The Great Dying

30 09 2019

Here’s a presentation I gave earlier in the year for the Flinders University BRAVE Research and Innovation series:

There is No Plan(et) B — What you can do about Earth’s extinction emergency

Earth is currently experiencing a mass extinction brought about by, … well, … us. Species are being lost at a rate similar to when the dinosaurs disappeared. But this time, it’s not due to a massive asteroid hitting the Earth; species are being removed from the planet now because of human consumption of natural resources. Is a societal collapse imminent, and do we need to prepare for a post-collapse society rather than attempt to avoid one? Or, can we limit the severity and onset of a collapse by introducing a few changes such as removing political donations, becoming vegetarians, or by reducing the number of children one has?

Read the rest of this entry »





Communicating climate change

5 06 2018

Both the uncertainty inherent in scientific data, and the honesty of those scientists who report such data to any given audience, can sow doubt about the science of climate change. The perception of this duality is engrained in how the human mind works. We illustrate this through a personal experience connecting with global environmentalism, and synthesise some guidelines to communicate the science of climate disruption by humans.

EskimoTote_English

Courtesy of Toté (www.elcomic.es)

In January 2017, the Spanish environmental magazine Quercus invited us to give a talk, at the Cabinet of Natural History in Madrid, about our article on the effects of climate change on the feeding ecology of polar bears, which made to Quercuscover in February 2017 (1) — see blog post here. During questions and debate with the audience (comprising both scientists and non-scientists), we displayed a graph illustrating combinations of seven sources of energy (coal, water, gas, nuclear, biomass, sun and wind) necessary to meet human society’s global energy needs according to Barry Brook & Corey Bradshaw (2). That paper supports the idea that nuclear energy, and to a lesser extent wind energy, offer the best cost-benefit ratios for the conservation of biodiversity after accounting for factors intimately related to energy production, such as land use, waste and climate change.

While discussing this scientific result, one member of the audience made the blunt statement that it was normal that a couple of Australian researchers supported nuclear energy since Australia hosts the largest uranium reservoirs worldwide (~1/3 of the total). The collective membership of Quercus and the Cabinet of Natural History is not suspicious of lack of awareness of environmental problems, but a different matter is that individuals can of course evaluate a piece of information through his/her own and legitimate perspective.

The stigma of hypocrisy

Indeed, when we humans receive and assimilate a piece of information, our (often not self-conscious) approach can range from focusing on the data being presented to questioning potential hidden agendas by the informer. However, the latter can lead to a psychological trap that has been assessed recently (3) — see simple-language summary of that assessment in The New York Times. In one of five experiments, a total of 451 respondents were asked to rank their opinion about four consecutive vignettes tracking the conversation between two hypothetical individuals (Becky & Amanda) who had a common friend. During this conversation, Amanda states that their friend is pirating music from the Internet, and Becky (who also illegally downloads music) can hypothetically give three alternative answers: Read the rest of this entry »





Four decades of fragmentation

27 09 2017

fragmented

I’ve recently read perhaps the most comprehensive treatise of forest fragmentation research ever compiled, and I personally view this rather readable and succinct review by Bill Laurance and colleagues as something every ecology and conservation student should read.

The ‘Biological Dynamics of Forest Fragments Project‘ (BDFFP) is unquestionably one of the most important landscape-scale experiments ever conceived and implemented, now having run 38 years since its inception in 1979. Indeed, it was way ahead of its time.

Experimental studies in ecology are comparatively rare, namely because it is difficult, expensive, and challenging in the extreme to manipulate entire ecosystems to test specific hypotheses relating to the response of biodiversity to environmental change. Thus, we ecologists tend to rely more on mensurative designs that use existing variation in the landscape (or over time) to infer mechanisms of community change. Of course, such experiments have to be large to be meaningful, which is one reason why the 1000 km2 BDFFP has been so successful as the gold standard for determining the effects of forest fragmentation on biodiversity.

