Loss of mountain forests: biodiversity affected, say worried scientists

Scientists say the Earth has lost 78.1 million hectares, or 7.1%, of mountain forests since 2000 I Representative photo

According to scientists, the annual rate of mountain forest loss increased by 50% between 2001-2009 and 2010-2018. During this last period, the planet has lost about 5.2 million hectares of mountain forests per year.

The international team of scientists, led by the University of Leeds, UK, expressed concern at the accelerating rate of mountain forest loss, as more than 85% of bird, mammal and and amphibians of the world live in mountains, especially in forest habitats. .

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The authors, who wanted to study the extent and global distribution of mountain forest loss, reported their findings in the journal One Earth.

They wrote that this acceleration is likely due in large part to the rapid expansion of agriculture in the mountainous regions of mainland Southeast Asia, as well as increased logging in the forests of mountain due either to the depletion of lowland forests or to the protection of these lowland forests.

Globally, they said, the Earth has lost 78.1 million hectares, or 7.1%, of mountain forests since 2000 – an area larger than the size of the US state of Texas.

The most affected tropical forests

Much of the loss has occurred in tropical biodiversity hotspots, putting increasing pressure on endangered species, they said in their study.

Tropical montane forests suffered the most loss – 42% of the global total – and the fastest rate of acceleration, but also experienced a faster rate of regrowth than montane forests in temperate and boreal regions, have said the researchers.

Overall, in these forests, they said they observed signs of tree cover regrowth in 23% of the areas that lost forest.

Once protected from deforestation by their rugged location, they have been increasingly exploited since the beginning of the 21st century as lowland areas become impoverished or subject to protection.


Logging was the main driver of mountain forest loss overall (42%), followed by forest fires (29%), shifting or slash-and-burn cultivation (15%) and l permanent or semi-permanent agriculture (10%). percent), although the importance of these different factors varies from region to region, according to the authors.

Significant losses occurred in Asia, South America, Africa, Europe and Australia, but not in North America and Oceania, they said.

To achieve its goals, the team tracked changes in mountain forests on an annual basis from 2001 to 2018.

They quantified both tree cover losses and gains, estimated the rate at which change is occurring, compared different elevations and types of montane forests – boreal, temperate, tropical – and explored the impacts of this forest loss. on biodiversity, they said in the study. .

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“Knowledge of the dynamics of forest loss along elevational gradients around the world is crucial to understanding how and where the amount of forest area available to forest species will change as they move in response to warming. “, wrote the authors.

Protected areas have suffered less forest loss than unprotected areas, but researchers have warned that this may not be enough to preserve endangered species.

“When it comes to sensitive species in biodiversity hotspots, the critical issue goes beyond simply preventing forest loss,” the authors wrote.

“We also need to maintain forest integrity in areas large enough to allow natural movements and sufficient space for species,” they said.

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The authors also highlight the importance of considering human livelihoods and well-being when developing forest protection strategies and interventions.

“Any new measures to protect mountain forests must be adapted to local conditions and contexts and must balance the need for better forest protection with ensuring food production and human well-being,” they said. .

(With contributions from the agency)

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