When it comes to habitat quality and ecosystem services, research has shown that natural landscapes do it best. A new study, published recently in Nature, adds fodder to this argument, describing how intact forests are critically important for mitigating climate change, maintaining water supplies, safeguarding biodiversity, and even protecting human health. However, it warns that global policies aimed at reducing deforestation are not putting enough emphasis on the preservation of the world’s dwindling intact forests, instead relying on a one-size-fits-all approach that may end up doing more harm than good.
Intact forests are large areas of connected habitat free from human-caused disturbance. From the Amazon rainforest in South America to the taiga that rings the Arctic, the Earth’s intact forests provide a diverse array of unbroken habitats for many—if not most—of the planet’s terrestrial wildlife.
But intact forests are disappearing. An analysis released last year found that, overall, the world lost more than 7 percent of its intact forest landscapes in just over a decade, a trend that appears to be accelerating. Zooming in, the analysis reveals bigger losses for specific regions: 10.1 percent in Africa, 13.9 percent in Southeast Asia, nearly 22 percent in Australia. At the country level, Paraguay came out particularly bad, losing almost 80 percent of its intact forest landscapes between 2000 and 2013.
The driving force behind these losses varies depending on location, but agriculture, logging, and road building are global heavy-hitters. And the disturbance doesn’t need to be big in size to have a big impact; research has shown even small logging roads can open up a “Pandora’s box” of destructive repercussions that can threaten the integrity of a once-untouched forest. Such seemingly small, localized deforestation activities have resulted in a situation where the world’s forests have essentially been cut up into an estimated 50 million fragments—which scientists think is closing in on a tipping point at which forest fragmentation may dramatically accelerate. [Continue reading…]
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