Published online in the Ecological Society of America’s journal Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment, our review Tropical turmoil – a biodiversity crisis in progress concludes that we are “on a trajectory towards disaster” and calls for an immediate global, multi-pronged conservation approach to avert the worst outcomes.
Tropical forests support more than 60 % of all known species, but represent only about 7 % of the Earth’s land surface. But up to 15 million hectares of tropical rainforest are being lost every year and species are being lost at a rate of up to 10000 times higher than would happen randomly without humans present.
This is not just a tragedy for tropical biodiversity, this is a crisis that will directly affect human livelihoods. This is not just about losing tiny species found in the canopies of big rain forest trees few people will ever see, this is about a complete change in ecosystem services that directly benefit human life.
The majority of the world’s population live in the tropics and what is at stake is the survival of species that pollinate most of the world’s food crops, purify our water systems, attenuate severe flood risk, sequester carbon (taking carbon dioxide out of the air) and modify climate. Recent technical debate about likely extinction rates in the tropics could be used by governments to justify destructive policies.
We must not accept belief that all is well in the tropics, or that the situation will improve with economic development, nor use this as an excuse for inaction on the vexing conservation challenges of this century. We need to start valuing forests for all the services they provide, and richer nations should be investing in the maintenance of tropical habitats.
One of the biggest issues is corruption. The greatest long-term improvements can be made in governance of tropical diversity resources and good governance will only come from strong multi-lateral policy. We need international pressure to ensure appropriate monitoring and accounting systems are in place.