The introduction of ecosystem services directly depends on forest biodiversity. That is, from how natural they are.
We have already focused in previous articles on what ecosystem services are. And why we should preserve wildlife as it is. Now let’s talk about what’s happening to the world’s forests and forest biodiversity. I thank a lot to the course made by the UNCG NGO.
Let’s start with general things, and in the following publications, we will pass on a condition of mangrove forests. This is a typical flora of the Gulf, which will save the countries of the region from climate change.
Forests cover about a third of the world’s surface and are very unevenly distributed (see graph).
Forests provide critical ecosystem services without which humanity’s survival on Earth is impossible.
Let’s investigate what threatens the forests of the planet.
There are two main threats to forests in the world. The first of these is the most obvious – deforestation. It’s the transformation of the forest into something that is no longer a forest.
Since 1990, the area of the planet’s forests has decreased by 1.5%. In other words, we’ve lost 178 million hectares of forest in the recent 30 years.
On the positive side, the rate of deforestation has decreased slightly since 1992, by more than 1.5 times. But even in this form, deforestation is an extreme threat to the world’s forests.
Deforestation initially affects tropical countries. This is where 95% of deforestation cases occur. For example, only two countries, Brazil and Indonesia, account for half of all recently lost forests.
Why the deforestation happens on our planet
There are four main reasons.
The first of them is agriculture, which is 75% of cases is the cause of deforestation. The forest disappears, giving way to spots or pastures for livestock. In particular, in recent decades, 41% of forests have disappeared due to the replacement of pastures needed for livestock. This is the other side of progress when more and more people can afford meat products. That is why reducing red meat consumption is one of the important conditions for preserving the planet’s forests.
Another 18% of forests are disappearing because they are cut down for the sake of fields and plantations where soybeans and palm oil are grown.
The second reason for deforestation is the extraction of minerals or other resources, such as wood. In this case, forests can be turned into quarries or not restored at all after logging.
The third reason for deforestation is the construction of infrastructure by people. The best illustration is when forests disappear under house construction or to build a road or power line.
Finally, the fourth cause of deforestation in all other factors, such as fire.
All these causes of deforestation can be called directly because they directly lead to forest loss.
But there are also indirect causes of deforestation, which allegedly determine the existence of direct causes.
In particular, indirect causes of deforestation include demographic causes. After all, the population of the Earth and individual regions are growing, which causes an increase in consumption. More and more areas need to be vacated for fields, quarries, or construction.
There are also technological reasons. Humanity is finding more and more efficient ways to grow agricultural products or cut wood, or transport resources.
And all this allows deforestation much faster.
There are political reasons. Unfortunately, legislation and political will in many countries not only don’t prevent deforestation but on the contrary, stimulate it.
For example, this is the case in Brazil, where the government stimulates the development of agriculture through deforestation.
There are other economic reasons, in particular, a market economy aimed at endless GDP growth. But it is absolutely impossible due to limited natural resources.
However, in many countries, deforestation as a threat to forests is in second place. And the first place is occupied by another unpleasant phenomenon – forest degradation.
There is no single definition of forest degradation. However, in general, forest degradation is a simplification of forests. This is the decrease in their quality, which further affects the provision of forest ecosystem services.
Forest degradation is different from deforestation. While deforestation implies complete loss of the forest, its replacement by some other territories, degradation does not imply the loss of the forest, but only the reduction of its conditional quality.
Understanding and assessing forest degradation is much more difficult than deforestation.
Currently, only some countries monitor forest degradation, using only selected indicators.
Forest degradation is directly related to the degradation of forest biodiversity. In this article, we will use these two concepts as synonyms.
What does it mean?
Imagine a conditional virgin forest – a forest that has never been touched by a human hand. (Virgin forests are old-growth forests that have never been logged). There are many different species of trees, animals, and plants in it. Suddenly the virgin forest is cut down, and in its place, a pine tree is planted in rows. In terms of statistics, the forest has not disappeared. In the documents, the virgin forest and the pine rows, which appeared in their place, are both considered as forests. But it is obvious that the new semi-artificial pine ecosystem will no longer be home for so many living things. And will not provide ecosystem services in the same amount as virgin forest. This is an example of forest degradation.
