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12. März 2018 - 5:34

Martin Taylor, a leading authority on land-use change with WWF-Australia and the University of Queensland, tells us about efforts to staunch a deadly tide of deforestation in Australia.

Beginning in 2012, rapid forest loss in the vast state of Queensland pushed Australia back onto the global list of deforestation fronts -- placing Australia among the worst forest-destroying nations on Earth.

This occurred after a newly-elected conservative government in Queensland reduced controls over bulldozing of native forests and woodlands -- a move later followed by other Australian states.

Bulldozing of forests and woodlands, mostly for livestock pastures, quickly ballooned after the controls were weakened.  Scientists and conservationists, both in Australia and internationally, were appalled.

The results have been a catastrophe for Australian wildlife.  At least 45 million mammals, birds, and reptiles are estimated to die every year as a result of habitat bulldozing, including over 1,000 koalas.

But a more progressive government in Queensland has just proposed new legislation to protect mature vegetation and high-conservation-value regrowth. 

The new legislation is part of an election promise to drive down excessive land-clearing rates.

Big Loopholes

A new report by WWF identifies two major loopholes that account for most of the land clearing -- and that must be closed to meet the election promise.

First, landowners can clear forests under "self-assessment provisions" -- effectively allowing clearing without a permit.  This accounts for up to a quarter of all clearing.

The new legislation will crack down on the worst type of self-assessed clearing -- so-called "tree thinning" -- but it doesn't close the loophole entirely.

So-called “thinning” of mature ironbark forest -- which is legal under current Queensland legislation.  The top half shows intact forest, and the lower half “thinned” forest.

Second, vast land areas are mapped as "exempt", with no restrictions on clearing.  This accounts for nearly two-thirds of all clearing, according to the WWF report.

And while many exempt areas are shrubby regrowth, at least a quarter of these are advanced secondary forest that should not be exempt.

Unfortunately, landholders can 'lock-in' exemptions just by requesting a certified property map. 

The new legislation will remove exemptions from 1 million hectares of advanced regrowth, a major step forward, but still leaves large areas exempt.

Have Your Say to Parliament

In a state that has seen catastrophic land-clearing, the proposed legislative changes for Queensland are welcome.  But they still leave big gaps.

These gaps might might be partially filled by a promised “Land Restoration Fund,” which seems designed to buy back protection for existing exempt areas, on a voluntary basis.

But will the new legislation and fund be enough to drive down rapid clearing rates and slow the alarming loss of our biodiversity

You can have your say by making a submission to the Parliamentary Inquiry before 22 March 2018. 

Tell them that Australia should not be one of the world's worst forest-destroying nations, and that it's essential that we dramatically curtail land clearing in Queensland. 

The world will be keenly watching Australia to see what happens.

Kategorien: english


3. März 2018 - 22:21

Want to live longer?  Have healthier children?  Save money?

Here we paraphrase experts who explain why intact, healthy ecosystems are crucial not just for the natural world — but for our own health and financial security.

To have healthier babies, shut down coal plants

(by Brian Bienkowski in Environmental Health News)

Babies born near an active coal plant in China had shorter telomeres — sections of DNA on the ends of chromosomes — than babies born after the plant shut down.

Shorter telomeres are linked with a host of health problems, including cancer, heart disease, brain decline, aging, and premature death.

In concert with other scientific studies, there is now an irrefutable body of evidence that closing down coal-burning plants gives babies that live nearby a greater chance at a healthy life.

In megacities, trees are giant money-savers

(from T. Endreny and colleagues in Ecological Modelling)

Earth today has 40 megacities (each with at least 10 million people) that sustain nearly a tenth of the world’s population.

The trees growing in each of those megacities are worth over $500 million per year, on average.

Most of their value arises because trees absorb dangerous air pollutants such as carbon monoxide, nitrous oxide, sulphur dioxide, and lung-damaging particulates.

Beyond their health benefits, trees in urban areas also reduce flooding, cool cities via shade and evaporation, and store carbon.

But there are too few trees in megacities — especially in the tropics and desert regions.  

Planting more trees could easily elevate their economic value and benefits for human health.

According to the United Nations Population Division, by 2100 there will be about 11 billion people on Earth, of which 9 billion will be living in cities. 

It's vital to make our cities more healthy and livable — and planting more trees would help a lot.

Even small amounts of air pollution can kill the elderly

(by Brian Bienkowski in Environmental Health News)

Elderly people have a higher risk of dying after even short-term exposure to particulate air pollution and ozone.

