Global alert: mountain forests disappear according to a study

Mountain forests covered 1.1 billion hectares worldwide in 2000, said the authors of the study, published in Cell Press’ journal One Earth. But at least 78.1 million hectares have disappeared between 2000 and 2018.

commercial logging, the forest fires, and commodity agriculture have been the main drivers of these losses, said the researchers, from the South China University of Science and Technology and Britain’s University of Leeds.

One aspect of special concern is the high volume of forest loss in mountainous areas, “tropical biodiversity hotspots” because they are a refuge for rare and endangered species.

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High elevations and steep slopes have traditionally been an obstacle to human exploitation of montane forests, but they are increasingly the target of logging.

Commercial forestry was responsible for 42% of montane forest loss, followed by forest fires (29%), shifting cultivation (15%) and permanent or semi-permanent commodity agriculture (10%), according to the study. .

Shifting cultivation consists of cultivating a plot of land for a few years and then abandoning it until it is fertile again.

According to Zhenzhong Zeng, one of the study authors, forest fires are the main cause of loss of boreal forests found at high latitudes.

Those fires are “caused by climate change” because there is “an increase in temperature and a decrease in rainfall” in those areas, Zeng told AFP.

“We have to reduce the use of fossil fuels to stop global warming,” he added.

“A huge impact”

Commodity agriculture was in turn one of the main drivers of montane forest loss in Southeast Asia, according to the research.

“People need to have more land to grow corn and feed their chickens,” Zeng said. Shifting cultivation is preeminent in tropical Africa and South America.

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But it was in Asia where the largest amount of forest loss was recorded: 39.8 million hectares, more than half of the world total, according to data obtained by satellite observation during the period considered.

South America, Africa, Europe and Australia also suffered significant losses.

“Mountain forest loss in tropical areas is increasing very fast, much more than in other regions,” Zeng said. “And the biodiversity is very rich there, so the impact is huge.”

“In tropical areas, we have to make people live with the forest, not cut the forest,” he warned.

Xinyue He, another of the researchers, said that regrowth has been observed in some areasbut does not always involve native species and does not keep pace with forest loss.

Greater forest management is needed, including stricter enforcement of laws and regulations, he noted. “Area protection can help reduce losses.”


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