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The destruction of forests and biodiversity

The destructions of forests intensifies biodiversity changes.

Deforestazione

The research conducted by the University of Edinburgh and the University of St. Andrews has studied the impacts of woodland loss on species and biodiversityover time and around the world, revealing both dramatic losses and surprising achievements.

Focusing on data on biodiversity that cover 150 years and more than 6,000 locations, the study published by Science reveals that while the number of forests are decreasing significantly worldwide, plants and animals respond to the transformation of their natural environments.

The loss of green lungs amplifies the conquers and losses in biodiversity, both for the single number of plants and animal species, and for the diversification and composition of ecosystems on the planet.

Forests are at the basis of the survival of about 80% of terrestrial species, from eagles to bluebells, to beetles. This biodiversity is fundamental for some species that live best in untouched forests. Unfortunately, the latter are less and less, because human activities have profoundly modified them with deforestation, intensive cultivation or transformation of pastures for livestock. This research illustrates how these changes amplify both losses and gains in terms of species abundance and biodiversity in general.

The approach of the study

Using specialized databases that collect data from scientists from all over the world and superimposing about 5 million records on plant and animal populations with information about present and past peaks of deforestation, researchers managed to analyze their impact on biodiversity.

They indeed discovered that the effects on ecosystems are both immediate and long-term because nature responds to changes caused by human activities in different ways and with timings that can vary by decades.

In some tropical areas the loss of forest area in recent years is the highest ever recorded in history and this is causing the significant decrease in the population of many animal species. In North America and Europe, however, the greatest deforestation occurred centuries ago. However, even the loss of small green areas at the moment causes an answer of biodiversity, intensifying population increases in certain populations and drastic decreases in others.

Diversified effects on biodiversity over time

The rhythm at which biodiversity responds to loss of forests varies from few years, as in the case of many herbaceous plants, light-loving plants and insects, to long decades such as for old trees and large birds and mammals.

For species that live longer, the effects of green lung loss do not manifest immediately, and it may take decades to be evident.

Gergana Daskalova, PhD student at the School of GeoSciences of the University of Edinburgh and principal author of the study, declared: "Biodiversity is in continuous evolution and the species we see during our walks in the forest today are probably different from those we saw when we were little.

Biodiversità

"We are harnessing the power of generations of researchers who recorded data while walking through the woods. This has allowed us to identify precise signals in general noise, that is, to determine exactly the influence of forest loss on the natural variation of biodiversity over time.

"Surprisingly, we discovered that forest loss does not always lead to biodiversity decline. Instead, when we lose forest cover, this tends to amplify the ongoing biodiversity change. For example, if a plant or animal species was decreasing before the deforestation, its decline becomes even more serious. The same intensification of the effect is also true for cases of increase in species.

"The changes in the biodiversity of the planet's forests are really important because they will echo over the centuries through the appearance of these landscapes, the types of species that inhabit them and the benefits that the forests offer and will offer to the society as clean air and water."

New technologies and new approaches to study biodiversity

Dr Isla Myers-Smith, co-senior of the School of GeoSciences of the University of Edinburgh, continued: "To get a global picture of how the planet is changing, we need to combine different types of information, from plant observations and animals in the field up to satellite recordings on ecosystem change. Our study unites these two perspectives to make new hypotheses on how biodiversity responds to the knocking down of trees all over the world.

"Ecology can be remodelled with the new tools available to us as researchers. From satellite observations to high-performance computers, scientists like us can now ask ourselves questions based on larger and more complex datasets.

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