How deforestation and climate change is pushing wildlife towards extinction
New Delhi, July 10: India has seen rapid deforestation in recent years, primarily due to its focus on economic development. This affects not only a billion forest dwellers but also half the world's land-based species of plants and animals that are dependent on forests for livelihood.
Deforestation and climate change - biggest drivers of mass extinction
Researchers from the University of Sheffield and University of York have discovered how deforestation and climate change two of the biggest drivers of species' extinction -- interact with each other to magnify their effects.
Only 38 per cent of tropical forest is 'wildlife friendly' as a result of deforestation, increasing the likelihood that vulnerable species will go extinct, say scientists.
When a forest is cut down, it can no longer extract carbon dioxide from the air. At the same time, carbon dating back, on average, 1,500 years ago is then freed by the soil.
Less than two-fifths of forests across Latin America, Asia and Africa currently allow for animals and plants to avoid potentially intolerable increases in temperature, they reported in the journal Nature Climate Change.
Findings of the study
"The loss of tropical forests between 2000 and 2012 led to an area larger than India losing the capacity to protect species from the effects of climate change," lead author Rebecca Senior, a professor at the University of Sheffield, told AFP.
"Not only does forest loss remove habitat directly, it also makes it harder for species to move." The lack of escape routes to cooler habitats means that warming "will likely result in national and global extinction of vulnerable species," she added.
At current rates of climate change, animals and plants moving to the least heat-ravaged spots accessible today would, on average, be exposed by 2070 to an environment 2.7 degrees Celsius (4.8 F) hotter than during the second half of the 20th century, the study found.
Even under a best-case scenario in which humanity caps global warming at 2 C -- an increasingly unlikely prospect species in tropical regions would still see a jump of 0.8 C by that date.
The 2015 Paris climate treaty enjoins nations to hold warming to "well below" 2 C.
Animal and plant species have always moved up or down mountains, towards or away from the poles, or into cooler or warmer waters when faced with shifts in climate.
But rarely has climate change been so rapid, and never has it been combined with extreme habitat fragmentation.
"Tropical species are particularly sensitive to temperature change," Senior said. "Most are found nowhere else on Earth, and make up a huge proportion of global biodiversity." Scores of studies have shown how rising temperatures have forced fauna and flora to adapt their behaviour in ways that curtain their ability to collect food, reproduce or both.
Some 550 species more than half already threatened with extinction -- are listed as vulnerable to droughts and temperature extremes on the International Union for the Conservation of Nature Red List.
They include mammals such at red-handed howler monkeys, jaguars and giant otters.