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Recent expansion of oil palm plantations into carbon-rich forests

An Author Correction to this article was published on 22 April 2022

This article has been updated


Deforestation arising from oil palm expansion in the tropics poses threats to forest ecosystem services. Using high-resolution satellite maps, we show that oil palm expansion into forests in Indonesia and Malaysia during 2001–2015 caused a forest biomass loss of 50.2 ± 21.9 TgC yr−1. Large-scale plantations dominated the expansion area. But the encroachment of oil palm plantations from low to high biomass density forests is particularly obvious for small-scale plantations after 2007. This work provides new data for targeting policies to restrict oil palm encroachment into carbon-rich regions, including into protected areas.

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Fig. 1: Forest biomass loss caused by oil palm conversion.
Fig. 2: Forest biomass loss caused by oil palm expansion in the protected areas (PAs) and relationship between forest biomass loss per area and palm oil export price in the whole study region.

Data availability

The AOPD and tree cover loss data can be accessed from (see also ref. 1) and from (see also ref. 5), respectively. The GlobBiomass2010 and CCI-Biomass2017 data are available at (see also ref. 6) and at Source data are provided with this paper.

Code availability

The codes which support the main findings of this study are available via

Change history


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This study was supported by the National Key Research and Development Program of China (grant nos. 2017YFA0604401 and 2019YFA0606604), Tsinghua University Initiative Scientific Research Program (2021Z11GHX002) and the National Key Scientific and Technological Infrastructure project ‘Earth System Science Numerical Simulator Facility’ (EarthLab). The global AGB dataset was generated as part of the European Space Agency (ESA) Data User Element (DUE) GlobBiomass project (ESRIN contract no. 4000113100/14/I-NB).

Author information

Authors and Affiliations



L.Y., P.C. and W.L. designed the project. Y.X. collected and processed the data and constructed the figures and tables. Y.X., L.Y., P.C. W.L., M.S., H.Y. and P.G. contributed to writing, reviewing and editing the manuscript.

Corresponding authors

Correspondence to Le Yu or Wei Li.

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The authors declare no competing interests.

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Nature Sustainability thanks Wan Yee Lam, Jing Zhao and the other, anonymous, reviewer(s) for their contribution to the peer review of this work.

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Extended data

Extended Data Fig. 1 Oil palm-induced land-use change carbon budget in Peninsular Malaysia, Sumatra and Borneo during 2001–2015.

The black dots and lines represent the net carbon loss and the 1-σ uncertainty range for each island obtained by summing up all the component carbon fluxes and the corresponding uncertainties.

Source data

Extended Data Fig. 2 Contribution of the biomass carbon loss increase in Period 2 (2008–2015) by province.

Change of carbon loss is calculated as the difference of cumulative carbon loss for the forest area encroached on by oil palm in the two periods. Change of carbon density for converted forest is the difference of average carbon density of oil palm expansion occupied forest by each province in two periods.

Source data

Extended Data Fig. 3

The proportion of forest biomass loss caused by different patch sizes of oil palm expansion during 2001–2015.

Source data

Extended Data Fig. 4 Example of oil palm plantation identification and expansion from small to large patches by patch growth and combination in Melaka, Malaysia.

Different colours represent different patches. During 2003 to 2009, oil palm patch#1 continues to expand and merge with other patches (for example patch#2 and patch#3).

Source data

Supplementary information

Supplementary Information

Supplementary Text 1–4, Figs. 1–15 and Tables 1–4.

Reporting Summary

Source data

Source Data Fig. 1

The statistical source data to produce Fig. 1a,c,d. The source data of Fig. 1b are beyond the size limitations (>30 MB) so that it is explained in the sheet (1b) and uploaded in the zenodo repository (

Source Data Fig. 2

Statistical source data.

Source Data Extended Data Fig. 1

Statistical source data.

Source Data Extended Data Fig. 2

Statistical source data.

Source Data Extended Data Fig. 3

Statistical source data.

Source Data Extended Data Fig. 4

Statistical source data.

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Xu, Y., Yu, L., Ciais, P. et al. Recent expansion of oil palm plantations into carbon-rich forests. Nat Sustain 5, 574–577 (2022).

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