Forests are home to around 40-75% of the world’s plant and animal species, making them one of the worlds most important ecosystems. The sheer scale of biodiversity in forests is unfortunately under threat due to the large-scale deforestation that has been increasing throughout the last forty years. Biologists estimate that 50,000 species are wiped out each year due to logging, land clearance, slash and burn techniques and urbanisation. Harvard University professor Dr Edward O. Wilson estimates that 50% of all species on earth could be wiped out within the next 50 years, if the rate of deforestation continues.
A 2011 analysis by Conservation International (CI) has revealed the top 10 threatened forests in the world, 5 of which are located in Asia-Pacific. The plant and animal species in these forests are finding it increasingly difficult to survive due to the fragmentation of their habitat.
Located in the South Pacific, 1,200 kilometres east of Australia and 500 kilometres south of Vanuatu, New Caledonia offers one of the world’s smallest hotspots for forestry and biodiversity. Only 5% of the islands forestry now remains, with much of it being destroyed by the nickel mining industry, the timber industry and the conversion of land to agriculture. Invasive species, introduced by humans, are threatening the populations of native animals and plants including the rare kagu bird and the parasitic conifer tree.
The forests of the Indo-Burma region, which extends from eastern India to the Malay Peninsula, are situated between lakes, rivers and floodplains. The waterways and floodplains breath life and prosperity into the region, making it rich in resources and biodiversity. However, more than 95% of rainforests in the region have been destroyed, making the forests of the Indo-Burma region the world’s most vulnerable. The rainforests and waters of the Southeast Asian region have been heavily impacted by overfishing, logging, urban sprawl and the conversion of mangrove forest to shrimp farming facilities.
80 million people are reliant on the countries vast rainforest resources which provide paper, wood, food and medicine for the people of the region. The 7% of the rainforest remaining is threatened by the agricultural industry and the booming rural populations of people living in severe poverty. Between 1990 and 2005 the country lost one third of it’s rainforests, making the logging industry extremely unsustainable. The sheer scale of deforestation is placing growing threats on the 1,196 known species of mammals, amphibians, reptiles and birds that depend on the forest.
The Southeast Asian geographical region of Sundaland encompasses Borneo, the Malay Peninsula, Sumatra and Java- all of which are under threat from deforestation. Only 7% of the regions forests remain intact with the majority of forest being destroyed to make room for palm oil, rubber and tobacco plantations. Logging, pulp and paper production and the wildlife trade are threatening the regions wildlife including orangutans, geckos, pangolins, snakes and monkeys. Similarly, wildlife populations are declining because of poaching which is fuelled by the demands of the Chinese medicine trade and the trophy hunting industry.
The forest, which covers parts of Uruguay, Brazil, Paraguay and Argentina has been reduced in size by 92% over the last few decades. Sugarcane and coffee plantations, urban sprawl, land clearance and cattle ranching are all contributing to the fragmentation of forests and the isolation of species. The small pockets of remaining forests make it difficult for animals like jaguars, pumas, ocelots and marmosets to find food and mating partners. Over 100 million people rely on the forest for their fresh water and for agriculture so the complete destruction of the forest would have dire consequences.
The rainforests covering the mountains of Southwest China once stretched for hundreds of miles but their surface area has now been reduced by 92%. The giant panda and red panda are just some of the species experiencing decline in population numbers due to the fragmentation of habitat. Overgrazing of cattle, the wildlife trade, illegal hunting, firewood collection and overpopulation along the Yangtze river are putting pressure on the fragile ecosystem and on the species living in the mountains.
The Coastal Forests of Eastern Africa encompass 112,000 km² of land across Southern Somalia, Kenya, Tanzania, Zanzibar and Mozambique. Local people, in search of wood, an income and land for agriculture, have cleared much of the forests. As a result, many species have been left confined to fragmented areas of forestry. These small pockets of forest, have made a number of monkey species vulnerable to bushmeat hunting.
The hot Mediterranean- like climate of the California Floristic Province (CFP) provides the perfect environment for the world’s largest tree, the giant sequoia. Stretching 293,804 km² across Oregon, California and Nevada the CFP is home to some 8,000 plant species as well as thousands of endemic insect species. Over 90% of the CFP’s original habitat has now been destroyed with the blame being placed on the commercial agriculture industry. Half of all agricultural products for US consumers derive from this region, creating enormous pressure on the fragile ecology of the forests.
The Eastern Afromontane region stretches from Saudi Arabia to Zimbabwe. The mountainous regions that make up the Eastern Afromontane are discontinuous as they are separated by lowlands. The remaining 11% of the forests, which cover the mountains, contain an enormous variety of species including over 600 endemic fish species which are found in the lakes of the forests. Humans are now threatening the stability of the ecosystem with agricultural plantations, a bushmeat trade and a timber industry rapidly diminishing animal and plant populations.
Madagascar is home to all 101 of the world’s lemur species, many of which are classified as either endangered, threatened or critically endangered. Extreme poverty, urbanisation, overpopulation, the timber industry and mining are all mounting pressure on the remaining 10% of forest that still stands. Many Madagascans rely on the forests for freshwater, food production, timber and ecotourism which provide living resources and a vital income for communities. While some areas of forest are classified as protected, they are still vulnerable to logging of rosewood and bushmeat hunting of lemurs.