Forests are an incredibly complex, constantly changing environment made up of a wide range of living things (wildlife, trees, shrubs, wildflowers, ferns, mosses, lichens, fungi and microscopic soil organisms) and non-living things (water, nutrients, rocks, sunlight and air). Trees are the main emphasis as its coverage in the community allows varied types of biodiversity to coexist in their natural habitat. The overall link between forests are a physical space with rich bio-diverse characteristics and livelihood. A lot of efforts have been made in terms of establishing ‘Forests and Livelihood Programs’ to improve living standards through the establishment of policies and practices to make effective use of forests and forested landscapes.
Forests contain a considerable amount of biodiversity and, as such, are intricately linked to people’s food security, nutrition and health in a number of important ways. Almost the majority of rural households in developing countries, and a large proportion of urban households, rely on forest products to meet some part of their food, nutritional, health and livelihood requirements. Although forest foods seldom provide staple items of diets, and rarely make up the majority of products in the diet (by number or volume), for many rural people they supply what is available from farming and other resources, in three main ways:
- Forests provide a variety of healthy foods, high in micro-nutrients and fiber and low in sodium, refined sugar and fat;
- Resources from forests are often culturally valued, important to local food systems and food sovereignty.
- They help households fill seasonal food gaps and act as a ‘safety net’ in times of shortages due to drought, crop failure, illness or other kinds of emergency.
Forests are vital in maintaining the biodiversity that underpins crop and livestock farming and are an undervalued repository of food and other resources that play a major role in food security and human health.
In recent decades, forest disturbance patterns have intensified in many parts of the world. The frequency of large wildfires in western North America has, for example increased by nearly four times in the period 1987–2003, while at the same time bark beetle damage has reached extreme levels. A similar trend can be seen for wildfire, wind throw, and bark beetles in Europe. This pattern is likely to continue in the future as a result of the climatic changes expected for the coming decades. In many areas, changes in the disturbance regime (i.e. in the distinctive type, size, severity, and frequency of the disturbance) are expected to be among the most extreme climate change impacts on forest ecosystems. Disturbances are important natural drivers of forest ecosystem dynamics and strongly modulate the structure and functioning of forest ecosystems. Changing disturbance regimes might thus considerably change forest ecosystems, with potentially far-reaching impacts on their biological diversity and capacity to provide ecosystem services to mankind.
Declining global biodiversity has become so evident that it is considered an important global change in its own right. Biodiversity loss has multiple causes, but habitat destruction due to land-use change is the most common problem. Neotropical seasonally dry forest (dry forest) is a biome with a wide and fragmented distribution, found from Mexico to Argentina and throughout the Caribbean. This type of forest is one of the most threatened tropical forests in the world, with less than 10% of its original extent remaining in many countries.
Conservationists are concerned with the limited extent of primary and quality secondary forest habitat, and more so in humid and seasonally-dry tropical forests where large amounts of the world’s biodiversity resides. Farming expansion threatens these forests with transformation. Modelling by scientists suggests that farming expansion to 2030 threatens a small fraction (2%) of the globes largest expanses of intact primary tropical forests. What they are saying is that most threatened forests will be relatively fragmented, degraded, and proximate to human activity. This estimate may be conservative given the 6% loss of total primary tropical forest area since 2000 and the fact that this modelling does not take into consideration for the carving out of forests by new roads. Scientists also say that the future farming demand for land could be met without significant forest loss if farming innovations were carried out. Even if tropical forest loss could be halted the current area and distribution of quality forest habitat is already unsuitable for many forest species.
The global biodiversity hot-spots retain only 15% of intact natural vegetation. One response to this situation has been a dramatic increase in protected area coverage since 1990. The proportion of forest area within protected areas has risen to 16.3% globally. However, due to the tendency for protected areas (PAs) to be situated far from threats to forests and biodiversity and given their limited extent, this expansion of protected-forests has not been good enough to protect biodiversity and ecological services over all. Some 17% of threatened bird, mammal, and amphibian species have not been recorded in any PA, and 85% are so poorly represented across PAs that they may not survive in the long-term, a situation that has deteriorated over the past 10 years.
Human pressures have steadily isolated PAs and other intact forests. PAs are usually portions left after other land use needs have been met and are inadequate to offset a much more generalized decline in the natural state and extent of the larger forest estate. Increasing demand for forest and farmed products threatens biodiversity and maintain the integrity of the forest areas. Demographic and economic growth have historically lead deforestation, forest exploitation, and farming demand will continue increasingly in the developing world. This can be seen in Europe where European consumption of forest products rose by 50% with increasing wealth in the latter half of the 20th century.
