Two Studies Reveal Amazing Resilience of Older Forests
Maybe you can't teach an old dog new tricks, but two recent studies revealed that old forests around the world are full of surprises.
In Europe, scientists working to complete the first ever map of the continent's old growth forests discovered there were more of them than previously believed.
The map of Europe's last wild forests was published in Diversity and Distributions May 24 and located more than 3.4 million acres within 34 countries.
"What we've shown in this study is that, even though the total area of forest is not large in Europe, there are considerably more of these virgin or primary forests left than previously thought—and they are widely distributed throughout many parts of Europe," University of Vermont (UVM) forest ecologist and study co-author Bill Keeton said in a UVM press release.
Even though there are more of them than expected, the old-growth forests are still rare, and often small and isolated. But they are extremely rich in biodiversity.
"Although such forests only correspond to a tiny fraction of the total forest area in Europe, they are absolutely outstanding in terms of their ecological and conservation value," senior study author and director of the Conservation Biogeography Lab at Humbolt University in Berlin Tobias Kuemmerle said in the release. He added that these forests are often the only habitat left for certain endangered species.
The map further found that 89 percent of the primary forests were in protected areas, but that protections were only strict on 46 percent of that land, meaning that some of these forests are at risk from human activities.
"Wide patches of primary forest are being currently logged in many mountain areas, for instance in Romania and Slovakia and in some Balkan countries," study co-author and University of Life Science in Prague researcher Miroslav Svoboda said. "A soaring demand for bioenergy coupled with high rates of illegal logging, are leading to the destruction of this irreplaceable natural heritage, often without even understanding that the forest being cut is primary."
However, researchers hope the new map will help protect Europe's old growth forests, since they have used it to assess where land-use is low and therefore predict where other primary forests might be discovered.
"We may find areas that are good to include in an expanded World Heritage Network or given other conservation status,' Keeton said.
In addition to promoting biodiversity, forests also absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and therefore are important to mitigating climate change. Tropical rainforests in particular are the world's largest carbon sink on land.
This is what concerned Pierre Gentine at the Columbia University School of Engineering and Applied Science.
Getine led a team of researchers in an attempt to discover how climate change would impact the ability of the Amazon rainforest to absorb carbon dioxide.
The results, published May 28 in Nature, found that the ability of forests taller than 30 meters (approximately 98.4 feet) to photosynthesize was three times less impacted by drought than that of forests less than 20 meters tall (approximately 65.6 feet). The taller forests were also more drought resistant because they were older, with greater biomass and deeper roots that could suck more moisture from the soil.
"Our findings suggest that forest height and age are an important regulator of photosynthesis in response to droughts," Gentine said in a Columbia University press release published by Phys.org.
However, while the older forests resisted drought, they were more sensitive to dry air and heat.
The study gives yet another reason to halt deforestation in the Amazon, the release pointed out, since cutting trees risks eliminating irreplaceable older trees that would be more resilient to future droughts, which are projected to increase with climate change.
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Jean-Marc Neveu and Olivier Civil never expected to find themselves battling against disposable mask pollution.
When they founded their recycling start-up Plaxtil in 2017, it was textile waste they set their sights on. The project developed a process that turned fabrics into a new recyclable material they describe as "ecological plastic."
Mounting Piles of Waste<p>It is not only the streets of Chatellerault where pandemic pollution is piling-up, but also the world's beaches and oceans. Once there, they can take up to 450 years to degrade and disappear.</p><p>Esther Röling, co-organizer of the annual Adventure Clean Up Challenge held on Hong Kong Island, has seen this waste firsthand. In October the sports challenge pitted teams against one another in a competition to remove trash from 13 hard-to-reach coastal areas around the city.</p><p>They find tons of both disposable and reusable masks, said Röling. "You wonder how it ended up there. Was it just thrown on the ground? Or was it in a garbage bag that broke open?"</p><p>Almost 10,000 kilometers away in Antibes on the sunny French Riviera, it's a similar picture. For the past few months, divers and clean-up volunteers working with an ocean clean-up non-profit called Operation Mer Propre have been collecting an increasing number of masks found on land and in the sea.</p><p>"Since the beginning of the lockdown when we started to count, we've reached 800, 900, [and now in total] 1000 masks," said co-founder Joko Peltier. </p><p>According to <a href="https://unctad.org/news/growing-plastic-pollution-wake-covid-19-how-trade-policy-can-help" target="_blank">UN estimates</a>, up to 75% of all coronavirus-related plastic could end up as waste in oceans and landfills.</p>
The Limits of Recycling<p>Yet not all are convinced the recycling of this waste is possible on a global scale. </p><p>"What those citizen groups are doing is really beneficial but once they collect it, it should just go to a landfill or an incinerator. They shouldn't necessarily expect it to get recycled," said Jonathan Krones, an industrial ecologist and visiting assistant professor of environmental studies at Boston College.</p><p>That's because mask recycling programs like Plaxtil are few and far between and most don't have the benefit of a readily adaptable production process. </p><p>Even in countries with solid recycling infrastructure, he says, the system is designed to separate out specific types of waste like bottles or cardboard.</p><p>"I imagine that it would be technically feasible to develop a separation process to filter out masks, but there simply aren't enough of them to make that economical," he said.</p><p>Collection is a big hurdle, he adds. Since each mask only weighs a fraction of a gram and they're scattered on roads or mixed with other trash, it is difficult and costly. </p><p>"You need a lot of raw material of the right quality to make investing in the recycling technology and the recycling system worthwhile," he said.<span></span><br></p>
Hemp, Sugar Cane and Sustainable Alternatives<p>Some projects are instead addressing the material used to make masks.</p><p>French company Geochanvre have created a mask made primarily from hemp, while in Australia, researchers at the Queensland University of Technology are experimenting with a disposable product made from agricultural waste. </p><p>Biodegradable options are exciting alternatives to reduce the fossil fuels needed for the creation of plastic-based masks, said Krones, but they don't absolve the wearer from the responsibility of what happens afterwards. </p><p>Bio-based masks often need their own composing solutions, he explains, because in landfill they can produce high amounts of the greenhouse gas methane when anaerobic bacteria feeds on the organic material. Methane is known to be significantly more potent than carbon dioxide.</p><p>"I think as long as we have in our mind that we want to have disposability, we're going to have to wrestle with a variety of different sorts of environmental tradeoffs," he said, adding that reusable, fabric masks are the best option available to most people.</p><p>Precimask is developing a clear face covering with an optional visor made from hard plastic, designed to be long-lasting.<br></p><p>Air enters either side of the cheeks through a technology normally found in pool filters and car exhaust systems, said company spokeswoman Juliette Chambet.</p><p>"We wanted to make ceramic-based filters that would be washable and cleanable, which would allow them to be reused as many times as desired without having to buy a new consumable or produce waste," she said. </p><p>Ultimately, encouraging mask wearers to think about the entire lifecycle of a mask is key, explains Neveu. </p><p>"We want people who put on the masks to realize that they are also responsible for the waste, he said. "It's not inevitable that this [pandemic] will become an environmental catastrophe.</p><p><em>Reposted with permission from </em><em><a href="https://www.dw.com/en/covid-19-recycling-pollution-trash-pandemic/a-55707817" target="_blank">Deutsche Welle</a>.</em><a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/r/entryeditor/2649032193#/" target="_self"></a></p>
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