Tropical turmoil – a biodiversity tragedy in progress

18 08 2008

fragmentationWe recently published (online) a major review showing that the world is losing the battle over tropical habitat loss with potentially disastrous implications for biodiversity and human well-being.

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.

CJA Bradshaw

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16 responses

13 10 2016
World’s greatest conservation tragedy you’ve probably never heard of |

[…] we can get people riled by rhino and elephant poaching, trophy hunting, coral reefs dying and tropical deforestation, but few really seem to appreciate that the stakes are arguably higher in most freshwater […]


9 08 2016
Keeping India’s forests |

[…] compare, Australia has lost over 40% of its forest cover over the last 200 years, rain forests have declined by ~ 40% in Asia in the last 50 or so years, and the Amazon has lost 18% since only the […]


24 02 2016
Biowealth |

[…] by plants and much of that by marine algae. Yet worldwide we treat oceans like giant toilets and cut down forest blocks every year that, together, equal the size of […]


22 01 2016
Getting your conservation science to the right people |

[…] that we already have a pretty good grasp of what causes species to dwindle and go extinct (e.g., habitat loss, fragmentation, over-exploitation, genetic erosion, climate change, etc.), such that the […]


26 06 2015
Cost, not biodiversity, dictates decision to conserve |

[…] A few other missing bits means that the paper is more heuristic than prescriptive (something the authors state right up front). There is no attempt to take biodiversity, threat or land cost changes arising from climate change into account (see relevant post here), so some of the priorities are questionable. Related to this is the idea of latent risk (see relevant paper by Cardillo et al. 2006) – what’s not necessarily threatened now but likely will be in the very near future. Also, only a small percentage of species are listed in the IUCN Red List (see relevant post here), so perhaps we’re missing some important trends. Finally, I had to note that almost all the priority areas outlined in the paper happened to be in the tropics, which stands to reason given the current and ongoing extinction crisis occurring in this realm. See a more detailed post on ‘tropical turmoil‘. […]


19 02 2015
Earth’s second lung has emphysema |

[…] course, we’re wiping out tropical forests faster than we can grow them, so the boreal takes on an even more important carbon-storage role in that light. But the boreal […]


24 03 2014
Eye on the taiga |

[…] part of the problem is that we have ironically ended up placing more international interest on the plight of tropical regions and how we might alleviate some of that pressure on forests there (e.g., via policy mechanisms like […]


24 04 2012
To corridor, or not to corridor: size is the question «

[…] species which have copped the worst of deforestation trends around Australia and the world. The idea is that because of intense habitat fragmentation, isolated patches of primary (or at […]


2 04 2012
when humans suddenly became intelligent « Green Resistance (teaching, organizing, and eco-thinking)

[…] the session saw a world-wide pledge to halt all deforestation by 2013, with intensive reforestation programmes implemented […]


15 09 2011
No substitute for primary forest «

[…] the argument so utterly that I think most people merely moved on. We know for a fact that tropical biodiversity is waning rapidly, and in many parts of the world, it is absolutely [insert expletive here]. However, the argument […]


29 04 2010
Global rates of forest loss – everyone’s a bastard «

[…] rather a lot about rates of forest loss around the world, including accumulated estimates of tropical forest loss and increasing fragmentation/loss in the boreal forest (see Bradshaw et al. 2009 Front Ecol Evol […]


20 04 2009
No end in sight for tropical deforestation «

[…] years of conservation biologists telling the world about the woeful state of the world’s forests, the loss of essential ecosystem services and the biodiversity extinction crisis, it seems the […]


24 03 2009
Emmanuel Obiri-Yeboah

Biodiversity loss in the tropical world is due to the people’s own attitude towards conservation. This may be due to lack of formal education on such issues as conservation systems like afforestation, planting of cover crops to avoid erosion and weathering. Conservation does not mean that things of nature like trees etc. should not be touche at all, but it means that, they should be replaced after use.


9 03 2009
Tropical turmoil - a biodiversity tragedy in progress | Forest Policy Research

[…] Sodhi and Barry Brook) and I had in press in Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment entitled Tropical turmoil – a biodiversity tragedy in progress. The paper is now available in the March 2009 issue of the journal (click here to […]


8 03 2009
Tropical Turmoil II «

[…] Sodhi and Barry Brook) and I had in press in Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment entitled Tropical turmoil – a biodiversity tragedy in progress. The paper is now available in the March 2009 issue of the journal (click here to access). We were […]


11 09 2008
Another nail in Borneo’s biodiversity coffin «

[…] “to underestimate the stupidity of the human race”; yet, I am too often surprised. Borneo is one of the places in the tropics with the worst track record in destroying ecosystems and the services they provide. The Malaysian government couldn’t be more self-destructive […]


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