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Title: Crop residue management in oil palm plantations : soil quality, soil biota and ecosystem functions
Author: Tao, Hsiao-Hang
Awarding Body: University of Oxford
Current Institution: University of Oxford
Date of Award: 2017
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The application of crop residues is one of the most common agricultural practices used to maintain soil ecosystems and crop productivity. This thesis focuses on the oil palm (Elaeis guineensis) agroecosystem, an important tropical crop that has expanded rapidly over the past four decades. Both land conversion and business-as-usual practices within the plantations have contributed to soil degradation. The application of oil palm residues, such as empty fruit bunches (EFB) and oil palm fronds, are thought to have positive effects on the soil ecosystem; yet there is currently a deficit of knowledge on their effectiveness. This thesis aims to examine the effects of oil palm residue application on soil physicochemical properties, soil biota, and ecosystem functions. It reports the results of extensive field trials, sample collection, and statistical analysis of crop residue applications in oil palm plantations in Central Sumatra, Indonesia. Four key results emerged from the thesis. First, in this study site land conversion from secondary forest to oil palm does not affect litter decomposition rate, but positively influences soil fauna activity. Second, there is greater soil fauna activity following EFB application than oil palm fronds or chemical fertilizers, and the fauna activity is highly associated with changes in soil chemical properties and soil moisture conditions. Third, EFB application enhances soil ecosystem functions, through the direct provision of organic matter, and by influencing soil biota. Finally, over 15 years of application, EFB appears to be effective in maintaining or increasing annual crop yield in comparison to chemical fertiliser treatment. Temporal changes in crop yield under EFB application appear to be associated with climatic conditions and soil organic carbon. Overall, these findings improve our understanding of the potential of oil palm residue applications to increase soil quality, soil biota, and ecosystem functions. They also provide useful information for a wider audience of soil ecologists, agricultural managers, and policy makers to improve sustainable management of the oil palm ecosystem.
Supervisor: Willis, Kathy ; Snaddon, Jake Sponsor: Taiwanese Overseas PhD Scholarship
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available
Keywords: soil biota ; soil ecosystem function ; soil quality ; crop residue management ; oil palm ; EFB ; empty fruit bunch