIL PALM SYSTEMS OF PAPUA NEW GUINEA

Despite its small size (<200 000 planted hectares, 0.4% of the national surface), the oil palm industry in Papua New Guinea is accused of destroying wildlife habitats, notably for iconic insects such as birdwing and swallowtail butterflies. Two subspecies of butterfly (Ornithoptera priamus bornemanni and Papilio ulysses ambiguus) endemic in West New Britain were used in a study aimed at developing a model, low-maintenance butterfly farm for conserving and propagating iconic species within the oil palm estate environment. Food sources of both the larval and adult stages were identified and investigated for their suitability to produce an abundance of butterflies. Large numbers of O. p. bornemanni were produced when the larval food plant (Aristolochia tagala) was grown at high density. For P. u. ambiguus, the presence of specific nectar-producing plants was sufficient to attract the insect from the wild to breed in the farm. Suggestions for establishment of butterfly farms are provided and it is recommended that the oil palm industry enhance conservation of iconic butterflies by establishing butterfly farms on the estates and increasing butterfly food sources in targeted restoration and conservation areas.

PROSPECTS IN SUSTAINABLE CONTROL OF OIL PALM PESTS AND DISEASES THROUGH THE ENHANCEMENT OF ECOSYSTEM SERVICES – THE WAY FORWARD

The oil palm environment in Malaysia is rich in many ecosystem services which can be beneficial to control pests and diseases. Some examples are the soil microbes which consist of entomopathogenic fungi and bacteria which can be exploited for insect control, especially bagworms, rhinoceros beetle and termites. The bagworms (Lepidoptera: Psychidae) are currently severely infesting oil palm plantations in Malaysia. The Integrated Pest Management (IPM) of bagworms includes aerial spraying of Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt), cultivation of beneficial plants and fixing of natural pheromone traps. The rhinoceros beetle (Coleoptera: Scarabaeidae), can be managed with the soil fungus Metarhizium and the Oryctes nudivirus (OrNV). The subterranean termite (Isoptera: Rhinotermitidae) can be controlled with two entomopathogenic fungi, Beauveria bassiana and Metarhizium anisopliae which perform similarly as an insecticide. The soil microflora, rich in soil antagonists, can be useful for the control of Ganoderma disease. The Integrated Ganoderma Management (IGM) approach is advocated, which aimed at minimising disease incidence in replanting and prolonging the productive life of the infected palm. Birds are also examples of ecosystem services which can be further exploited for the control of rodents and also insect pests. There are several endemic nocturnal and diurnal bird species inhabiting the oil palm plantation which have the potential to control pests, especially rats and bagworms. This article deliberates on some of the endemic ecosystem services in Malaysia which have been exploited towards the management of major pests and diseases in oil palm. The enhancement of existing and introduced ecosystem services would ensure better management of pests and diseases for the sustainable cultivation of oil palm.

BAGWORM (Lepidoptera: Psychidae) INFESTATION IN THE CENTENNIAL OF THE MALAYSIAN OIL PALM INDUSTRY – A REVIEW OF CAUSES AND CONTROL

In the sixties, the cause of outbreaks for leaf-eating caterpillars, particularly bagworms (Metisa plana and Pteroma pendula) and nettle caterpillars was shown to be applications of synthetic organochlorine insecticides. These disrupted the prevailing strong natural balance between the pests and their insect natural enemies, parasitoids and predators. These disruptive insecticides have long lasting contact residues and are lethal to the free flying natural enemies. Halting application of these pesticides caused many outbreaks to terminate quickly. Selective pesticides which were then brought in, killed the pests and relatively spared the enemies (integrated control). Such pesticides, in the form of lead arsenate (stomach acting), and trichlorfon (fast fading residues) were used in large scale application to suppress continuing infestation. Trunk injection (TI) which was later developed uses a suitable systemic organophosphate insecticide which is injected into palm trunks and kills only insects that eat the leaves. From the mid-sixties, outbreak became less common, but started to increase again in frequency and severity in the nineties. Formulations from Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt), and synthetic pyrethroids, such as cypermethrin and deltamethrin, were added to the range for regular use. Clean weeding could possibly reduce the survival of adult parasitoids by removing their shelter and floral food source. In parallel, oil palms in Sumatra had severe outbreaks of leaf-eating caterpillars in the 1950s and 1960s, associated with DDT dusting. When DDT was replaced by trichlorfon, parasitoid numbers increased and pest infestations became insignificant by the late sixties. In the nineties, fogging of synthetic pyrethroids caused new pest outbreaks, which more recently saw reduction in pest problems when control measures were restricted to selective applications. Despite awareness of the risks, ‘minor build up’ or ‘infestation in the locality’ may encourage ‘precautionary’ treatment. Disruptive application may be against other pests, and often outbreak can be traced back to this. A good example is Oryctes where synthetic pyrethroids are often applied in full cover sprays, and leaf-eater infestation commonly follows. In fact, there are very effective procedures to avoid significant Oryctes damage in young palm plantings without risky applications. There is an indication that some sectors are moving towards a cycle of outbreak, chemical knockdown, and re-outbreak. An investigation is suggested to put a significant area of palms onto a programme of entirely selective measures. Application would be based on action thresholds, but of equal importance is ‘no application if they are not reached’. The ultimate aim is effective and sustainable regulation of the population size of bagworms and other pests.