The levels of pollution linked to premature deaths were below current U.S. health standards set by the Environmental Protection Agency.

The risk was the same across the U.S.

"No matter where you live — in cities, in the suburbs, or in rural areas — as long as you breathe air pollution, you are at risk," said lead author Qian Di from Harvard University.

Environmental pollution kills more people than wars, disasters, and hunger

(by the Associated Press)

Environmental pollution — from filthy air to contaminated water — is killing more people every year than all war and violence in the world.  More than smoking, hunger, or natural disasters.  More than AIDS, tuberculosis, and malaria combined.

One out of every six premature deaths in the world — about 9 million in 2015 — could be attributed to disease from toxic exposure.

The financial cost from pollution-related death, sickness, and welfare is equally massive — costing some $5.9 trillion in annual losses, or about 6.2 per cent of the global economy.

Forests give clean water, and clean water gives life

(by Mikaail Kananagh, The Star Newspaper, Malaysia)

Rainforests act like giant sponges that absorb rainfall.  Some of it supplies the forest with life-giving water, some is recycled into the atmosphere, and some is released into streams and rivers in a remarkably clean state — but also much slowly than would happen if it ran off barren land.

Thus, the forests clean our water and help us to manage it by reducing the need for storage and filtration, as well as mitigating flooding. 

Without forest cover on water catchments, more water would run off during rainy periods, carrying huge loads of sand and silt scraped off the unprotected land.  Then, without the “sponge” to hold any of it back, much less would be available to be released naturally during dry periods.

We would then need an overall greater capacity for water storage.  This would coincide with reservoirs filling up with sand and silt, giving rise to the need to clean them out or to build more reservoirs.  

At the same time, we would also need a lot more investment in filtration and other water-treatment systems.

In short, we would have to manage an unending challenge of floods, droughts, and sediment that would impact severely on lives and property.  Their overall costs would be huge.

Kategorien: english


20. Februar 2018 - 22:11

Debate has erupted over a development plan for Panama’s Coiba National Park — a World Heritage Site.  Critics are worried it could unleash harmful development and be a bellwether for plans to degrade and damage other protected areas around the world.

Coiba is an island chain and vast marine area in Panama’s Pacific coast.  It contains massive reefs and among the highest fish diversity documented anywhere.

The United Nations has declared Coiba a World Heritage Site in Danger due to the aggressive development plans ahead.


The story of Coiba — the current push and pull — is reflective of many debates around protected areas, both terrestrial and marine. 

How much should we economize our protected areas?  How much infrastructure is too much?  How many tourists can a site really support?

We all want protected areas with at least some access — but at the same time we want environmental protection.

Proponents of private enterprize in protected areas argue that much can be gained by strong public-private partnerships, including saving parks that have essentially been abandoned by governments. 

But the details always matter: What exactly is being privatized?  For how long? 

In the U.S., the Trump administration has been criticized for suggesting privatizing campgrounds, selling off public lands, and proposing a massive hike in the numbers of allowed visitors for some national parks.

A plan to privatize England’s forests was abandoned in 2011 after mass protests, but environmentalists contend it is happening anyway. 

The Brazilian state of São Paulo has recently privatized 25 of its state parks leading to an outcry among environmentalists and politicians.


Parks are too often ignored by our governments — but when they aren’t, they are often seen as direct money generators, not conservation landscapes protected for all generations.

Research shows that protected areas are good for both local and national economies, so long as they are well-managed, smartly-designed, and valued not just for tourism but for protection.

Panama needs to decide just what it wants out of Coiba National Park: an industrialized tourism bonanza, or a place rich in wildlife and ecosystems that supports smaller locally-owned tourism ventures.

Many other nations are facing difficult decisions as well.

Jeremy Hance is a leading environmental journalist and regular contributor to ALERT.


Kategorien: english


10. Februar 2018 - 0:01

In an article published last week, the Chinese Academy of Sciences explained how it will share ‘big data’ satellite and computing technologies to help other nations manage China's massive development initiatives — its One Belt One Road, 21st Century Silk Road, and Polar Silk Road programs that will crisscross much of the planet.

It is vital, however, to realize that such technologies, while useful, are far from sufficient to ensure that China’s unprecedented schemes will be environmentally, economically, and socially sustainable (see here, here, and here).


