Mountain-Dwelling Species Losing Habitats Rapidly, Study Finds
Mountain forests are important habitats for many species, but a new study has found that habitat loss in these areas has been rapidly accelerating since 2000. In that time, more than 78.1 million hectares (approximately 193 million acres) of mountain forests have been lost, equaling an area greater than the size of Texas.
A team of scientists from Leeds University in the UK and the Southern University of Science and Technology in China studied changes in mountain forests annually from 2001 to 2018, analyzing losses and gains in tree cover.
The researchers estimated a rate of change and compared the changes across varying elevations. They also compared changes in different types of mountain forests, including boreal, temperate and tropical forests. The tropical forests had the most loss and quickest rate of loss, but this type of forest also had the fastest tree regrowth rate.
Overall, mountain forest loss increased 50% in 2010 to 2018 compared to 2001 to 2009. From 2010 to 2018, mountain forest loss accelerated to about 5.2 million hectares per year, primarily due to logging. Other factors that contributed to forest loss included wildfires, “slash-and-burn” cultivation and agricultural expansion.
Asia, South America, Africa, Europe and Australia experienced significant mountain forest loss, while the authors observed less forest loss in North America and Oceania.
More than 85% of mammals, birds and amphibians live in mountainous areas, meaning widespread forest loss could impact biodiversity.
“Knowledge of the dynamics of forest loss along elevation gradients worldwide is crucial for understanding how and where the amount of forested area available for forest species will change as they shift in response to warming,” the authors wrote, as reported by ScienceDaily.
While the authors found less forest loss in protected areas compared to unprotected areas, these protected areas were still impacted by shifting cultivation, agriculture and commercial forestry.
The study authors noted that protected areas need to be established “in large enough zones to allow natural movements and sufficient space for ranging species,” to best protect threatened species and biodiversity. They also explained that while forest regeneration is important, reforestation initiatives should focus on native species over establishing plantations of trees, which are technically forests but will not promote biodiversity.
“By providing a clear understanding of the current trends and drivers of mountain forest loss, we hope this analysis will inform and support conservation efforts aimed at preserving critical montane forest ecosystems for future generations,” the study concluded.
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