In general, forest degradation is the loss of its biodiversity at all levels. This is a loss of ecosystem biodiversity when one or few types of forests remain instead of different forest types. Also, this is a loss of species biodiversity when different species living in forests disappear. As well as the loss of genetic diversity when trees are planted in forests from nurseries and they’re very similar in their genetic characteristics.
In general, forest degradation is part of a more global process of biodiversity degradation on the Earth. We are basically losing diversity on the planet, not just in the forests. There are many illustrations back.
For example, take the Living planet index. This is an indicator that has been periodically calculated since 1970. The Zoological Society of London (ZSL) manages the index in cooperation with the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF). Recent estimates suggest that in the last 50 years we have lost 68% of the populations of mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians, and fish on the planet!
Or there are other studies that show that only 2.8% of the planet’s territory now looks the way it did 500 years ago. All other natural ecosystems have been disturbed or destroyed by humans.
Or let’s mention another study that shows a global reduction in the number of insects on the planet – by 70% over the past 20 years. Of course, this also applies to forests. That is, forest degradation is when forest ecosystems move away from their natural state, losing their diversity due to human intervention.
By the way, there’s a lot of research on this topic. For example, the analysis of species biodiversity in the forests of the Amazon Basin showed that at least a quarter of forest living species are found exclusively in virgin forests, i.e. in forests that are almost degraded. Unfortunately, only about a third of the world’s forests are currently conditional virgin forests. Most of them are located in Brazil, Canada, and the Russian Federation.
The area of virgin forests is constantly declining – both due to deforestation and degradation when artificial forests are formed in place of virgin forests. The rest of the planet’s forests were either planted artificially or under considerable human influence. These forests are less reminiscent of virgin forests, and their diversity is much poorer.
The problem of forest degradation is especially acute for more developed countries, which have already managed to seriously reduce the rate of deforestation. For example, among the countries of the European Union, only 4% of the total forest area is intact. That is, 96% of other forests are more or less degraded. They do not provide ecosystem services on a large scale.
There are five main causes of forest degradation. Take a look at each of them.
1. Loss of habitat. Various forest dwellers are adapted to certain specific conditions. For example, in Europe, forest bats need hollow trees in which they set up shelters. In the course of forestry, such hollow trees are often cut down. Therefore, bats lose potential space for living and can no longer live in such a forest.
2. Fragmentation. This is the division of one ecosystem into several. Imagine a forest that suddenly became divided into two parts by a huge highway. This is a classic example of fragmentation. Because such an action isolates these two parts of the forest, it does not allow many animals to move freely and cross with each other.
3. Invasive species. These are species of living things that, with the help of humans, enter new regions and begin to actively displace local species. For example, Robinia pseudoacacia came to Europe from North America and actively displaces native species.
4. Environmental pollution – pesticides, air, and water pollution. It also affects forest biodiversity.
5. Climate change. It manifests itself including a very rapid change in temperature and humidity. Many forests, especially artificial ones, are unable to adapt so quickly to such changes. Therefore, they degrade or disappear altogether.
Global effects of degraded forests
Degraded forests provide fewer ecosystem services. Accordingly, humanity needs to spend money on what forests used to do for free. For example – to purify drinking water or even get it elsewhere; purify the air; invest in means of reducing greenhouse gas emissions; reduce consumption of wood products; earn less on forest-related tourism.
The United Nations estimates that forest degradation has cost humanity nearly $12 billion annually. This problem includes the non-absorption of greenhouse gases, lack of wood and non-wood products of forests.
If we somehow calculate other forest ecosystem services, the number of economic losses will be much higher.
For example, there are other calculations. Thus, humanity annually suffers economic losses from biodiversity loss in the amount of 10 to 30 trillion US dollars. Much of this damage is due to forests, their degradation or deforestation.
It is easy to conclude that protecting nature is economically very profitable.