Forests: Challenged By a Changing Climate

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    May 20, 2010


    Forests: Challenged By a Changing Climate

    At this Earthwatch lecture, Dr. Glen Reynolds and Dr. Mark Huxham spoke passionately about the challenges and opportunities facing two very different, but similarly challenged, forest ecosystems.

    Earthwatch scientists Dr. Glen Reynolds and Dr. Mark Huxham, working on research projects in Borneo and Kenya, respectively, spoke passionately about the challenges and opportunities facing two very different, but similarly challenged, forest ecosystems.

    Dr. Reynolds gave a striking presentation demonstrating how Borneo’s rainforests have, over the past 50 years, been subject to intensive industrial logging as well as being cleared to make way for plantations. The crucial ecosystem services provided by the forests, along with thousands of plant and animal species, are now critically threatened. The forests that remain are often highly degraded or scattered as small fragments within agricultural landscapes. Dr. Reynolds told us that these forests, rather than the few remaining pockets of primary forest, now support much of the island’s biodiversity and thus are critical in maintaining overall ecosystem functioning. His research findings support this conclusion, and he spoke of plans to protect the areas of degraded forest from further development.

    Dr. Huxham talked passionately about the (often overlooked) mangrove ecosystem, showing us that although mangroves account for only around 0.4% of the world’s forests, they are exceptionally important habitats, providing a wide range of services to local people, and are the most effective natural carbon sinks, sequestering 22 times more carbon per unit area than oceans and locking this carbon into long-term, below-ground storage. Mangroves are being destroyed and degraded at a rate of more than 2% per year, which exceeds the rate for terrestrial tropical forests.

    Dr. Huxham showed us that, despite this degradation, his Earthwatch project is achieving much success. Through the hard work of Earthwatch volunteers and local people, the project has established new plots of trees growing for the first time in areas that have been bare of vegetation for more than 30 years. These plots are recovering normal ecosystem processes and recruiting wild plants and animals – a great example of how Earthwatch’s work has achieved a practical conservation outcome.

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