ENERGY CONSUMPTION DURING TRANSPORTATION ALONG THE PALM OIL SUPPLY CHAIN IN MALAYSIA

The Life Cycle Inventory (LCI) analysis on the energy consumption was based on the study of the transportation of palm oil (PO), refined, bleached and deodourised (RBD) palm olein (POo) and palm stearin (POs) throughout the PO supply chain beginning from the transportation of the oil palm pollinated bunches from the ‘mother palm’ to the transportation of the RBD PO and its fractionated products, namely RBD POo and RBD POs from refineries/fractionation plants to the ports and finally to the retailers. The LCI analysis found that based on the production of 1 t RBD PO, the transportation of fresh fruit bunches (FFB) from plantations to mills consumed the highest energy followed by the transportation of POo from refineries to retailers and the transportation of crude palm oil (CPO) from PO mills to refineries, while the transportation of pollinated fruit bunches, germinated seeds and seedlings consumed the least amount of energy. The energy consumption on the basis of the production of 1 t RBD PO for the transportation of FFB from plantations to mills, RBD POo from refineries to retailers and CPO from mills to refineries were 197.12 MJ, 192.78 MJ and 151.50 MJ, respectively. Based on the actual production of the materials transported on an annual basis, it was estimated that the transportation of RBD PO, RBD POo and RBD POs along the palm oil supply chain consumed 7.025 billion MJ (0.168 Mtoe) energy per year.

IDENTIFICATION OF GENES PREFERENTIALLY EXPRESSED IN MESOCARP TISSUE OF OIL PALM USING in silico ANALYSIS OF TRANSCRIPTS

Strong demand for palm oil creates a huge challenge for the industry to produce more palm oil on the shrinking cultivable land mass. Genetic manipulation of oil synthesis in the mesocarp tissue of oil palm offers the opportunity to improve yield and quality of palm oil on the limited land resources. However, more than one mesocarp-specific promoters are required to effectively manipulate oil synthesis to avoid epigenetic silencing caused by the sequence homology in their promoter regions. This study was aimed at identifying genes that are specifically expressed in the mesocarp tissue through in silico analysis of transcriptome datasets from different oil palm tissues. From this analysis, transcripts XLOC_10, annotated as pentatricopeptide repeat (PPR) protein was highly expressed in the mesocarp tissue. Gene expression analysis of PPR in 27 tissues of Elaeis guineensis indicated that this putative mesocarp-specific transcript was expressed in mesocarp and female inflorescence tissues only. Cis-acting elements that are present in the promoter region of PPR showed that PPR might be involved in the lipid biosynthesis and flowering regulation network in oil palm.

A DESCRIPTION OF OPEN TOP CHAMBER SYSTEM FOR OIL PALM CARBON DIOXIDE ENRICHMENT

Open Top Chamber (OTC) is one of the techniques to study plant responses to elevated carbon dioxide (CO2) concentrations. A study on the effects of CO2 enrichment on oil palm growth, physiology and yield using OTC method was conducted at the Malaysian Palm Oil Board (MPOB) Research Station in Kluang, Johor, Malaysia. Oil palm clones P164 were cultivated in four OTC each with 9 m diameter and 10 m high. The OTC consists of a concrete structure with transparent multi-wall sheets. It has a truncated top for air aversion and to prevent CO2 dilution within the chamber by outside air. The CO2 gas was injected from nozzles mounted on the inner wall. The OTC was able to maintain a higher CO2 level inside the OTC than ambient level. Air temperature inside the OTC was slightly higher than ambient, while relative humidity and photosynthetically active radiation (PAR) inside the OTC were both slightly lower than ambient. A comparison of parameters measured inside the OTC and ambient provides a measure of the chamber effects. However, it could have either positive or negative effect on plant growth. The OTC method has some limitations and is only suitable for studying individual plant physiological responses to elevated CO2.