Biodiversity, environmental change and land-use policy in Sulawesi and Maluku

Lead Research Organisation: University of Kent
Department Name: Durrell Inst Conservation and Ecology


Deforestation and forest degradation are causing widespread loss of tropical biodiversity, profoundly impacting ecosystem functioning as well as stocks of natural resources and ecosystem assets (natural capital). The greatest reductions in diversity are experienced as forests are converted to permanent agriculture, a process that disrupts the delivery of important ecosystem services such as pollination and pest control. In contrast, the impacts from well-managed smallholder agriculture are less extreme, as the associated land parcels are typically embedded within landscape mosaics comprising fallows and forest remnants.

Wallacea is currently emerging as a new developmental frontier in Indonesia and a target for agribusiness and extractive industries. A particularly understudied part of the Asian tropics, it has an exceptionally distinctive vertebrate diversity which forms the second highest level of endemism in the world, making the region a global priority for both conservation and ecosystem service provision. In addition, land-use history and current trajectories remain poorly understood, with the region notably omitted from recent deforestation baselines for this very reason. In fact, the diverse history of the Wallacea archipelago is acknowledged as a major source of uncertainty when applying land-use change models developed from elsewhere in Southeast Asia, as well as predicting the impacts of future environmental change. Given that further forest degradation and agricultural conversion are expected in Wallacea, the future prospects for natural capital in the region depend to a large extent on how we manage human-modified landscapes.

Bringing together an interdisciplinary team from British and Indonesian universities, with four NGO partners active in Wallacea, this project will deliver the science needed to understand tensions in land-use and the responses of biodiversity to environmental change in Wallacea. We propose a novel and ambitious study of biodiversity responses to recent and historical land-cover change across multiple landscapes in little-studied islands, so that evaluations of current land-use policies and predictions of future environmental scenarios will be evidence-based and realistic. More specifically, spatial trajectories of land-cover change will be generated for each landscape, drawing from publicly-available remote-sensed data and local land-use plans. This will enable us to hindcast forest cover back to Wallace's time and forecast to key target years for international policy commitments (e.g. 2030 for the UN Sustainable Development Goals and 2050s for the UN Framework on Climate Change). Significantly, we will generate new biodiversity data from across land-cover gradients in forests, agroforests and intensive farmland (e.g. cocoa, oil palm, coffee), model community responses to past, present and future forest cover, and apply state-of-the-art genomics methods to assess genetic and evolutionary responses to land-cover change for several important conservation flagship species (NERC-Ristekdikti programme's Goals 1 and 2). Focusing on terrestrial vertebrates, the fauna that environmental policies aiming at safeguarding biodiversity are typically focused upon, we will track Alfred Russel Wallace's journey through Sulawesi and the Moluccas (Maluku). Finally, with collaboration from Project Partners with additional expertise in Wallacea, we will evaluate the impact of current land-use policies on ecosystem assets and dependent human beneficiaries, drawing on our land-cover, biodiversity and additional carbon and socio-economic data (Programme's Goals 2 and 3). Because many provinces in Indonesia are yet to implement newly-required spatial planning processes, our joint environmental research has an unprecedented opportunity to inform local development.

Planned Impact

Knowing how best to reconcile natural capital alongside economic development is a key policy challenge for Indonesia and many other countries worldwide. Indonesia has ambitious development targets to ensure further economic growth while sustaining natural resources and rural livelihoods. The implementation of these targets is done at provincial and district levels where spatial land-use plans are reviewed every 5 years and now require formal environmental evaluation (BP46/2017). As many provinces are yet to implement the new planning process, this is an ideal opportunity for our research to inform development in Wallacea. To meet this challenge, we have integrated state-of-the-art spatial planning analyses into our proposal (WP3). Key beneficiaries include:

1. Government agencies, at district, province and national levels, will be engaged throughout the project in each of our study landscapes in Sulawesi and Maluku. This provides opportunity to exchange datasets and help align the analyses in WP3 to spatial planning needs. They will benefit from improved capacity for the spatial evaluation and informed guidance on delimiting the 'Forest Management Unit' required in each district and province by national government. In addition to representatives from the bupati (mayoral) offices, key agencies include the Ministries/Departments of Environment and Forestry; Agriculture; and Development Planning (BAPPENAS). In addition, the Local Social Forestry Partnerships (PKSL), who are responsible for implementing community forestry targets, will benefit from the inclusion of indicative social forestry and wellbeing maps in our analyses, thus ensuring that optimal land is identified for community forestry allocation. PI Struebig and Partner FFI have a track record of bringing together these agencies from all over Kalimantan, and there is already great interest to extend this to other provinces.

2. Environmental and civil society NGOs will also be invited to outline their views in the above knowledge exchange exercise. Our Project Partners (Birdlife, WCS, FFI and OpWall) actively engage government and local businesses, and so are well placed to steer this consultation and benefit from it. Birdlife, for example, implements Critical Ecosystem Partnership funds to beneficiaries all over Wallacea for conservation activities, and so brings a huge network of smaller NGOs that can further benefit. Further, our Partners (and other NGOs, e.g. WWF and The Nature Conservancy) will also benefit from improved knowledge and distribution maps of the threatened wildlife on which their Wallacea conservation programmes are based (see Letters of Support).

3. Agriculture, forestry and mining companies, and industry groups, including oil palm producers (particularly in South Sulawesi, Gorontalo and Seram), logging companies (e.g. Seram, Halmahera) and limestone mining (Buton, Halmahera, Buru), will benefit from improved information on biodiversity within existing concessions and recommendations on where to locate future investments to minimise environmental impacts. Industry certification groups include Roundtable for Sustainable Oil Palm (RSPO), respective government agencies (e.g Indonesian Palm Oil Association, GAPKI), and equivalents in other key sectors (e.g. Forest Stewardship Council).

