Biodiversity helps keep the world’s ecosystem in balance, and if threatened, it could bring forth destabilization leading to a chain reaction of events, mostly irreversible. Crops would fail, pests and viral infections might surface, CO2 retention might decrease and more – basically, the Earth will have a tougher time fending for itself if its biodiversity is in peril, and consequently the planet will have a tougher time tolerating humans as well.
A new research from a team of biologists at James Cook University in Cairns, Australia has systematically collected standardized data on environmental changes over the past 20–30 years in 60 protected areas across the world’s major tropical regions of Africa, America and Asia. Standardization was a huge problem for the team since most of the scientists and managers responsible for overseeing protected tropical forests, the most biodiverse ecosystem in the world, used incomparable methodologies, from study to study, to assess the state of their environments.
This resulted in large gaps of data after consulting individual published studies. William Laurance, a conservation biologist at James Cook University, along with colleagues, took a different route and conducted 262 interviews with field biologists and environmental scientists. Each was asked to complete a detailed 10-page questionnaire. You can imagine the amount of centralization and work that went into this herculean efforts, but after four pain staking years the team of biologists were able to publish their findings. Were they to start from scratch it would have cost billions of dollars and take 20–30 years.
“Our study was motivated by three broad issues: whether tropical reserves will function as ‘arks’ for biodiversity and natural ecosystem processes,” the team wrote.
They added: “Whether observed changes are mainly concordant or idiosyncratic among different protect areas; and what are the principal predictors of reserve success or failure.”
The researchers found that destructive activities upon the tropical forests, like forest clearance, fires and logging are steadily ‘eating-up’ the habitat. More exactly, 85% of the reserves experienced declines in surrounding forest cover over the study period, whereas only 2% gained forest. They also observed that “air and water pollution, increase in human population densities and climatic change” had a weaker or more indirect impact, of course, along with poaching.
“The rapid disruption of tropical forests probably imperils global biodiversity more than any other contemporary phenomenon,” the international team of research wrote.
“Many protected areas in the tropics are themselves vulnerable to human encroachment and other environmental stresses.”
To be fair, this isn’t exactly news to anyone, especially biologists who have long been aware of the problem and have battled authorities for decades now. The numbers, however, serve as an indicator of the state of tropical forests today.
Findings were reported in the journal Nature.