Rainforest conservation needs new direction to address climate change

Date:

Share post:

Conservation and international aid groups may be on the wrong course to address the havoc wreaked on tropical rainforests by climate change, according to a commentary appearing in the journal Nature on Dec. 2.

A farmer in West Kalimantan (Indonesian Borneo) uses fire to clear rainforest for planting. As climate change causes many areas to warm and dry, fires may become more frequent and more difficult to control, having serious impacts on rainforest species. “Most of the world’s terrestrial biodiversity is contained in tropical rainforests, and climate change is looming ever larger as one of the major threats to these ecosystems, but how humans deal with climate change may be even more important,” said Penn State Professor of Biology Eric Post, one of the letter’s authors. Post explained that rising temperatures and altered precipitation are important concerns; however, how humans respond to these altered conditions may be exacerbating an already bad situation.

Post’s co-author, University of Montana ecologist Jedediah Brodie, formerly a Smith Conservation fellow at Penn State, commented that many tropical trees are reasonably resistant to temperature increases and even drought, but if the warming up and drying out of forests causes people to set more fires, trees could be completely unprepared. “If climate change leads to people starting more fires or doing more logging, those activities could be much more harmful to tropical biodiversity than just the simple rise in temperature,” Brodie said.

The authors also explained that warming and drying conditions in parts of South America and Southeast Asia make it much easier for people to use fires to clear forests for agriculture. Unfortunately, small fires sometimes burn out of control, inadvertently destroying large areas. In addition, some tropical forests remain unlogged simply because they are inaccessible. For instance, intense rainy seasons wash out roads or make dirt tracks seasonally unusable. “The problem is that reduced precipitation could make it easier for people to access these areas,” Post explained. “That increased access could lead to more logging, hunting, and burning — a potentially destructive cycle.”

In their Nature commentary, Post and Brodie argue that preventing deforestation and controlling fires are critical steps for reducing climate-change impacts on tropical biodiversity, but these steps must be deployed strategically. This caution also applies to popular new projects based on the REDD (Reduced Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation) protocols. REDD projects are intended to set aside patches of forest to protect the carbon stored in the trees, but the placement of REDD projects is not coordinated at regional or international scales.

“The REDD concept has a huge potential that would be realized much better through some strategic planning,” said Brodie. “Rather than using REDD to protect more-or-less random patches of forest, we could use it to link existing national parks into larger protected areas, or to span gradients in elevation or moisture.” Brodie explained that preserving forest corridors along such gradients is critical to allowing tropical species to migrate or shift their ranges in response to the changing climatic conditions. 

In their commentary, the authors also suggest that REDD projects or new national parks are especially important for particular areas. “One example is the Southeastern Amazon, where forests are threatened both by rapid deforestation and a drying climate,” Brodie said. “Other areas that need REDD projects or parks are Southeast Asia’s central Borneo region, the mountains along the Thailand-Myanmar border, and the Annamite Mountains in Vietnam and Laos.”

The authors also said that while small, isolated national parks may offer some protection from climate change, large, connected landscapes would give different species the opportunity to migrate to new areas as environmental conditions change.

For more information, contact Post at 814-865-1556 or [email protected], or Barbara Kennedy, Penn State PIO at 814-863-4682 or [email protected].


Author: Barbara Kennedy | Source: Penn State University [December 01, 2010]


ADVERTISEMENT

spot_img

Related articles

Threats loom for Australia’s outback biodiversity

Biologists have developed a new approach to identify major threats to the aquatic habitats that support freshwater life...

Astronomers find bounty of failed stars

A University of Toronto-led team of astronomers has discovered over two dozen new free-floating brown dwarfs, including a...

3,700 year old wine cellar found in Israel

Would you drink wine flavored with mint, honey and a dash of psychotropic resins? Ancient Canaanites did more...

Insects a prime driver in plant evolution and diversity

Take a good look around on your next nature hike. Not only are you experiencing the wonders of...

Archaeology shows there’s more to millet than birdseed

Archaeological research shows that our prehistoric ancestors built resilience into their food supply. Now archaeologists say ‘forgotten’ millet...

Walking with dinosaurs

Remember the classic flocking scene from Jurassic Park? Alan and the kids are walking over a grassy plain....

Tibetan plateau’s glaciers melting rapidly

Glaciers in the Qinghai-Tibet plateau, the source of many rivers that sustain China and the Indian subcontinent, are...

Home windows take deadly toll on birds in Canada

The thud of a bird hitting a window is something many Canadian home owners experience. Up until now,...