4. Research organisations in Indonesia (e.g. Center for International Forestry Research, CIFOR; World Agroforestry Centre, ICRAF; Indonesian Institute of Sciences, LIPI) and consultancies (e.g. Daemeter Consulting, REDD+ Task Force) will welcome the improved deforestation and biodiversity maps we produce in their project areas (e.g. Seram, Gorontalo), which can be used to inform research activities and evaluate policy performance.

5. People in Wallacea will ultimately benefit through recommendations that ensure environmental impacts from resource extraction are minimised and community forestry is in appropriate areas to alleviate poverty.


10 25 50
Description The empty forest syndrome: reversing socioecological drivers of defaunation in the tropics
Amount £999,961 (GBP)
Funding ID RL-2019-054 
Organisation The Leverhulme Trust 
Sector Charity/Non Profit
Country United Kingdom
Start 05/2020 
End 04/2025
Description University of Kent GCRF Research Studentship
Amount £80,000 (GBP)
Organisation University of Kent 
Sector Academic/University
Country United Kingdom
Start 01/2020 
End 06/2023
Description Collaboration formed with Fauna and Flora International Indonesia Programme 
Organisation Fauna & Flora International
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Charity/Non Profit 
PI Contribution Consult with FFI staff on systematic conservation planning approaches planned for the project with potential to focus in the Maros-Pengkap region of South Sulawesi (where FFI operates). Develop this region as a fieldsite for bird surveys, and share these data with FFI to help with ongoing conservation lobbying to get the area protected.
Collaborator Contribution Provide input into potential systematic conservation planning. Undertake joint bird fieldwork and/or assist with logistics in Maros-Pengkap.
Impact None as yet
Start Year 2019
Description Collaboration formed with Operation Wallacea 
Organisation Operation Wallacea
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Public 
PI Contribution Agreed to provide bird inventories of forest and non-forest site on Buton island where Operation wallacea operates in Sulawesi. Will provide training of local staff in bird survey techniques as appropriate.
Collaborator Contribution Logistical support, including local transport and lodgings, around field study sites, and provision of research staff ( including payment of salaries) while in forest sites.
Impact None as yet
Start Year 2019
Description Collaboration formed with Universitas Indonesia Research Centre for Climate Change 
Organisation University of Indonesia
Country Indonesia 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution A formal letter of agreement was signed to outline the terms of collaboration under the UK-Indonesia Wallacea programme. The partners will work together to produce deforestation predictions for Sulawesi and Maluku, undertake some joint fieldwork to quantify the responses of birds to land-use change, and land-use planning analyses. THe UK team will provide some training in specific techniques (e.g. deforestation modelling, occupancy modelling) to colleagues in Indonesia as and when the need arises.
Collaborator Contribution UI have some funds allocated by the Indonesian academic funder, RISTEK. This supports staff time, and some travel and subsistence costs for fieldwork in Sulawesi.
Impact None as yet (March 2020). Collaboration involves environmental modellers, ecologist and decision scientists.
Start Year 2019
Description Collaboration formed with Wildlife Conservation Society Indonesia Programme 
Organisation Wildlife Conservation Society
Country United States 
Sector Charity/Non Profit 
PI Contribution Involve and train WCS staff in systematic conservation planning approaches planned for workpackage 3 in the project - particualrly with respect to Gorontalo/North Sulawesi region.
Collaborator Contribution WCS staff will advise on the systematic conservation planning process - particularly with respect to Gorontalo/North Sulawesi region. Also arrange a recce of potential field sites in Gorontalo, introducing the UK team to potential stakeholders in the region.
Impact None as yet
Start Year 2019
Description Lecture given at University of Gorontalo, 27 Feb 2019 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Undergraduate students
Results and Impact Lecture presented on Oil Palm and Biodiversity to staff and students at Universitas Gorontalo by M Struebig
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
Description Stakeholder consultation of natural resource conflicts and policy commitments of Gorontalo province, Sulawesi: 25-26 Feb 2019 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact The team, led by M Struebig and J Supriatna organised and led a workshop to convene stakeholders working on enironmental issues in province of Gorontalo in Sulawesi Gorontalo is a focal region in the research as it has maintained high forest cover until recently. The aim was to outline the main natural resource conflicts faced within the province, particularly forests and exploitation, and gauge whether participants felt the local spatial development plan was sufficient to maintai natural capital assets, or needed improvement. Key participants were local staff from Gorontalo Provincial Planning Department (including the Mayor's office) and Forestry, as well as local NGOs Burung Indonesia, and Wildlife Conservation Society. Participants felt strongly that promotion of corn production in the latest 5-year plan had led to negative consequences for forests, biodiversity and livelihoods, and that some form of re-evaluation of the plan was necessary in the near future. The audience were enthusiastic to here that the research project could potentially help inform this process by targetting research on resource economics, social wellbeing, and biodiversity with the province, followed by a natural capital assessment.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
Description Working group to design and implement research training for genetic researchers in Indonesia, 16-17 Jul 2019 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Other audiences
Results and Impact As part of a workshop to discuss integration plans for the NERC Wallacea Programme in Bogor, a working group was established to design and implement training as part of a 'field school' to take place in the Wallacea region of Indonesia in June/July 2020. The group comprised UK representatives from each funded project, following dialogue with third sector organisations (WCS, CiFOR, British Council).
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019