Facts on Forests

Rainforests are home to 70% of life on earth

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Copyright © Pongsathon Toothaisong

Rain forests cover less than two percent of the Earth’s surface yet they are home to some 50 to 70 percent of all life forms on our planet. The impact of “defaunation” on tropical forest ecology is significant, affecting seed dispersal and predation, which, in turn, alter the species balance and dynamics of the forest.

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Copyright © Jonathan Tan

TROPICAL RAINFORESTS ARE THE MOST PRODUCTIVE ECOSYSTEMS ON THE PLANET

  • Humans have long hunted wild game from forests, but over the past 50 years commercialisation of killing has triggered a rapid increase in wildlife depletion.
  • Forest destruction is responsible for 2-5 percent per decade of global biodiversity losses.
  • Forests are the repository of the great bulk of terrestrial biodiversity – as much as 90 percent. It is estimated that up to 137 species disappear worldwide per day, due to tropical deforestation.
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Mouse deer. Copyright © Adam Oswell

Commercial hunting is decimating wildlife populations across the tropics and may be one of the gravest threats presently facing rainforests. Research reveals that large-scale loss of wildlife is already affecting forest health and regeneration.

The illegal trade in wildlife threatens the viability of ecosystems. We now understand that tropical forests are key to regulating our planet’s atmosphere and depend upon healthy wildlife populations. A sustainable wildlife resource base is vital to ensure biodiversity, human health and food security.
Tropical Asia leads global deforestation rates

Tropical Asia leads global deforestation rates

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Mekong river northern Cambodia. Copyright © Adam Oswell

The worst deforestation rate of natural forests, 2000-2005 (R. Butler): Includes the countries of Bangladesh, Bhutan, Brunei, Cambodia, East Timor, India, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Maldives, Myanmar, Nepal, Pakistan, Philippines, Singapore, Sri Lanka, Thailand, and Vietnam — lose about 1% of their forests each year.

According to FAO, Vietnam lost a staggering 51% of its primary forests between 2000 and 2005, while Cambodia lost 29% of its primary forests between 2000 and 2005 [Cambodia’s figures were revised by the FAO after this article was published. Original data showed Cambodia’s primary forest cover declining to 122,000 hectares in 2005 from 356,000 hectares in 2000. The new FAO data says Cambodia’s current primary forest cover stands at 322,000 hectares]. Illegal logging, combined with rapid development, is blamed for much of Cambodia’s forest loss.

  • An estimated US$15 billion in revenue lost per year to due to illegal logging in developing countries
  • Biological diversity allows forest ecosystems to adapt continuously

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  • Biological diversity allows forest ecosystems to adapt continuously to changing conditions and to maintain their potential for meeting human needs.
  • 90% of the world’s poor (~1.5 billion people) live in communities entirely or partially dependent on forests for their livelihood.
  • Forests act as sinks for as much as 46 percent of the world’s terrestrial carbon stores, absorbing the carbon dioxide that is contributing to climate change.
  • Wildlife plays an important role in sustaining the viability and biodiversity of forests.

With nearly 3 billion people “mostly poor” depending on wood as their main energy source for household heating and cooking, viable habitats for wildlife in Asia will continue to decrease rapidly unless alternatives for local energy are quickly developed.

Mekong river, central Cambodia. Copyright © Adam Oswell

Mekong river, central Cambodia. Copyright © Adam Oswell

  • About 30% of the planets total land area is covered by forests, just under 40 million km2.
  • Destruction of forests constitutes 20-30 percent of global carbon dioxide emissions.
  • The global deforestation rate remains dangerously high. A rate of 28 hectares per minute !

Rainforest canopies absorb carbon dioxide which is a gas in the atmosphere. When the rainforests are burned and cleared, the carbon is released. Also, when trees are cut down they can no longer absorb carbon dioxide. This means more carbon dioxide is in the atmosphere. Carbon dioxide allows heat through the atmosphere (suns rays). However, it will not allow reflected energy to escape from the atmosphere. This is called the greenhouse effect and causes global warming.

Forests serve vital ecosystem functions, regulating water cycles, for example, by storing and slowly releasing rainfall so that droughts and floods are avoided, and preventing erosion of topsoil.

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60 million indigenous people are dependent on forests. Copyright © Adam Oswell