And successful it has been. A quick search for ‘BDFFP’ in the Web of Knowledge database identifies > 40 peer-reviewed articles and a slew of books and book chapters arising from the project, some of which are highly cited classics in conservation ecology (e.g., doi:10.1046/j.1523-1739.2002.01025.x cited > 900 times; doi:10.1073/pnas.2336195100 cited > 200 times; doi:10.1016/j.biocon.2010.09.021 cited > 400 times; and doi:10.1111/j.1461-0248.2009.01294.x cited nearly 600 times). In fact, if we are to claim any ecological ‘laws’ at all, our understanding of fragmentation on biodiversity could be labelled as one of the few, thanks principally to the BDFFP. Read the rest of this entry »





Not all wetlands are created equal

13 02 2017

little-guyLast year I wrote what has become a highly viewed post here at ConservationBytes.com about the plight of the world’s freshwater biodiversity. In a word, it’s ‘buggered’.

But there are steps we can take to avoid losing even more of that precious freshwater biodiversity. The first, of course, is to stop sucking all the water out of our streams and wetlands. With a global population of 7.5 billion people and climbing, the competition for freshwater will usually mean that non-human life forms lose that race. However, the more people (and those making the decisions, in particular) realise that intact wetlands do us more good as wetlands rather than carparks, housing developments, or farmland (via freshwater filtering, species protection, carbon storage, etc.), the more we have a chance to save them.

My former MSc student, the very clever David Deane1, has been working tirelessly to examine different scenarios of wetland plant biodiversity change in South Australia, and is now the proud lead author of a corker of a new paper in Biological Conservation. Having already published one paper about how wetland plant biodiversity patterns are driven by rare terrestrial plants, his latest is a very important contribution about how to manage our precious wetlands. Read the rest of this entry »





Tropical forest resilience depends on past disturbance frequency

16 07 2014

I’ve recently come across an interesting study that perfectly marries palaeo-ecological data with modern conservation philosophy. It’s not often that such a prehistorical perspective dating at least to the Last Glacial Maximum has been used so effectively to inform future conservation outlooks. I’m particularly interested in this sort of approach considering my own palaeo dabblings of late.

Published in Nature Communications this May, Lydia Cole and colleagues’ paper Recovery and resilience of tropical forests after disturbance is a meta-analysis of 71 studies covering nearly 300 disturbance events in tropical forests over the last 20,000 years or so. Using fossil pollen records as an index of vegetation change, they demonstrated the (somewhat intuitive) main result that the time to recovery following a disturbance generally decreases as the past disturbance frequency increased.

This appears to be a vindication of the idea that a system’s adaptive strategies evolve as a product of the local disturbance regime. More importantly, they found that recovery was faster following ‘large infrequent events’, which are natural perturbations such as cyclones and major fires. While most past disturbances were caused by humans clearing forest, the fact that tropical forest systems were most resilient to ‘natural’ events means that if we can’t stop human disturbances, at least we can attempt to emulate natural processes to maximise the rebound potential. Much like many modern forestry operations try to emulate natural disturbances to limit their damage, we should at least manage our impacts by understanding so-called ‘natural’ regimes as much as possible. Read the rest of this entry »





Too small to avoid catastrophic biodiversity meltdown

27 09 2013
Chiew Larn

Chiew Larn Reservoir is surrounded by Khlong Saeng Wildlife Sanctuary and Khao Sok National Park, which together make up part of the largest block of rainforest habitat in southern Thailand (> 3500 km2). Photo: Antony Lynam

One of the perennial and probably most controversial topics in conservation ecology is when is something “too small’. By ‘something’ I mean many things, including population abundance and patch size. We’ve certainly written about the former on many occasions (see here, here, here and here for our work on minimum viable population size), with the associated controversy it elicited.

Now I (sadly) report on the tragedy of the second issue – when is a habitat fragment too small to be of much good to biodiversity?

Published today in the journal Science, Luke Gibson (of No substitute for primary forest fame) and a group of us report disturbing results about the ecological meltdown that has occurred on islands created when the Chiew Larn Reservoir of southern Thailand was flooded nearly 30 years ago by a hydroelectric dam.

As is the case in many parts of the world (e.g., Three Gorges Dam, China), hydroelectric dams can cause major ecological problems merely by flooding vast areas. In the case of Charn Liew, co-author Tony Lynam of Wildlife Conservation Society passed along to me a bit of poignant and emotive history about the local struggle to prevent the disaster.

