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The Biodiversity and Ecosystem Function in Tropical Agriculture (BEFTA) Programme (

Based in Riau, Indonesia, the BEFTA Programme relies on close collaboration with researchers at Sinar Mas Agro Resources and Technology Research Institute (SMARTRI) to investigate management options that benefit biodiversity and related ecosystem functioning within oil palm plantations. The Programme makes use of large-scale experimental manipulations of the oil palm landscape and long-term monitoring of the effects on biodiversity, ecosystem functions and oil palm yield.  There are currently two main research projects.

The BEFTA Understory Vegetation Project is quantifying the effect of understory habitat complexity within oil palm plantations on biodiversity and to experimentally test the role of this biodiversity on ecosystem functioning and productivity. The Riparian Ecosystem Restoration in Tropical Agriculture (RERTA) Project is experimentally testing different methods for replanting and restoring riparian buffer strips within oil palm plantations, and assessing their value for supporting biodiversity and ecosystem functions in riparian zones.

The Programme is already yielding interesting results, including clear impacts of understory removal on dragonfly abundance and diversity as well as on the abundance of predatory assassin bugs, which are important for pest control in the plantations. Outcomes from BEFTA are of direct relevance to conservation practitioners and agronomists and will help to inform more sustainable management practices in tropical agricultural landscapes.  

This project is co-funded by the Isaac Newton Trust, Cambridge and PT Sinar Mas Agro Resources and Technology Tbk. with additional funding from the Natural Environment Research Council ( NR1 Research Grant, Managing tropical agricultural ecosystems for resistance and recovery of ecosystem processes NE/P00458X/1) to investigate the impact of recent El Nino droughts on these systems.

Management solutions for threatened butterfly species on chalk grassland reserves

Working with the Bedfordshire, Cambridgeshire and Northamptonshire Wildlife Trust (, this project investigates the key microhabitat and microclimatic requirements of threatened chalk grassland butterflies, particularly the Duke of Burgundy (Hamearis lucina). By quantifying the role of microhabitats in supporting favourable microclimates for butterflies, the project also aims to investigate the role of local habitat management in buffering populations from the impacts of future climate change.

This work is supported by the Isaac Newton Trust / Wellcome Trust ISSF / University of Cambridge Joint Research Grants.

The Stability of Altered Forest Ecosystems (SAFE) Project (

Based in Sabah, Malaysian Borneo, SAFE is a large-scale, long-term forest fragmentation project led by Dr Rob Ewers, Imperial College London. The project makes use of planned logging activities and conversion of forest to oil palm to create forest fragments of different sizes across the landscape, and also riparian buffer strips of different widths along streams.  The effects of the clearance on biodiversity and ecosystem functioning are being monitored, and the conservation value of retaining forest fragments and riparian buffer strips is being assessed.

Several Insect Ecology Group members have been involved in the core research work at SAFE, including initial set-up of the plots, insect trapping and vegetation plot monitoring. We are also involved with externally-funded projects that make use of the SAFE experimental set-up, including work to assess the impacts of logging and oil palm on stream insect communities and the role riparian buffers can play in protecting stream ecosystems. 

Group members working on this project are funded as part of the Natural Environment Research Council Human-modified Tropical Forests Programme NE/K016377/1

Collection and taxonomic work

Making use of the Museum’s collection of over a million insect specimens, the Insect Ecology Group runs projects to catalogue and quantify the impacts of regional habitat change and fenland drainage on insect communities across Cambridgeshire. In particular, a current project is cataloguing the extraordinary insect collection made by the Reverend Leonard Jenyns in Cambridgeshire, a contemporary of Charles Darwin, in Cambridge in the middle part of the 19th century.

This work is supported by a Designation Development Fund from Arts Council England.

Members of the group also collaborate with researchers worldwide and provide taxonomic support in identifying insect specimens and describing new species. In particular, Dr Henry Disney is a world expert on Scuttle Flies (Phoridae), and works to improve the taxonomic resolution of this group.