The world has never seen a development force like China: one that has a powerfully centralized leadership, is intensely ambitious internationally, lacks many of the internal safeguards provided by an open media, and is the world’s most populous nation (with over 1.4 billion people).

Chinese President Xi Jinping has worked hard to ensure that his One Belt One Road initiatives are formally inscribed into China’s national constitution, effectively making it a crime for a Chinese national to criticize the program — comparable to openly disparaging the Central Communist Party.

To make matters worse, China is mesmerized by its own propaganda: Out of 179 ranked nations worldwide, China is virtually at the bottom (176th) in terms of the openness of its public media.

Hence, what a typical Chinese citizen sees, hears, and evidently often believes is essentially pro-government advocacy and self-aggrandizement — partly because of President Xi’s continuing crackdowns on social media and public discussion.

Beyond this, China is such a massive nation that it tends, like other populous countries, to be unusually self-absorbed and self-justifying in nature.

And China wants to believe its own propaganda.  That it routinely reacts with hostility and condemnation to external criticism should ring alarm bells globally.


Such nerve-wracking behavior would be less worrying were China’s model for economic and political growth not so profoundly based on global expansionism — via staggering investments in infrastructure and mining, timber, and other extractive industries that will have extraordinary ripple effects across ecosystems, societies, and economies.

Scientists working in developing nations often remark that China’s entrepreneurs and foreign investors are intensely hard-charging, hard-edged, and willing to ‘bend or break rules’ as required to achieve their aims.

Typically, such approaches are far more predatory than fair and equitable for the citizens and environments of developing nations.

To be fair, China is making impressive strides against some of its pressing internal environmental concerns, via programs aimed at replanting denuded lands, promoting solar and wind energy, and reducing air pollution, among others.

However, thanks partly to the U.S. Trump Administration’s short-sighted isolationism, China is rolling out international programs of such audacity and scope that they would be almost unimaginable in a more balanced world.

China’s leading scientists are smart and keen to collaborate internationally, but they are a lonely signpost urging “caution” against the rolling juggernaut of Chinese political, business, and financial interests that are massively expanding their foreign activities.

The hard reality boils down to this: While its political leaders try to silence international anxieties, China is so big and propelled by self-interest that it only wants to listen to itself.

Kategorien: english


30. Januar 2018 - 12:11

Malaysia and Indonesia are massive producers of palm oil, much of which is exported overseas. 

Oil palm is not only the biggest direct driver of deforestation and peat-swamp destruction in these nations but is a growing forest-killer elsewhere in the tropics -- often in mega-diversity areas such as New Guinea, Equatorial Africa, and Latin America.

Native forests and peat swamps in the tropics have remarkable biodiversity and are massive stores of carbon – the destruction of which spews out billions of tonnes of greenhouse-gas emissions each year. 


Those investing in oil palm love to find unoccupied, intact forests for their plantations.  They don't have to worry about local residents kicking up a fuss about losing their land, and the valuable timber in the forest can be used to help offset the costs of plantation production.

No wonder that vast areas of native forests are being mowed down or burned for oil palm plantations.  As one example, in Terengganu state in Peninuslar Malaysia, the government is about to allow a native forest reserve of 4,500 hectares (11,300 acres) to be destroyed for oil palm plantations.

The Malaysian Nature Society says that in just five years, from 2010 to 2015, more than 200,000 hectares (500.000 acres) of native forest has been cleared in Peninsular Malaysia, mostly for oil palm and exotic-rubber plantations.


And now a new report by the respected Rainforest Foundation Norway suggests that oil palm could become a far bigger driver of deforestation in places like Indonesia and Malaysia. 

This is because the global demand for oil palm is expected to grow six-fold by the year 2030, thanks to its rising use to create transport fuel, which is being spurred in part by alarming policy changes in China, Indonesia, and the aviation sector.

And this is despite clear evidence that oil palm is one of the worst feed-stocks for producing biodiesel because of the exceptionally high environmental costs -- to biodiversity and our climate -- as well as to local landowners displaced by the big plantation companies. 


It's for this reason that the European Union is planning to completely phase out imports of oil palm from Indonesia and Malaysia for biofuel production, as of 2021 -- a move that is causing both producer nations to howl in protest.

This kind of backlash has been a long time coming -- and let's hope that pending counter-moves by China and Indonesia don't offset the courageous E.U. ban.

Kategorien: english

Turbulent Times in the Amazon

20. Januar 2018 - 22:13

Sometimes conservation controversies explode so fast in one place that it becomes almost white-hot.

