Single-largest Biodiversity Survey Says Primary Rainforest Is Irreplaceable

Let me count the ways I have no faith in how things are going and how mankind is reacting to the looming problems.

The destruction of the world’s rain forests has gone on decade after decade without abatement. The amount lost every year is well documented and much hang-wringing goes on but, still, the destruction continues.

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There’s money in that illegal logging and there’s land to farm under those trees. There are minerals out there, hidden in the jungle. Like a great swarm of ants loose in the cupboard, we just can’t seem to find the will to leave it all alone.

One thing is for certain – we are not short of persuasive reasons to leave it alone.

But, that’s one of the big reasons to be discouraged about all of this. Reasons – good valid, solid, scientific reasons are not enough for us. Most of us will only ‘get it’ when our own houses are burning down around our ears.

Even here in New Zealand, the govrnment cannot find the moral will or political capital to ban all wood imports sourced from illegal logging. So much for their self-appointed ‘clean and green’ image.

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ScienceDaily (Nov. 15, 2007) — As world leaders prepare to discuss conservation-friendly carbon credits in Bali and a regional initiative threatens a new wave of deforestation in the South American tropics, new research from the University of East Anglia and Brazil’s Goeldi Museum highlights once again the irreplaceable importance of primary rain forest.

Working in the north-eastern Brazilian Amazon the international team of scientists undertook the single-largest assessment of the biodiversity conservation value of primary, secondary and plantation forests ever conducted in the humid tropics.

Over an area larger than Wales, the UEA and museum researchers surveyed five primary rain forest sites, five areas of natural secondary forest and five areas planted with fast-growing exotic trees (Eucalyptus), to evaluate patterns of biodiversity.

Following an intensive effort of more than 20,000 scientist hours in the field and laboratory, they collected data on the distribution of 15 different groups of animals (vertebrates and invertebrates) and woody plants, including well-studied groups such as monkeys, butterflies and amphibians and also more obscure species such as fruit flies, orchid bees and grasshoppers.

“We know that different species often exhibit different responses to deforestation and so we sought to understand the consequences of land-use change for as many species as possible,” said Dr Jos Barlow, a former post-doctoral researcher at UEA.

At least a quarter of all species were never found outside native primary forest habitat – and the team acknowledges that this is an underestimate. “Our study should be seen as a best-case scenario, as all our forests were relatively close to large areas of primary forests, providing ample sources for recolonisation,” said Dr Barlow.

“Many plantations and regenerating forests along the deforestation frontiers in South America and south-east Asia are much further from primary forests, and wildlife may be unable to recolonise in these areas.

“Furthermore, the percentage of species restricted to primary forest habitat was much higher (40-60%) for groups such as birds and trees, where we were able to sample the canopy species as well as those that live in the forest under-storey.”

These results clearly demonstrate the unique value of undisturbed tropical forests for wildlife conservation. However, they also show that secondary forests and plantations offer some wildlife benefits and can host many species that would be unable to survive in intensive agricultural landscapes such as cattle ranching or soybean plantations.

More:

University of East Anglia. “Single-largest Biodiversity Survey Says Primary Rainforest Is Irreplaceable.” ScienceDaily 15 November 2007. 10 December 2007 .

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