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Abstract

What do lipstick, frozen pizza, and laundry detergent have in common? Palm oil. This tropical vegetable oil that most people have never heard of is in half the packaged goods sold in the supermarket. Almost certainly, people are going to continue to use it. That makes it important to know when and where forests were cut down to make the palm tree plantations (from which we get the palm oil), where future plantations might be, and how they endanger plant and animal species.

The largest areas of palm plantations are in Southeast Asia. Here, farmers have cleared the forest (an activity called deforestation) quite recently. Similarly, palm plantations in South America are also from recent deforestation. Elsewhere though, the forest was cleared decades ago, often for other purposes before people even thought much about palm oil.

Our research shows that in the future, major palm plantations are likely to emerge in Africa and South America and continue to spread through Indonesia, Malaysia, Papua New Guinea. Palm plantations in any of these regions though would put at risk many plant and animal species.

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