That’s what’s happening right now in the Amazon—with a cyclonic mix of good and bad news. 

We summarize here some of the key highlights.


First, Peru has just declared an expansive new national park in the Amazon. Yaguas National Park encompasses the biologically richest ecosystems on the planet, and will span about 870,000 hectares (nearly 2.2 million acres) along the Putumayo River in northeastern Peru.

The new park sustains two-thirds of Peru’s freshwater fish species as well as thousands of plants, birds, and other fauna. 

From (2018).

In addition to protecting nature, the park will benefit indigenous residents by helping to limit illegal logging and gold mining—which threaten their health and livelihoods.

ALERT’s John Terborgh, who has conducted research in Peru for over a half-century, heralds the good news but says, “Declaring a park is only the first step. The proof of the pudding will be in its implementation [by the government].” 

Fingers crossed for this vital new park.


Second, in what could become an earth-shaking precedent, Brazil has just backed away from its intensely controversial policy of building giant hydropower dams in the Amazon Basin.

Such dams not only flood large areas of forest—seriously harming biodiversity, generating major greenhouse-gas emissions, and displacing local peoples—but also require networks of new roads for dam construction and maintenance. 

By cutting into intact forests, such roads often catalyze sharp increases in forest destruction and degradation—such as fires, illegal mining, poaching, and illicit logging.  

The government of Brazilian President Michel Temer—facing possible impeachment for corruption allegations and barely clinging to political power—has traditionally favored the planned mega-dams.  Why the sudden change in policy? 

ALERT’s Philip Fearnside, a top Amazon expert, suggests the move has been prompted both by resistance from environmental and indigenous groups, and by the ongoing corruption allegations—particularly those involving hefty government contracts awarded to corporations for dam construction.  Brazil’s suffering economy hasn’t helped either.

Whatever the reason, the Temer government has correctly decided—at least for now—to halt one of the most environmentally dangerous and financially risky policies in the Amazon. 


In terms of ‘bad news’, one need look only at the incredible spate of ongoing, planned, and proposed road projects in Amazonia.  If constructed in their entirety, these projects would massively fragment and degrade the world’s largest rainforest.

For example, there is the massive Manaus-Porto Velho Highway (BR-319), which could help to chop the Amazon in half (see this recent ALERT video).

Beyond this, Peru is funding an avalanche of new roads near its border with Brazil.  A recent study suggests these roads, if completed, would lead to the loss of over 270,000 hectares of forest (680,000 acres).

Potentially worse is a proposed highway between Iquitos and Saramiriza in northern Peru—a project that would cut a massive swath through the Peruvian Amazon, including key protected areas and indigenous reserves.

This proposal is not yet funded, but if it proceeds it would be incredibly dangerous environmentally and socially.  Peru’s president, Pedro Pablo Kuczynski, is formally supporting it, although his own Ministry of Transport does not.

Keep your eyes on the Iquitos-Saramirizia highway—a potential disaster for the Peruvian Amazon. 


And a final alarm bell: scientists have just learned that deforestation rates in the Brazilian Amazon are much higher than was previously thought. 

The European Community’s new Sentinel satellites—which have much better spatial resolution than the U.S. Landsat satellites used for the past several decades—are finding much more destroyed or damaged forests on the ground. 

With a more accurate picture, it turns out that the Amazon is in considerably worse shape than we thought before.  Many forests that were formerly assumed to be intact are actually logged or fragmented. 

This is important because degraded forests are particularly vulnerable to fire—as evidenced by large areas of damaged forest that are currently aflame in the Amazon.


One could list various other worries—a wild government plan to deforest much of Beni Province in Bolivia, or China’s massive railway scheme that would cut right across South America—but the examples above make the point. 

The Amazon is boiling right now, with both good and bad news.  It’s a crucial time for conservationists to raise their game.


Kategorien: english

Why Chop the Amazon Rainforest in Half?

10. Januar 2018 - 22:55

ALERT researchers released today a one-minute video that shows how a massive development scheme in Brazil could effectively chop the Amazon — the world's greatest rainforest — in half.

Brazil is currently working to complete a dramatic upgrade to the BR-319 Highway, an 870 kilometer-long road segment running between the city of Manaus in central Amazonia to Porto Velho in southern Amazonia.

Once completed, this road will link directly to the BR-174 Highway, which runs from Manaus to the northern border of Brazil.

Together, the two paved highways will slice the Amazon in half along a north-south axis. 

