Deforestation in tropical rain forests could have an even greater impact on climate change than has previously been thought. The combined biomass of a large number of small forest fragments left over after habitat fragmentation can be up to 40 per cent less than in a continuous natural forest of the same overall size.
The simulation integrated results from other researchers who are conducting unique long-term experiments on fragmentation in Amazonas. However, a large number of questions remain unanswered: Are the edges stable? Can the forest regenerate or does the degradation continue inwards? The researchers therefore view the figures as a preliminary, cautious estimate. "But if it is confirmed, it is a really fundamental finding," adds Dr Sandro Pütz of the UFZ. "Forest fragments cannot perform in the same way as continuous forests." The researchers therefore intend to investigate the long-term effects over the coming years to find out how the rain forest remnants develop in the long term. The results of this study will also have fundamental consequences for forest conservation, at least in terms of the carbon balance: "In any case, in terms of carbon storage, it is better to protect 100 continuous hectares than to protect 100 one-hectare patches," says Jürgen Groeneveld.
The data used in the model come from the tropical coastal rain forest in the state of São Paulo, Brazil. The Atlantic Forest was severely deforested in the second half of the 19th century for construction timber, charcoal and grazing and arable land. Although only around an eighth of the original forest area remains, these remnants are still regarded as international biodiversity hot spots, since they are home to an as yet not fully recorded, but impressive number of endangered animal and plant species that are not found anywhere else. Since 2003, Brazilian and German researchers have therefore been investigating the long-term effects of landscape fragmentation on habitats in the Atlantic Forest, which used to stretch along the whole of Brazil’s east coast and is today one of the most endangered rain forests in the world.The new findings from the ecological modelling experts led by Andreas Huth and Klaus Henle are also relevant for negotiations at the UN climate conference in Copenhagen. Under the heading REDD (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation), the conference will be discussing a mechanism for including the forests in climate protection. Forests bind carbon dioxide. Deforestation or degradation of forests leads to a further release or less fixing of carbon dioxide per unit area, thereby increasing the greenhouse effect. Around 20 per cent of total global CO2 emissions comes from the destruction of forests.
http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.ecolmodel.2009.06.015M.C. Ribeiro, J.P. Metzger, A.C. Martensen, F.J. Ponzoni and M. M. Hirota (2009):
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