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 CO2 and 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.
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.
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.