African oil palm (Elaeis guineensis Jacq.) is a tropical tree species grown primarily for the production of palm oil. It is the world’s highest yielding and least expensive vegetable oil, making it the preferred cooking oil for millions of people worldwide and a source of biodiesel. Palm oil and its derivatives are also common ingredients in many packaged and fast foods, personal care and cosmetic products, and household cleaners. Driven by demand for these products, palm oil manufacturing nearly doubled between 2003 and 2013 and is projected to continue growing steadily. The popularity of palm oil can be linked by the yield of the oil palm crop, over four times that of other oil crops, as well as its low price and its adaptability as an ingredient in many processed goods.
Deforestation of tropical moist forests increases carbon emissions. The replacement of natural forests with palm plantations reduces overall plant diversity and displaces the many animal species that depend on natural forests.
Understanding and predicting the outcomes of these climatic changes on ecosystems is emerging as one of the largest challenges for global change scientists, and forecasting the impacts on forests is of particular importance and concern. The effects of climate change on forests include both positive (e.g. increases in forest vigor and growth from CO2 fertilization, increased water use efficiency, and longer growing seasons) and negative effects (e.g. decline in growth and increases in stress as well as death due to the combined impacts of climate change and climate-driven changes in the dynamics of forest insects and pathogens). Furthermore, forests are subject to many other human impacts such as increased ground-level ozone and deposition. Although a variety of responses can and should be expected, recent cases of increased tree deaths and die-offs triggered by drought and/or high temperatures raise the possibility that amplified forest deaths may already be occurring in some locations due to global climate change.
Examples of recent tree die-offs are well documented for southern parts of Europe and for temperate and arboreal forests of western North America, where background mortality rates have increased steadily in recent decades and widespread death of many tree species in many forest types has affected well over 10 million ha since 1997.
Forests in the news
Take home message
Forests are extremely important ecosystems which both wildlife and humans depend upon. However human population growth has put a lot of pressure on these habitats for a number of reasons. Many species are being driven to extinction because the place they call home is being cut down. In order to curb this problem we need to live more sustainable lives. Another way you can help save forests is by not purchasing products which use palm/vegetable oil. Even the smallest action can make the biggest difference.
Organisations committed to preventing deforestation
- Groupe Danone
- Kao Corp.
- Nestlé S.A.
- Procter & Gamble Co.
- Reckitt Benckiser Group PLC
- Unilever PLC
To find out more go to this link
Other NGOs include WWF and IUCN
Allen, C.D., Macalady, A.K., Chenchouni, H., Bachelet, D., Mcdowell, N., Kitzberger, T., Rigling, A., Breshears, D.D., Hogg, E.H., Allen, C.D., Macalady, A.K., Chenchouni, H., Bachelet, D. & Mcdowell, N. 2010. A global overview of drought and heat-induced tree mortality reveals emerging climate change risks for forests To cite this version : HAL Id : hal-00457602.
Arnold, M., Powell, B., Shanley, P., Sunderland, T.C.H., Ndive, L.E., Powell, B., Hall, J., Johns, T., Camacho, C.I. & Martin, G.J. 2011. International Forestry Review. , 13(3).
Banda, R.K., Delgado-Salinas, A., Dexter, K.G., Linares-Palomino, R., Oliveira-Filho, A., Prado, D., Pullan, M., Quintana, C., Riina, R., Rodríguez, G.M., Weintritt, J., Acevedo-Rodríguez, P., Adarve, J., Álvarez, E., Aranguren B.A., Camilo Arteaga, J., Aymard, G., Castaño, A., Ceballos-Mago, N., Cogollo, Á., Cuadros, H ., Delgado, F., Devia, W., Dueñas, H., Fajardo, L., Fernández, Á., Ángel Fernández, ., Franklin. J., Freid, E.H ., Galetti, L.A., Gonto., González, M, R., Graveson, R., Helmer, E.H., Idárraga, Á., López, R., Marcano-Vega, H., Martínez, O.G.,. Maturo, H.M., McDonald, M., McLaren, K., Melo, O., Mijares, F., Mogni, V., Molina, D., del Pilar Moreno, N., Nassar, J.M., Neves, D.M., , Luis, O.J., Oatham, M., Olvera-Luna, A.R., Pezzini, F.F., Dominguez, O.J.R., María R.E., Rivera, O., Rodríguez, N., Rojas, A., Särkinen, T., Sánchez, Roberto., Smith, M., Vargas, Carlos., Villanueva, Boris., Pennington. R.T. 2016. Plant diversity patterns in neotropical dry forests and their conservation implications. Science: (353) 6306
Dominik, T. and Seidl, R. 2016. Natural disturbance impacts on ecosystem services and biodiversity in temperate and boreal forests. Biological. Reviews., (91) : 760–781.
Jackson, E .2011.International Forestry Review Vol.13(3).