Oil palm photosynthesis training

In August, I travelled to an oil palm plantation in Sarawak to lead an intensive training course for a team of Malaysian research assistants. The aim: learn how to use a LI-COR LI-6400XT Portable Photosynthesis system for future research on oil palm photosynthesis.

For two weeks this summer, I helped train a team of 9 research assistants from the Malaysian Oil Palm Board (MPOB) how to measure photosynthesis and respiration. The course took place on a palm oil plantation near Bintulu in Sarawak, Malaysia. As part of the training, I taught the team how to undertake COand light response curves and dark respiration measurements. From this, they would be able to quantify important leaf traits, such as maximum photosynthetic capacity and leaf respiration.


The new team of LI-COR 6400XT users.

As part of the course, we wanted to get an early understanding of how photosynthetic capacity changes with palm age and leaf age. To do this, we measured fronds of four different ages on 10 different palms from two different plantation ages. Sabaju 5 was our chosen young plantation, being planted in 2016, whilst Sebungan 10 was the mature plantation, planted in 2007.

One of the aims of the course was to compare the photosynthesis of juvenile and mature oil palms. Photo copyright: David Bartholomew
At times, we had an impressive 3 machines measuring photosynthesis simultaneously! Photo copyright: David Bartholomew
Despite the intense sun, measuring photosynthesis on a juvenile palm was relatively easy… Photo copyright: David Bartholomew
…whereas measuring mature palms required a scaffold tower to reach the fronds.

The course went well and the team of research assistants successfully learnt how to measure carbon metabolism traits. Hopefully with this newly learnt skill, future research will allow us to get a better understanding of what makes oil palms so productive and how we can enhance this even further. Across South-east Asia, large tracts of land have been converted to palm oil plantations leaving little space left for native forests. With more research, it is hoped that these plantations can become more productive and sustainable, reducing greenhouse gas emissions and the pressure on neighbouring forests.

Oil palms are extremely productive producing vast quantities of fruit. Future research will reveal how the photosynthesis of these palms helps contribute. Photo copyright: David Bartholomew
The Sebungan 10 plantation captured from the top of an eddy-covariance tower measuring ecosystem level fluxes. Photo copyright: David Bartholomew

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