Tropical forest biodiversity in the balance #GfOE2012

by Ine Dorresteijn and Jacqueline Loos

This week Leuphana University hosts the annual meeting of the Ecological society of Germany, Austria and Switzerland (GfOE). The conference started to day with a nice keynote of Nigel Stork (Griffith School of Environment, Australia) about the importance of tropical rainforest conservation.

Nigel’s presentation was broadly about the challenges we face in biodiversity conservation with emphasis on the tropics. He started his talk by pointing out that the majority of biodiversity is found in tropical rainforests. Of the estimated 4 million terrestrial species 80% occur in the tropics with the majority being invertebrates. Furthermore, most biodiversity hotspots also occur in the tropics.

Photograph by © WWF-Canon/William F. RODENBURG

As we all know, the tropical rainforests are highly threatened. However, Nigel points out that the situation is much worse than we anticipated as most of the data is outdated. His main concern about the decline in tropical forests is caused by the social-economic situation of the communities that live in the forests and the difficult political situation in these countries. The threats to the forest lie both in local use as well as in industrialized use of the rainforest. For example, 80% of the Ethiopian population depends on firewood for cooking. In Papua New Guinea. one big company leases the land use rights from the communities and through corruption manages to log vast areas of forests including protected areas. Thus, the survival of tropical forests depends on other factors than biology. Nevertheless he also highlights the possibilities for successful conservation of biodiversity. For example, secondary forests can potentially buffer the extinction threat of some species depending on its traits.

Besides direct anthropogenic threats to the forests he tested the effects of climate change on tropical forests. He emphasized that due to interaction between different threats they amplify each other. Climate change, however, was shown to interact with all the mentioned threats and thus has an overarching effect on biodiversity decline.

He concluded his talk with the fact that we need to work more inter-disciplinary to face the problems concerning biodiversity decline. We acknowledge that we are at an ecological conference; and we thank Nigel for bringing up the need for inter-disciplinary work. However, these statements make us wonder where we are at with inter-disciplinary approach in conservation? In our opinion we should already have moved beyond making statements like “we should work more inter-disciplinary”. What we would like to hear are more recommendations and examples on how inter-disciplinary work can help to protect life on earth!

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