Brazil has already completed a giant bridge, spanning 3.6 kilometers in length, that traverses the Rio Negro ("Black River") near Manaus.  The bridge will help to connect the two highways together.

Not Enough Protection

Some protected or indigenous areas are in place along the BR-319 route but they are not nearly enough to staunch the impacts that will arise from cutting open the Amazon so profoundly to human activities. 

In the past, paved highways in the Amazon have frequently opened a Pandora's box of human impacts, including large-scale deforestation, fires, illegal logging, wildlife poaching, illicit gold mining, and land speculation. 

For example, the BR-163, another paved highway that slices across the southern Amazon, resulted in a massive line of human-lit forest fires that would have been visible from the moon.

The Amazon video was written and produced by ALERT director Bill Laurance, with the videography done by Laurie Hedges.  Laurance has been studying the impacts of forest fragmentation and road development on Amazonian ecosystems since 1996.

ALERT member Philip Fearnside, another leading Amazon expert, has been warning about the severe environmental impacts of upgrading the BR-319 into a major highway for more than a decade.

Amazonian rainforests are probably the biologically richest ecosystems on Earth.

Kategorien: english

Is Our Planet Ready for 2 Billion Cars?

20. Dezember 2017 - 1:55

By 2010 the Earth had reached a remarkable milestone: one billion cars — or, to be precise, one billion motorized vehicles, including cars, trucks, buses, and motorcycles but excluding off-road vehicles such as tractors and bulldozers.  

And if that figure isn’t jolting enough, by 2030 it’s projected that we will have double that number: 2 billion cars

What will this mean for our planet, our health, our lifestyles, and our environment?

Traffic Jam

The exponential increase in vehicles is coinciding with the growth of megacities across the world, especially in developing nations.  By 2030, more than half of the projected 9 billion people on Earth will live in cities.

If you think traffic jams are bad now, imagine what it’ll be like with another 2 billion people than we have today — increasingly crammed into cities and driving another 1 billion vehicles. 

If you’ve ever visited a mega-city like Beijing or São Paulo or Jakarta, you’ll realize that traffic chaos is the norm, not the exception.  And that’s even outside of rush hours. 

And with more vehicles, traffic accidents will increase.  The World Health Organization estimates that 1.25 million people are currently killed in vehicle accidents each year.  For people ranging from 15 to 29 years of age, it is the number one cause of death. 

By 2030, the number of fatalities is expected to rise to 1.8 million people per year.  If vehicle-related mortality were considered a global epidemic, it’d be a more important killer than HIV-AIDS.

Greenhouse Gases

At the Paris climate conference, global leaders committed to limit global warming to 2 degrees C, with a stated aspiration to limit the increase to 1.5 degrees C.  But it’s a bit difficult to see how we’re going to get there in a world with 2 billion smoke-belching vehicles. 

In the car-mad U.S., the transportation sector (which also includes planes, trains, and ships) accounts for 28% of all greenhouse gas emissions, second in importance only to energy generation (34%).  As developing nations rapidly expand their use of motorized vehicles, their greenhouse-gas profiles will increasingly resemble that of the U.S. 

Until recently, diesel engines, which burn fuel more efficiently than petrol engines, have been pushed hard in many nations.  However, it’s now understood that diesels, unless operating under optimal conditions, produce large amounts of heat-absorbing soot and toxic nitrogen oxides

Try Not to Breathe

If you live in a big city, a good survival strategy is to hold your breath.  This may not be viable for long periods of time but as a short-term approach it clearly has its benefits.

That’s because motorized vehicles are a massive source of urban air pollution, and especially of nano-particles that have been linked to maladies ranging from increased autoimmune diseases to cardiovascular disease.  

Indeed, a 2014 study by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology concluded that, in the U.S., you’re considerably more likely to die from vehicle-related pollutants than from car crashes.

In developing nations, where pollution-reducing devices such as well-maintained catalytic converters and lead-free gasoline lag behind those in industrial nations, the human toll is likely to be even worse.

Roads Everywhere?

Possibly the worst impact of all those additional vehicles will be the new roads they require.  It’s currently projected that, by 2050, the world will have another 25 million kilometers of paved roads — enough to encircle the planet more than 600 times.

Today, new roads are going virtually everywhere, including many of the world’s last surviving wild places.  We build roads to log forests, to extract oil, gas and minerals, to defend our borders, to increase economic growth and trade, and to integrate our economies. 