“As the waters behind the dam were rising in 1987, Seub Nakasathien, the Superintendent of the Khlong Saeng Wildlife Sanctuary, his staff and conservationist friends, mounted an operation to capture and release animals that were caught in the flood waters.

It turned out to be distressing experience for all involved as you can see from the clips here, with the rescuers having only nets and longtail boats, and many animals dying. Ultimately most of the larger mammals disappeared quickly from the islands, leaving just the smaller fauna.

Later Seub moved to Huai Kha Khaeng Wildlife Sanctuary and fought an unsuccessful battle with poachers and loggers, which ended in him taking his own life in despair in 1990. A sad story, and his friend, a famous folk singer called Aed Carabao, wrote a song about Seub, the music of which plays in the video. Read the rest of this entry »





The invisible hand of ecosystem services

4 08 2012

I’ve just spent nearly an entire week trying to get my head around ecosystem services (ES).

You’d think that would have been a given based on my experience, my research, my writings and the fact that I’ve just spent the last week with 400 ES specialists from around the world at the 5th international Ecosystem Services Partnership (ESP) Conference in Portland, Oregon, USA.

Well, prior to this week I thought I knew what ES were, but now I think I’m just a little more confused.

Of course, I’m not talking about the concept of ES or what they are (hell, I’ve written enough about them on this blog and in my papers); my problem is understanding how we as society end up valuing them in a practical, sensible and feasible way.

So I’m going to describe the ESP Conference as I saw it, and not necessarily in chronological order.

First up is the term ‘ecosystem services’ itself – horrible name, and something rammed home again after attending the conference. Most people on the planet that are not scientists (that would be nearly everyone) just might have the most tenuous and ethereal of grasps of ‘ecosystem’ in the first place, and I’d bet that 99 % of most undergraduate students couldn’t provide a comprehensive description. This is because ecosystems are mind-bogglingly, chaotically and awesomely complex. Just ask any ecosystem ecologist.

The second part of the term – services – is particularly offensive in its presumption and arrogance. It’s not like you ring up an ecosystem and get it to clean your carpets, or fill your water tank or gas cylinder. No, the natural world did not evolve to pamper humanity; we are merely part of it (and bloody efficient at modifying it, I might add).

So try to sell this ‘incredibly complex thingy’ that is ‘there to do some (intangible) shit for us’ to the public, policy makers and politicians, and you mostly get a dog’s regurgitated breakfast and some blank, slack-jawed stares. Read the rest of this entry »





Deforestation partly to blame for Queensland floods

17 01 2011

© recoverling

Last week I sent a fairly random Tweet about deforestation in south-eastern Queensland being partially responsible for the record floods there. It went more or less unnoticed, but I thought the comment deserved a proper explanation.

As many of you might know, my colleagues and I wrote an article a few years ago about the global-scale evidence for deforestation leading to a higher incidence and severity of floods in the developing world. This was fairly controversial, but it was nonetheless the first broad-scale evidence for the fabled deforestation-flood link yet published (in my not-so-humble opinion). Subsequent comment reiterated the point with new data.

Now, I will begin by saying I have no data yet to back up my Queensland-specific hypothesis, but I am contemplating a time-series paper on floods in Australia, especially after the events of the last month. This post is therefore merely a reasoned hypothesis.

The hypothesis itself is rather simple. Testing is not. I submit that the recent flooding in Australia has been exacerbated (not caused) by the rapid loss of forest cover over the last 40 years. We know that this is a particularly intense La Niña in Australia and our unusually high rainfall arises from this meteorological phenomenon, but I hypothesise that it wouldn’t have been as bad if this part of Australia hadn’t been so careless with its forest cover since the 1970s. Read the rest of this entry »





Yangtze River, colossal dams and famous scientists

23 10 2010

 


© CJA Bradshaw

 

Apologies for the silence over the last week – I’ve been a little preoccupied with some business in China. I’ll devote an entire post to my recent trip there (actually, I’m still there – Beijing to be precise), but I thought I’d just explain my absence and provide a little post to sate you until next week.

