High-value opportunities exist to restore tropical rainforests around the world – here’s how we mapped them : The Conversation

The green belt of tropical rainforests that covers equatorial regions of the Americas, Africa, Indonesia and Southeast Asia is turning brown. Since 1990, Indonesia has lost 50% of its original forest, the Amazon 30% and Central Africa 14%. Fires, logging, hunting, road building and fragmentation have heavily damaged more than 30% of those that remain.

These forests provide many benefits: They store large amounts of carbon, are home to numerous wild species, provide food and fuel for local people, purify water supplies and improve air quality. Replenishing them is an urgent global imperative. A newly published study in the journal Science by European authors finds that there is room for an extra 3.4 million square miles (0.9 billion hectares) of canopy cover around the world, and that replenishing tree cover at this full potential would contribute significantly to reducing the risk of harmful climate change

But there aren’t enough resources to restore all tropical forests that have been lost or damaged. And restoration can conflict with other activities, such as farming and forestry. As a tropical forest ecologist, I am interested in developing better tools for assessing where these efforts will be most cost-effective and beneficial.

Over the past four years, tropical forestry professor Pedro Brancalionand I have led a team of researchers from an international network in evaluating the benefits and feasibility of restoration across tropical rainforests around the world. Our newly published findings identify restoration hotspots – areas where restoring tropical forests would be most beneficial and least costly and risky. They cover over 385,000 square miles (100 million hectares), an area as large as Spain and Sweden combined.

The five countries with the largest areas of restoration hotpots are Brazil, Indonesia, India, Madagascar and Colombia. Six countries in Africa – Rwanda, Uganda, Burundi, Togo, South Sudan and Madagascar – hold rainforest areas where restoration is expected to yield the highest benefits with the highest feasibility. We hope our results can help governments, conservation groups and international funders target areas where there is high potential for success.


Source: High-value opportunities exist to restore tropical rainforests around the world – here’s how we mapped them : The Conversation

Dispatch from Atauro: Night Hikes, Bat Caves and a Trove of New Species

Original post from Human Nature

‘…………..  David Emmett is currently part of a team searching for new species on the island of Atauro in the Southeast Asian country of Timor-Leste. Read previous blogs from his expedition.

The CI team sets up a live trap to capture a civet to see if Atauro’s population is different from that found on Timor-Leste’s mainland. (Photo courtesy of Timor-Leste Rapid Assessment Program team)
The CI team sets up a live trap to capture a civet to see if Atauro’s population is different from that found on Timor-Leste’s mainland. (Photo courtesy of Timor-Leste Rapid Assessment Program team)

In my last post, I noted how the water supply on Atauro is rarely more than a trickle. Late last week our freshwater team turned up something very surprising: a flowing stream that even some of the island’s residents didn’t know about.

The freshwater team, led by CI Timor-Leste Country Director Trudiann Dale, hiked for hours over rough terrain until they discovered the water flowing out of a limestone cave system. Within the crystal-clear water, the team found a range of freshwater insect species.

Creatures of the Night

Later, we took a night hike in the rainforest, which proved to be extremely challenging. Guided by a barefoot Timorese man who was as agile as a mountain goat, we spent several hours scrambling down valleys and over fallen trees. Fortunately, our efforts were rewarded.

First, we saw a civet — a small mammal with a raccoon-like face — high in the trees. Then we caught three geckos of an undescribed species! Only one individual of this kind of reptile had ever been found before. Our records will help to ensure the species is properly named and that a proposed protected area includes the locations where it lives.

After hair samples were taken to confirm this species of civet, it was released unharmed back into its Atauro Island habitat. (© Conservation International/photo by David Emmett)
After hair samples were taken to confirm this species of civet, it was released unharmed back into its Atauro Island habitat. (© Conservation International/photo by David Emmett)

We set a few live traps to see if we could capture a civet, a task we knew would be extremely difficult. If we caught one, we’d be able to find out if the island’s civet population was different from the mainland civet.

The next morning we returned to the traps. Most were empty … but one contained a civet! We couldn’t believe our luck.

The animal looked like a dark-colored palm civet. By comparing its DNA to that of other civets, we’ll learn whether it’s a new species. We took photos and videos of the civet, fed it fruit to keep it nourished and collected several hairs for the DNA sample. We then set the civet free and watched it scamper up a tree, none the worse for wear.

To the Bat Caves

Another group of mammals that has been poorly surveyed in Timor-Leste is bats. We have therefore begun a preliminary study to map bat caves and ensure that their most important habitats are included within our proposed protected area.

Our initial survey has so far turned up three bat species:

  • A small fruit bat, with a face like a tiny dog and tough, thin wings.
  • A large insectivorous bat, with an odd-shaped nose and large ears that allow it to use vibrations to detect insects.
  • A tiny insectivorous bat no more than 3 centimeters in length!

It’s incredible to see these marvels of nature up close — bats are truly amazing beasts. After measuring and collecting DNA samples from the bats, we released them, hoping to catch more in the coming days.

A Future Tourist Destination?

While conducting our survey, we’ve also been assessing the ecotourism potential of the area. If Timor-Leste can benefit financially from protecting nature on this small island, then there is a greater likelihood that it will be well-managed and kept intact. Our initial assessment is that if the area is managed carefully, it has huge tourism potential. We have found some fabulous walks, breathtaking viewpoints and pristine snorkeling sites.

Yesterday we visited a particularly spectacular site: a long, narrow valley that runs down to a small village by the sea. Lined by high limestone cliffs, the valley was full of caves and festooned with massive fig trees. The valley’s rainforest is kept damp by the lack of full sunlight and the clouds and sea mist that cover the hills each night. The trees were draped in orchids and ferns, and noisy birds flew through the canopy.

As we walked down the path, I saw a large tokay gecko in a hollow tree. Upon closer inspection, we saw that it was a huge female covered in bright orange spots — guarding eight eggs that were in the middle of hatching! We watched three eggs hatch as the mother looked on guardedly, displaying a maternal instinct unusual to see in a lizard.

An Unexpected Discovery

As I was about to walk farther down the path, I heard a distinctive squeak. Much higher-pitched than a bird or mouse, the sound meant only one thing: a shrew. These small insectivorous mammals are widespread around much of the world, but only one had ever been found in Timor, and none on Atauro!

I stood absolutely still and waited. The tiny shrew came out from under a rock and began rummaging in the leaves. I leapt over and grabbed a handful of leaves where it had been and quickly stuffed them in a bag. I peered in to see if I’d caught it — success! The first record for the island, and almost definitely an undescribed new species of mammal.

This unidentified species of shrew is the first shrew ever recorded on Atauro Island, an unexpected discovery for the CI team. Only one other shrew had ever been found in all of Timor-Leste in the last century. (© Conservation International/photo by David Emmett)
This unidentified species of shrew is the first shrew ever recorded on Atauro Island, an unexpected discovery for the CI team. Only one other shrew had ever been found in all of Timor-Leste in the last century. (© Conservation International/photo by David Emmett)

That night, we were full of excitement discussing our list of species likely new to science: a rodent, a shrew, at least two lizards and probably a wide range of plants and freshwater insects. It’s amazing that such a small island can hold so much rare and unstudied life.

Again, I was struck by the fact that when people respect nature and truly value the gifts it provides, everyone benefits: the people who rely on the forests for fresh water, the visiting tourists who come for stunning views of forest and pristine coral reefs, the sharks offshore that swim in protected waters — and of course, the tiny shrews that call the forest home.

David Emmett is the senior vice president of CI’s Asia-Pacific field division. Read other dispatches from this expedition.  ………….’


World’s Forests Are Fragmenting Into Tiny Patches – Risking Mass Extinctions

Original post from Epoch Times

‘……By , University of Sheffield | March 21, 2015

Much of the Earth was once cloaked in vast forests, from the subarctic snowforests to the Amazon and Congo basins. As humankind colonised the far corners of our planet, we cleared large areas to harvest wood, make way for farmland, and build towns and cities.

The loss of forest has wrought dramatic consequences for biodiversity and is the primary driver of the global extinction crisis. I work in Borneowhere huge expanses of tropical forest are cleared to make way for palm oil plantations. The biological cost is the replacement of some 150 forest bird species with a few tens of farmland species. But forest is also frequently retained inside or at the edges of oil palm plantations, and this is a pattern that is replicated globally.

The problem, according to new research published in Science Advances, is that the vast majority of remaining forests are fragmented. In other words, remaining forests are increasingly isolated from other forests by a sea of transformed lands, and they are found in ever-smaller sized patches. The shockwaves of loss thus extend far beyond the footprint of deforestation.

Accessible Forests

The great outdoors? Only the blue areas are more than 1km from the edge of the forest. (Joe Sexton/Danxia Song)

The team, led by Nick Haddad from North Carolina State University, used the world’s first high-resolution satellite map of tree cover to measure how isolated remaining forests are from a non-forest edge. Edges are created by a plethora of deforesting activities, from roads to cattle pastures and oil wells, as well as by rivers.

They found that more than 70% of remaining forest is within just 1km (about 0.6 miles) of an edge, while a 100 metre stroll from an edge would enable you to reach 20% of global forests.

Comparing across regions, the patterns they find are even starker. In Europe and the US, the vast majority of forest is within 1km of an edge – some of the most “remote” areas in these regions are a stones throw from human activity. “Getting away from it all” has never been more challenging.

If you want remote forests on a large scale you’ll have to head to the Amazon, the Congo, or to a lesser degree, central and far eastern Russia, central Borneo and Papua New Guinea.

Biodiversity Reduced

These findings wouldn’t be cause for alarm if wildlife, forests, and the services that they provide humankind such as carbon storage and water, were unaffected by fragmentation. However, by drawing together scientific evidence from seven long-term fragmentation experiments, Haddad and colleagues show that fragmentation reduces biodiversity by up to 75%. This exacerbates the extinction risk of millions of forest species, many of which we still don’t know much about.

For undisturbed forest, head to Congo’s blue zone. (Joe Sexton/Danxia Song)

Forest species struggle to survive at edges because these places are brighter, windier, and hotter than forest interiors. Edges become choked by rampant vines and invaded by disturbance-tolerant, parasitic or invasive species that outcompete the denizens of dark forest interiors. In Borneo, for example, small forest patches house bird communities that are far more similar to those found in the surrounding oil palm than to those of larger forest tracts.

The survival of large, carbon-rich trees – the building blocks of any intact forest ecosystem – is reduced in smaller and more isolated forest fragments. These patches thus fail to maintain viable populations, which over time are doomed – an “extinction debt” yet to be paid.

Curassows hate deforestation. (fPat Murray, CC BY)

With so much global forest in close proximity to humans, larger forest animals such as chimpanzees, gorillas, tapirs or curassow birds are being hunted to extinction in individual areas. This shifts animal communities within the forest fragments to one dominated by small-bodied species. Further, hunters are willing to penetrate forests for several kilometres from edges in search of game, effectively making the truly wild global forest estate yet smaller.

Difficult Management Decisions

The insidious effects of fragmentation mean that the top conservation priority must be preventing further incursions into dwindling wildernesses. By preventing the first cut we can help to prevent global fragmentation and the further loss of biodiversity.

Of course, we should not ignore fragmented regions. Some of these, including the Brazilian Atlantic forest, Tropical Andes and Himalayas, share a toxic mix of hyperdiversity, endemic species with tiny ranges, and severe fragmentation. The critically-endangered Munchique wood-wren, for instance, exists only in a handful of peaks in the Colombian Andes, but these are now isolated from each other by cattle pastures and roads. Here we must seek to restore forest cover and improve connectivity between larger fragments if we are to prevent extinctions.

Large patches of the Amazon remain, but Brazil’s Atlantic forest is rarely more than 1km from an edge. (Clinton Jenkins)

However, the rapid expansion of human populations, greed, and meat consumption mean that more forest is likely to be lost, even if farm yield and efficiency can be improved to help bridge gaps between current and future demand. The difficult question is where should this expansion happen? Given the severe degradation of small and isolated fragments, perhaps conversion could target some of these patches, coupled with wilderness protection and expansion.

Next time I visit my local National Park – the highly fragmented Peak District – I will spare a thought for the species that are being harmed by their habitats being broken up into ever smaller chunks. There are no easy answers to the problems of fragmentation, but our forests urgently need a global management plan.

The Conversation

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read theoriginal article.  ……..’