From outer space to the ground: Analyzing high-resolution images from satellites, new research proves how prevalent the impact of deforestation and the fragmentation of forests is. But there’s still a way out.
Normally you are confronted with sad-looking gorillas, cute chimpanzees or clumsy armadillos when talking about deforestation - but probably an angry-looking bird like this curassow is more impressive?
"This bird hates deforestation," states a picture caption on The Conversation, an Australian platform for scientists writing about their research area. Like gorillas, chimpanzees and armadillos, birds like curassows are strongly affected by deforestation as the area in which they live decreases dramatically.
Exactly how dramatic that reduction is has just been proven by a new study that analyzed high-resolution satellite images. The scientists found that the problem is not only mere deforestation, but fragmentation - the idea that forests are being broken down into “forest islands”, surrounded by civilization: 70 percent of the world's remaining forest is found within one kilometer of any signs of civilization like fields, settlements or streets, while 20 percent is even within a 100-meter reach - the distance of a football field - the researchers from North Carolina State University found.
Fragmentation of remaining forest bits - seen on this Google Earth satellite image of Brazil's Sinop region for example - speeds up biodiversity's decrease.
That forests are shrinking is neither a secret, nor a surprise, which is why the research team dug further into the question over how this affects biodiversity by analyzing several long-term studies on five continents.
Living closer to the edge of forests - and therefore closer to human settlements - birds and mammals, for example, are hunted more easily and thus less animals (and also plants) were found in the investigated areas - fragmentation was found to reduce biodiversity in these "forest islands" by between 13 and 75 percent, depending on their size.
Move on to solving the problem
The study found that effects were greatest in the smallest and most isolated fragments and magnified over time: "The initial negative effects were unsurprising," team-leader Nick Haddad stated in a press release. "But I was blown away by the fact that these negative effects became even more negative with time. Some results showed a 50 percent or higher decline in plant and animals species over an average of just 20 years, for example. And the trajectory is still spiraling downward."
As we seem to have now nailed the extent of the problem - perhaps humans are ready to move on to solving it? Because ideas for a proper solution already exist: improve landscape connectivity. So called bio-corridors have been proven to reduce extinction rates and help maintain functioning ecosystems.