It’s worth mentioning that I had the enlightening experience of travelling down the Yangtze River between Chongqing and Sandouping last week – this is the area that was flooded by the world’s largest hydro-electric project, the Three Gorges Dam. This is my fourth trip to China and I’ve usually come away with the adjective ‘big’ describing pretty much everything I see here (big agriculture, big population, big pollution, big hotels, big cities…); however, in this case, ‘big’ doesn’t even come close. It’s bloody massive, and the ecological devastation (not to mention the 1.3 million people it displaced) is hard to describe in words. Sure, there are beautiful bits left (see the accompanying photo), but most of the damage is under water and along the banks of the mighty (and now, a lot mightier) Yangtze River. Read the rest of this entry »





Global erosion of ecosystem services

14 09 2010

A few months ago I was asked to give a lecture about erosion of ecosystem services to students in the University of Adelaide‘s Issues in Sustainable Environments unit. I gave that lecture last week and just uploaded a slidecast of the presentation (with audio) today.

I’ve reproduced the lecture here for your viewing pleasure. I hope you find the 45-minute presentation useful. Note that the first few minutes cover me referring to the Biodiversity film short that I posted not too long ago.

CJA Bradshaw





The maggot of the plant world – mangroves

12 04 2010

I don’t know how many of my readers have waded through a mangrove swamp before – if you have, you’ll know it’s no ‘walk in the park’. They are generally mosquito-infested with waist-deep mud, have more creepy-crawlies than you can poke a stick at, and in some places (such as my former stomping ground, the Northern Territory of Australia) are down-right dangerous due to lovelies such as saltwater crocodiles.

But, most people probably don’t know just how important mangroves are. Just like the maggot who can sicken the hardiest of individual, under-appreciated mangroves provide major ecosystem services.

For example, did you know that mangroves:

  1. Protect inland human communities from damage caused by coastal erosion and storms?
  2. Provide critical habitat for a variety of terrestrial, estuarine and marine species? Indeed, it has been estimated that ~80 % of fish catches globally depend directly or indirectly  on mangroves.
  3. Are a source and sink for nutrients and sediments for other inshore marine habitats including seagrass beds and coral reefs?
  4. Protect coasts from floods?
  5. Process nutrient and organic matter?
  6. Control sediment?
  7. Provide at least US$1.6 billion per year in ecosystem services worldwide?
  8. Sequester up to 25.5 million tonnes of carbon per year?
  9. Provide more than 10% of essential organic carbon to the global oceans?
  10. Occupy only 0.12% of the world’s total land area?

Pretty staggering, no?

So, even if you don’t like them, it’s difficult to deny that they’re important.

But, like almost every other habitats worldwide, mangroves are on the big downward slide. In a new paper in PLoS One by Polidoro & colleagues entitled The loss of species: mangrove extinction risk and geographic areas of global concern, the authors not only highlight the above benefits, they quantify just how badly the 70 mangrove species around the world are faring. Read the rest of this entry »





Breaking the waves – conservation conundrum of bioshields

9 12 2009

Today’s post covers a neat little review just published online in Conservation Letters by Feagin and colleagues entitled Shelter from the storm? Use and misuse of coastal vegetation bioshields for managing natural disasters. I’m covering this for three reasons: (1) it’s a great summary and wake-up call for those contemplating changing coastal ecosystems in the name of disaster management, (2) I have a professional interest in the ecosystem integrity-disaster interface and (3) I had the pleasure of editing this article.

I’ve blogged about quite a few papers on ecosystem services (including some of my own) because I think making the link between ecosystem integrity and human health, wealth and well-being are some of the best ways to convince Joe Bloggs that saving species he’ll never probably see are in his and his family’s best (and selfish) interests. Convincing the poverty-stricken, the greedy and the downright stupid of biodiversity’s inherent value will never, ever work (at least, it hasn’t worked yet).

Today’s feature paper discusses an increasingly relevant policy conundrum in conservation – altering coastal ecosystems such that planted/restored/conserved vegetation minimises the negative impacts of extreme weather events (e.g., tsunamis, cyclones, typhoons and hurricanes): the so-called ‘bioshield’ effect. The idea is attractive – coastal vegetation acts to buffer human development and other land features from intense wave action, so maintain/restore it at all costs.

