Oldspeak: “So at the same time ever increasing amounts of CO2 are being spewed into the atmosphere, forests which play a crucial role in maintaining the global carbon budget; worldwide, sucking up 2.4 billion metric tons of carbon each year, are facing a triple whammy. They’re being clear cut at unsustainable rates, dying at faster rates ever year, and cut up into smaller and smaller fragments by more and more by roads, that lead to more habitat killing activities like industrial agriculture, wildfires, mining & poaching. This news is especially worrying given that the Amazon, home to one of those 2 big patches is dying, and losing it’s ability to sequester carbon. Converting from a carbon sink to a carbon emitter. Forest cover is shrinking every year. Yet another irreversible non-linear positive feedback loop in play, courtesy of industrial civilization. Can’t see this turning out well.” -OSJ
Lindsay Abrams @ Salon:
A new study uncovers the ruinous consequences, to plant and animal species, of our increasingly fragmented forests.
Can a forest that exists only in the spaces between roads and patches cleared for human settlement and agricultural development truly be called a forest?
Not so much, say researchers studying the growing, global problem of forest fragmentation. And the “persistent, deleterious and often unpredicted” consequences of human activity, finds a new study conducted by a team off 24 international scientists, and funded by the National Science Foundation, may be ruinous for plant and animal life.
“There are really only two big patches of intact forest left on Earth — the Amazon and the Congo — and they shine out like eyes from the center of the map,” lead author Nick Haddad, a professor at North Carolina State University, told the New Yorker.
“Nearly 20 percent of the world’s remaining forests are the distance of a football field — or about 100 meters — away from forest edges,” he elaborated in a statement. “Seventy percent of forest lands are within a half-mile of forest edges. That means almost no forests can really be considered wilderness.”
And the consequences of that forest loss, the researchers discovered, may be more profound than we’ve previously realized. To figure that out, they looked at the results of seven experiments, which took place on five different continents, that aimed to simulate the impacts of human activity on forests. Several of the studies have been going on for decades, and the results, in aggregate, were striking: fragmented habitats, they found, can reduce plant and animal diversity by anywhere from 13 to 75 percent.
In general, the studies showed that when patches of forest become smaller and more isolated, the abundance of birds, mammal, insects and plants decreases in kind — those pressures, the authors write, reduced the species’ ability to persist. Areas surrounded by a higher proportion of edges, they also found, were a boon to predators that target birds, which is arguably good, in the short-term, for the predators, although not so much for the birds. Fragmented forests experienced a decline in their core ecosystem functions, as well: they were less able to sequester carbon dioxide, an important element of mitigating climate change, and displayed reduced productivity and pollination.