The conversion of tropical rainforest to agricultural systems such as oil palm alters biodiversity across a large range of interacting taxa and trophic levels. Yet, it remains unclear how direct and cascading effects of land-use change simultaneously drive ecological shifts. Combining data from a multi-taxon research initiative in Sumatra, Indonesia, we show that direct and cascading land-use effects alter biomass and species richness of taxa across trophic levels ranging from microorganisms to birds. Tropical land use resulted in increases in biomass and species richness via bottom-up cascading effects, but reductions via direct effects. When considering direct and cascading effects together, land use was found to reduce biomass and species richness, with increasing magnitude at higher trophic levels. Our analyses disentangle the multifaceted effects of land-use change on tropical ecosystems, revealing that biotic interactions on broad taxonomic scales influence the ecological outcome of anthropogenic perturbations to natural ecosystems.

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We thank R. K. Didham, J. S. Powers and C. Scherber for providing helpful comments and suggestions. We acknowledge the village leaders, local landowners, PT REKI and Bukit Duabelas National Park for granting us access and use of their properties, and thank our permit granting bodies, the Indonesian Institute of Sciences (LIPI) and the Ministry of Forestry (PHKA). We also thank our field and laboratory assistants, the rangers within the protected forest areas for assistance in the field, and D. Gunawan from the Meteorological, Climatological and Geophysical Agency of Indonesia for climate data. This study was financed by the German Research Foundation (DFG) in the framework of the collaborative German-Indonesian research project EFForTS, the Ministry of Science and Culture of Lower Saxony within the framework of the BEFmate project, an FCS Swiss Government Scholarship, an Indonesian Directorate General of Higher Education scholarship, and the German Centre for Integrative Biodiversity Research (iDiv) Halle-Jena-Leipzig funded by the German Research Foundation (FZT 118).

Author information

Author notes

  1. Andrew D. Barnes and Kara Allen contributed equally to this work.


  1. Systemic Conservation Biology, University of Goettingen, Berliner Str. 28, 37073, Goettingen, Germany

    • Andrew D. Barnes
    • , Malte Jochum
    •  & Ulrich Brose
  2. German Centre for Integrative Biodiversity Research (iDiv) Halle-Jena-Leipzig, Deutscher Platz 5e, 04103, Leipzig, Germany

    • Andrew D. Barnes
    •  & Ulrich Brose
  3. Institute of Biology, Leipzig University, Johannisallee 21, 04103, Leipzig, Germany

    • Andrew D. Barnes
  4. Soil Science of Tropical and Subtropical Ecosystems, University of Goettingen, Büsgen Institute, Büsgenweg 2, 37077, Goettingen, Germany

    • Kara Allen
    • , Marife D. Corre
    • , Edzo Veldkamp
    •  & Syahrul Kurniawan
  5. Department of Ecology, Evolution, and Behavior, University of Minnesota, 306 Ecology, 1987 Upper Buford Circle, St. Paul, MN, 55108, USA

    • Kara Allen
  6. Biodiversity, Macroecology & Biogeography, University of Goettingen, Büsgenweg 1, 37077, Goettingen, Germany

    • Holger Kreft
    •  & Katja Rembold
  7. Institute of Plant Sciences, University of Bern, Altenbergrain 21, 3013, Bern, Switzerland

    • Malte Jochum
  8. Department of Crop Sciences, Agroecology, University of Goettingen, Grisebachstr. 6, 37077, Goettingen, Germany

    • Yann Clough
    • , Kevin Darras
    • , Lisa H. Denmead
    •  & Teja Tscharntke
  9. Centre for Environmental and Climate Research, Lund University, Sölvegatan 37, 22362, Lund, Sweden

    • Yann Clough
  10. Department of Genomic and Applied Microbiology & Goettingen Genomics Laboratory, Institute of Microbiology and Genetics, University of Goettingen, Grisebachstr. 8, 37077, Goettingen, Germany

    • Rolf Daniel
    •  & Dominik Schneider
  11. Marine and Environmental Management, School of Applied Sciences, Toi Ohomai Institute of Technology, 70 Windermere Drive, 3112, Tauranga, New Zealand

    • Lisa H. Denmead
  12. Department of Silviculture, Faculty of Forestry, Bogor Agricultural University, Darmaga Campus, 16680, Bogor, Indonesia

    • Noor Farikhah Haneda
  13. Department of Plant Ecology and Ecosystems Research, University of Goettingen, Untere Karspüle 2, 37073, Goettingen, Germany

    • Dietrich Hertel
    •  & Martyna M. Kotowska
  14. Bioclimatology, University of Goettingen, Büsgenweg 2, 37077, Goettingen, Germany

    • Alexander Knohl
    •  & Ana Meijide
  15. Department of Soil Science, Faculty of Agriculture, Brawijaya University, Malang, Indonesia

    • Syahrul Kurniawan
  16. Conservation Biology Division, Institute of Ecology and Evolution, University of Bern, Baltzerstrasse 6, CH-3012, Bern, Switzerland

    • Walesa Edho Prabowo
  17. Institute of Ecology, Friedrich Schiller University Jena, Dornburger-Str. 159, 07743, Jena, Germany

    • Ulrich Brose


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K.A., A.D.B. and U.B. designed the study; K.A., A.D.B., M.J., K.D., L.H.D., M.M.K., S.K., A.M., K.R., W.E.P. and D.S. collected the data; K.A. and A.D.B. analysed the data; all authors contributed to the writing of the manuscript.

Competing interests

The authors declare no competing financial interests.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Andrew D. Barnes.

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