The problem is, as Feagin and colleagues point out in their poignant review, ‘bioshields’ don’t really seem to have much effect in attenuating the big waves resulting from the extreme events, the very reason they were planted in the first place. Don’t misunderstand them – keeping ecosystems like mangroves and other coastal communities intact has enormous benefits in terms of biodiversity conservation, minimised coastal erosion and human livelihoods. However, with massive coastal development in many parts of the world, the knee-jerk reaction has been to plant up coasts with any sort of tree/shrub going without heeding these species’ real effects. Indeed, many countries have active policies now to plant invasive species along coastal margins, which not only displace native species, they can displace humans and likely play little part in any wave attenuation.

This sleeping giant of a conservation issue needs some serious re-thinking, argue the authors, especially in light of predicted increases in extreme storm events resulting from climate change. I hope policy makers listen to that plea. I highly recommend the read.

CJA Bradshaw

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ResearchBlogging.orgFeagin, R., Mukherjee, N., Shanker, K., Baird, A., Cinner, J., Kerr, A., Koedam, N., Sridhar, A., Arthur, R., Jayatissa, L., Lo Seen, D., Menon, M., Rodriguez, S., Shamsuddoha, M., & Dahdouh-Guebas, F. (2009). Shelter from the storm? Use and misuse of coastal vegetation bioshields for managing natural disasters Conservation Letters DOI: 10.1111/j.1755-263X.2009.00087.x





August issue of Conservation Letters

6 08 2009

© Discovery Channel/W. Sloss

© Discovery Channel/W. Sloss

The latest edition of Conservation Letters is now out. Click here for full access (yes, all articles are still free!).

Papers in this issue:





Climate change’s ugly cousin – biodiversity loss

17 05 2009

uglybaby…nobody puts a value on pollination; national accounts do not reflect the value of ecosystem services that stop soil erosion or provide watershed protection.

Barry Gardiner, Labour MP for Brent North (UK), Co-chairman, Global Legislators Organisation‘s International Commission on Land Use Change and Ecosystems

Last week I read with great interest the BBC’s Green Room opinion article by Barry Gardiner, Labour MP in the UK, about how the biodiversity crisis takes very much the back seat to climate change in world media, politics and international agreements.

He couldn’t be more spot-on.

I must stipulate right up front that this post is neither a whinge, rant nor lament; my goal is to highlight what I’ve noticed about the world’s general perception of climate change and biodiversity crisis issues over the last few years, and over the last year in particular since ConservationBytes.com was born.

Case in point: my good friend and colleague, Professor Barry Brook, started his blog BraveNewClimate.com a little over a month (August 2008) after I managed to get ConservationBytes.com up and running (July 2008). His blog tackles issues regarding the science of climate change, and Barry has been very successful at empirically, methodically and patiently tearing down the paper walls of the climate change denialists. A quick glance at the number views of BraveNewClimate.com since inception reveals about an order of magnitude more than for ConservationBytes.com (i.e., ~195000 versus 20000, respectively), and Barry has accumulated a total of around 4500 comments compared to just 231 for ConservationBytes.com. The difference is striking.

Now, I don’t begrudge for one moment this disparity – quite the contrary – I am thrilled that Barry has managed to influence so many people and topple so effectively the faecal spires erected by the myriad self-proclaimed ‘experts’ on climate change (an infamous line to whom I have no idea to attribute states that “opinions are like arseholes – everyone’s got one”). Barry is, via BraveNewClimate.com, doing the world an immense service. What I do find intriguing is that in many ways, the biodiversity crisis is a much, much worse problem that is and will continue to degrade human life for millennia to come. Yet as Barry Gardiner observed, the UK papers mentioned biodiversity only 115 times over the last 3 months compared to 1382 times for climate change – again, that order-of-magnitude disparity.

There is no biodiversity equivalent of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (although there are a few international organisations tackling the extinction crisis such as the United Nation’s Environment Program, the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment and the International Union for Conservation of Nature), we still have little capacity or idea how to incorporate the trillions of dollars worth of ecosystem services supplied every year to us free of charge, and we have nothing at all equivalent to the Kyoto Protocol for biodiversity preservation. Yet, conservation biologists have for decades demonstrated how human disease prevalence, reduction in pollination, increasing floods, reduced freshwater availability, carbon emissions, loss of fish supplies, weed establishment and spread, etc. are all exacerbated by biodiversity loss. Climate change, as serious and potentially apocalyptic as it is, can be viewed as just another stressor in a system stressed to its limits.

Of course, the lack of ‘interest’ may not be as bleak as indicated by web traffic; I believe the science underpinning our assessment of biodiversity loss is fairly well-accepted by people who care to look into these things, and the evidence spans the gambit of biological diversity and ecosystems. In short, it’s much less controversial a topic than climate change, so it attracts a lot less vitriol and spawns fewer polemics. That said, it is a self-destructive ambivalence that will eventually come to bite humanity on the bum in the most serious of ways, and I truly believe that we’re not far off from major world conflicts over the dwindling pool of resources (food, water, raw materials) we are so effectively destroying. We would be wise to take heed of the warnings.

CJA Bradshaw

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Tropical Turmoil II

8 03 2009

In August last year I covered a paper my colleagues (Navjot 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 also fortunate enough to grab the front cover (shown here) and have a dedicated podcast that you can listen to by clicking here about the paper and its findings. I encourage ConservationBytes.com readers to have a listen if they’re interested in learning more about the woeful state of tropical biotas worldwide, and maybe some ways to rectify the problems. The intro to the podcast can be viewed by clicking here.

CJA Bradshaw





Potsdam Initiative: Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity

1 10 2008

moneygamiA recent report from the European Union with which I was marginally involved has been published online.

The meeting of the environment ministers of the G8 countries and upcoming industrialising countries took part in what has been dubbed the ‘Potsdam Initiative‘ have commissioned a series of reports on the ‘Economic significance of the global loss of biological diversity’.

I quote:

‘In a global study we will initiate the process of analysing the global economic benefit of biological diversity, the costs of the loss of biodiversity and the failure to take protective measures versus the costs of effective conservation.’

The first stage was the report was entitled ‘The Economics of Ecosystems & Biodiversity (TEEB)’. Mr Pavan Sukhdev, Managing Director and Head of Deutsche Bank’s Global Markets business in India, and a Founder-Director of the ‘Green Accounting for Indian States Project’, an initiative of the Green Indian States Trust (GIST) to set up an economic valuation and national accounting framework to measure sustainability for India, was recently appointed as the independent Study Leader.

The overall aims of the study are to evaluate the costs of the loss of biodiversity and the associated decline in ecosystem services, and to compare them with the costs of effective conservation and ‘sustainable’ use. The overall aim is to increase awareness of the value of biodiversity and ecosystem services to facilitate the development of cost-effective policy responses to the problem.

The interim report is available here, and the final report will be published shortly on the dedicated website here. The title of the final report of the first phase is THE ECONOMICS OF ECOSYSTEMS AND BIODIVERSITY: SCOPING THE SCIENCE.

I was involved specifically in Section 4.13 ‘Regulation of Natural Hazards’ which are defined ‘as infrequent natural phenomena that – during a relatively short period of time – pose a high level of threat to [human] life, health or property. These include seismic events (volcanic eruptions, earthquakes, tsunamis), extreme weather events (hurricanes, floods), avalanches and land slides. My contribution was mainly with respect to the role of deforestation on flood risk.

The report was jointly prepared by Ana Rodrigues and Andrew Balmford.

CJA Bradshaw

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Native forests reduce the risk of catastrophic floods

20 08 2008

A-Pakistan-Army-helicopte-004Each year extreme floods kill or displace hundreds of thousands of people and cause billions of dollars in damage to property. The consequences of floods are particularly catastrophic in developing countries generally lacking the infrastructure to deal adequately with above-average water levels.

For centuries it has been believed that native forest cover reduced the risk and severity of catastrophic flooding, but there has been strong scientific debate over the role of forests in flood mitigation.

Forest loss is currently estimated at 13 million hectares each year, with 6 million hectares of that being primary forest previously untouched by human activities. These primary forests are considered the most biologically diverse ecosystems on the planet, but this realisation has not halted their immense rate of loss.

Last year my colleagues and I published a paper entitled Global evidence that deforestation amplifies flood risk and severity in the developing world in Global Change Biology (highlighted in Nature and Faculty of 1000) that has finally provided tangible evidence that there is a strong link between deforestation and flood risk. Read the rest of this entry »