Accounting for ecosystem services on Borneo

Research objective

The objective of research program is to develop comprehensive accounts of forest ecosystem service values building on 5 years of multi-disciplinary research on the social, environment and economic aspects of land-use change on Borneo. The students could focus on quantifying 1) the impacts of flooding on agricultural production; 2) the impacts of temperature increases due to deforestation on agricultural yields and human health; 3) the impacts of deforestation on non-timber forest products; and 4) costs associated with air pollution. Earlier research has indicated that these costs are the main concerns of people on Borneo with regard to the environmental impacts of deforestation. Making these costs explicit and linking them spatially to land use and land cover change will provide a powerful tool to influence policy agendas for economic growth.

Research background

Tropical forests regulate regional and global climate, provide a wide range of ecosystem services to over a billion people, and support ~50% of described species. The forests of Borneo harbour an estimated 14,423 plant and 1,640 vertebrate species, of which 28% are endemic and 534 are considered to be threatened with extinction. The extent of forest on Borneo declined by 16.8 million ha (30%) from 1973–2010 because of agricultural expansion and ENSO-induced wildfires. Indonesia and Malaysia are major exporters of palm oil. Furthermore, the governments of Malaysia and Indonesia seek to increase the area of oil-palm and industrial timber plantations (ITP) on Borneo by 7.1 million hectares over the next two decades. These developments fuel economic growth. But do benefits outweigh costs? The costs associated with social conflicts, loss of environmental services and reduced food security are largely unknown or downplayed by governments. Better knowledge of economic costs of forest loss and degradation would inform government plans for greener, more sustainable development.

Available data

Over the past 5 years, a comprehensive set of spatially-explicit data has been developed for Borneo that can be used in this study, greatly facilitating spatial data analysis. Access to such data in a tropical, developing country setting is rare, thus providing the prospective students the opportunity to engage in novel, cutting-edge research.

Organisational setting

The student will be based at The University of Queensland, and will work closely with the researchers in the Borneo Futures initiative network.


Dr. Kerrie Wilson: