5 Conservation Milestones to Celebrate on This International Day for Biological Diversity
Scientists are increasingly realizing the importance of biodiversity for sustaining life on earth. The most comprehensive biodiversity study in a decade, published in March by the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES), warned that the ongoing loss of species and habitats was as great a threat to our and our planet's wellbeing as climate change.
Plus, biodiversity makes life on earth more worthwhile. Who wants to live in a world without baby elephants rolling in the mud, or monarch butterflies landing on summer flowers?
That's why the UN is celebrating the International Day for Biological Diversity May 22.
May 22 is the day that the text of the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), the international legal pact that oversees the protection of this important resource, was adapted.
This year marks 25 years since the CBD entered into force, so the UN is using this year's International Day for Biological Diversity to highlight this achievement: The theme for this year's day is "Celebrating 25 Years of Action for Biodiversity." While there is clearly still a lot of work to do, it is important to take the time to reflect on what humans can achieve when we work together to protect other species, so that we can get inspired to build on our successes. Here, then, are five biodiversity milestones from the past 25 years.
1.The Convention on Biological Diversity
The parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity (green) and signatories, but not ratified (purple), as of 2014L.tak / CC BY-SA 3.0
The CBD, which aims at "the conservation of biological diversity, the sustainable use of its components and the fair and equitable sharing of the benefits arising out of the utilization of genetic resources," entered into force on Dec. 29, 1993. It has been ratified by 196 countries and led to further agreements such as the Strategic Plan for Biodiversity 2011-2020 and its Aichi Biodiversity Targets. Since the CBD entered into force, the amount of land set aside as protected has almost doubled, accounting for 15 percent of the earth's terrestrial area.
2. Gray Wolves Restored to Yellowstone National Park
Wolves in YellowstoneDoug Smith / National Park Service
The last wolf pack in Yellowstone National Park was killed in 1926, and for forty long years their howls were silenced. All that changed in 1995 and 1996 when 31 gray wolves from Western Canada were released in the park. The population has been successful enough to be delisted from protection under the Endangered Species Act in Montana and Idaho. But more than that, according to the National Park Service, the wolves look likely to boost biodiversity in the park overall. The carcasses they leave behind help scavenging species, including grizzly bears in lean years. They also deter coyotes, which might have a beneficial impact on rodents and birds of prey. It is also possible that the wolves had a role in the resurgence of aspen trees in the park, since they eat the elk that consume the trees, PBS reported.
3. The Amazon Soy Moratorium
According to the World Wildlife Fund, the Amazon rainforest is home to a staggering 10 percent of the earth's biodiversity. That's why it was so alarming in 2004 and 2005 when the Brazilian Amazon saw its second highest deforestation rates, partly driven by the increased clearing of forest to grow soy, according to Greenpeace. To fight this threat, Greenpeace proposed a moratorium on the purchase of soy that came from deforested fields, used slave labor or invaded indigenous territories. The result was the Amazon Soy Moratorium, signed by 90 percent of the companies involved in the Brazilian soy market, which Mongabay called the "first major voluntary zero-deforestation agreement achieved in the tropics." It was extended indefinitely in 2016. As Mongabay pointed out, the agreement isn't perfect; for example, farmers would continue to clear land they already owned and claim compliance. One 2014 study found that the agreement was responsible for 5 to 10 percent of the significant decrease in deforestation after its passing, but a 2017 study from the University of Kansas found the moratorium played a greater role in halting deforestation than previously believed.
4. Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument
In 2014, President Barack Obama expanded a national monument around a group of remote atolls in the central Pacific into what was then the largest marine reserve in the world, National Geographic reported. The reserve is three times the size of California and larger than all U.S. land-based national parks. The area protects corals, sea birds, sharks and five endangered species of sea turtles. According to the Fish and Wildlife Service, it is farther from a population center than any other U.S. area and represents the largest protected coral reef, shorebird and sea bird habitat under one nation's control. As the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization points out, more than half of marine species could be threatened with extinction by 2100, yet only one percent of the oceans are protected, so reserves like this one are a key part of preserving the amazing biodiversity of marine life.
5. EU Bans Bee-Killing Pesticides
A European honeybeeJohn Severns
One important win for biodiversity came just last month, when the EU decided to expand its partial 2013 ban on three pesticides called neonicotinoids, completely restricting their outdoor use. Studies had shown the pesticides were harmful to bees and other pollinating insects. A 2016 IPBES study on pollinators found that their decline put global food production at risk, and recommended limiting pesticide use for the sake of bees. As we celebrate the International Day of Biodiversity, April's pesticide ban is a reminder that protecting life on earth isn't just a series of historic milestones; it must also be a task for the present and a goal for the future.
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By Katherine Kornei
Clear-cutting a forest is relatively easy—just pick a tree and start chopping. But there are benefits to more sophisticated forest management. One technique—which involves repeatedly harvesting smaller trees every 30 or so years but leaving an upper story of larger trees for longer periods (60, 90, or 120 years)—ensures a steady supply of both firewood and construction timber.
A Pattern in the Rings<p>The <a href="https://www.encyclopedia.com/science/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/coppice-standards-0" target="_blank">coppice-with-standards</a> management practice produces a two-story forest, said <a href="https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Bernhard_Muigg" target="_blank">Bernhard Muigg</a>, a dendrochronologist at the University of Freiburg in Germany. "You have an upper story of single trees that are allowed to grow for several understory generations."</p><p>That arrangement imprints a characteristic tree ring pattern in a forest's upper story trees (the "standards"): thick rings indicative of heavy growth, which show up at regular intervals as the surrounding smaller trees are cut down. "The trees are growing faster," said Muigg. "You can really see it with your naked eye."</p><p>Muigg and his collaborators characterized that <a href="https://ltrr.arizona.edu/about/treerings" target="_blank">dendrochronological pattern</a> in 161 oak trees growing in central Germany, one of the few remaining sites in Europe with actively managed coppice-with-standards forests. They found up to nine cycles of heavy growth in the trees, the oldest of which was planted in 1761. The researchers then turned to a historical data set — more than 2,000 oak <a href="https://eos.org/articles/podcast-discovering-europes-history-through-its-timbers" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">timbers from buildings and archaeological sites</a> in Germany and France dating from between 300 and 2015 — to look for a similar pattern.</p>
A Gap of 500 Years<p>The team found wood with the characteristic coppice-with-standards tree ring pattern dating to as early as the 6th century. That was a surprise, Muigg and his colleagues concluded, because the first mention of this forest management practice in historical documents occurred only roughly 500 years later, in the 13th century.</p><p>It's probable that forest management practices were not well documented prior to the High Middle Ages (1000–1250), the researchers suggested. "Forests are mainly mentioned in the context of royal hunting interests or donations," said Muigg. Dendrochronological studies are particularly important because they can reveal information not captured by a sparse historical record, he added.</p><p>These results were <a href="https://www.nature.com/articles/s41598-020-78933-8" target="_blank">published in December in <em>Scientific Reports</em></a>.</p><p>"It's nice to see the longevity and the history of coppice-with-standards," said <a href="https://www.teagasc.ie/contact/staff-directory/s/ian-short/" target="_blank">Ian Short</a>, a forestry researcher at Teagasc, the Agriculture and Food Development Authority in Ireland, not involved in the research. This technique is valuable because it promotes conservation and habitat biodiversity, Short said. "In the next 10 or 20 years, I think we'll see more coppice-with-standards coming back into production."</p><p>In the future, Muigg and his collaborators hope to analyze a larger sample of historic timbers to trace how the coppice-with-standards practice spread throughout Europe. It will be interesting to understand where this technique originated and how it propagated, said Muigg, and there are plenty of old pieces of wood waiting to be analyzed. "There [are] tons of dendrochronological data."</p><p><em><a href="mailto:email@example.com" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Katherine Kornei</a> is a freelance science journalist covering Earth and space science. Her bylines frequently appear in Eos, Science, and The New York Times. Katherine holds a Ph.D. in astronomy from the University of California, Los Angeles.</em></p><p><em>This story originally appeared in <a href="https://eos.org/articles/tree-rings-reveal-how-ancient-forests-were-managed" target="_blank">Eos</a></em> <em>and is republished here as part of Covering Climate Now, a global journalism collaboration strengthening coverage of the climate story.</em></p>
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