More than 85 percent of the world’s mammal, bird and amphibian species live in mountain forests.
Unfortunately, these forests are disappearing at an alarming rate.
78.1 million hectares (7.1 percent) of mountain forests have been lost since the start of the new millennium, according to a new study by the University of Leeds in the United Kingdom and the Southern University of Science and Technology in China. This is an area larger than the state of Texas. Most of this loss is occurring in hotspots of tropical biodiversity, posing significant threats to a variety of already threatened animal species.
The forested mountainous areas were protected from deforestation due to their difficult location. However, with lowland areas depleted or placed under protection in the early 21st century, mountain forests are becoming increasingly exploited.
In order to clarify the current situation, experts tracked changes in mountain forests every year from 2001 to 2018, measured both the loss and growth of tree populations, estimated the speed of changes, compared different elevations and types of forests (such as boreal, tropical or temperate) and studied the impact Forest loss of biodiversity.
“Knowing the dynamics of forest loss along global elevation gradients is critical to understanding how and where the area of forest available to forest species changes as it changes in response to warming,” the authors explain.
The research found that deforestation was the leading cause of forest loss (42 percent), followed by wildfires (29 percent), shifting cultivation or slash-and-burn cultivation (15 percent), and permanent or semi-permanent farming practices (10 percent). ). However, the importance of these factors has been found to vary from region to region. The greatest losses were in Asia, South America, Africa, Europe and Australia, with a slight improvement in North America and Oceania.
Unfortunately, the loss of mountain forests appears to be accelerating, with the annual rate of loss increasing by 50 percent from the first to the second decade of the 21st century (when about 5.2 million hectares were lost annually). This acceleration is likely due to the rapid expansion of agriculture in the highland regions of Southeast Asia, as well as increased deforestation resulting from either the depletion or protection of lowland forests.
Although tropical forests suffered the greatest loss (42 percent of the global total), they grew back faster than montane and boreal forests. Although less forest loss has been recorded in protected areas than in unprotected areas, this may not be enough to protect endangered species.
“For species at risk in biodiversity hotspots, the critical question goes beyond simply preventing forest loss. We also need to maintain forest integrity over areas large enough to allow natural movement and sufficient space for species to disperse,” the authors write.
Finally, the researchers stressed the importance of finding a balance between protecting forests and human livelihoods. “Any new measures to protect mountain forests must adapt to local conditions and conditions and must balance the need for better protection of forests while ensuring food production and human well-being.”
The study has been published in the journal One Earth published.
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