It would be one thing if we’d just build the roads, but they also open up wild areas to a Pandora’s box of environmental ills — ranging from increased wildlife poaching to elevated forest destruction, wildfire, illegal mining, and land speculation. 

Globally, the frenetic expansion of roads is probably the single greatest threat to nature.  Climate change is eroding ecosystems like an acid, but road expansion is battering away at them like a sledgehammer.

What Are We to Do?

How can we add another billion cars and not cost the Earth?  Here are three suggestions.

First, we need to drive smaller, more fuel-efficient vehicles.  In Europe, for instance, small and even tiny cars are increasingly the norm.  There’s enormous scope for the U.S., Canada, Australia, and many other industrial and developing nations to move in this direction.

Second, we need to get a lot smarter about where we put roads.  Roads should be avoided in remaining wilderness, sites with high biodiversity, and protected areas.  ALERT researchers have been leading global efforts to map out where on Earth roads should and should not go (see here, here, here, here, here, here, and here), to maximize their social benefits while limiting their environmental costs.

Finally, we need to raise taxes on petroleum and add surcharges for petrol-guzzling vehicles.  We can use those proceeds to improve public transportation and amenities such as bicycle lanes.  There’s simply no rational reason that one human needs a Chevy pickup exceeding 2,000 kilograms to move around.

The bottom line: Unless we start thinking hard, we’ll soon be living in an increasingly noisy, polluted, and nature-deprived world where the din of 2 billion cars seems far more like a curse than a blessing.

Kategorien: english


4. Dezember 2017 - 8:37

As we all know, habitat fragmentation is an enormous peril to Earth's biodiversity.  And it increasingly appears to be a danger to our climate as well.

As humans fragment forests they create large amounts of abrupt, artificial forest edge.  In the tropics, for example, there is now an incredible 50 million kilometers of forest edge -- enough to stretch one-third of the way between the Earth and the Sun.

According to two recent studies, such fragmentation causes tropical forests to lose a large amount of their carbon.  That lost carbon goes into the atmosphere, increasing the risks of harmful climate change.

Carbon collapse near forest edges

The first study, based on analyses of satellite imagery by Rebecca Chaplin-Kramer and colleagues, suggests that fragmented tropical forests are losing a remarkable 25 percent of their biomass (and hence their carbon) within the first 500 meters of their forest edges.

Oil palm plantations fragment a forest in Borneo

Why is this carbon collapse happening?  Lots of trees are dying near forest edges, especially the towering canopy trees -- which contain much of the carbon stored in forests.

The intense vulnerability of large tropical trees was first revealed by a team led by ALERT's Bill and Susan Laurance and Thomas Lovejoy.  This research suggested that microclimatic stresses and heavy wind turbulence near forest edges were the major tree killers. 

Dead trees litter the margins of rainforest fragments

Further disturbances are caused by edge-related forest fires.  In the Amazon, for instance, most cattle ranchers burn their pastures each year to control weeds and produce a flush of green grass for their cattle.  These pasture fires can penetrate hundreds or even thousands of meters into the interiors of nearby forest fragments, killing many trees and other plants.

Ecological Ripple-Effects

The second study, by Carolina Bello and colleagues, is just as ecologically intriguing.  It's well known that big animals such as primates, large fruit-eating birds, elephants, and other seed-dispersing animals disappear in forests that have been fragmented or heavily hunted.

These animals often find the limited universe of a forest fragment too small for survival, or vanish when killed off by poachers armed with rifles and snares.

Spider monkeys are essential seed dispersers

Many of these vulnerable animals are vital dispersers for large-seeded trees.  Without the animals, the big seeds just accumulate at the base of their parent trees, where they are killed by natural enemies such as seed beetles or fungi. 

And large-seeded trees have big seeds for a good reason: when the seeds germinate, their seedlings need enough nutrients to survive for a long time -- sometimes waiting many years for a treefall gap to occur, at which point the seedling has enough light to start growing into a tall tree.

Big Trees Contain Lots of Carbon

In terms of their carbon storage, big-seeded trees have two key features.  First, because they grow slowly they tend to have dense wood -- which stores a lot of carbon. 

Second, these big-seeded species often grow into massive canopy or emergent trees.

So, what happens if you kill off the animals that disperse the forest's big seeds?  You get a forest that progressively loses the towering, densely-wooded trees that make rainforests so carbon-rich.

Fewer large animals means fewer big trees -- and less carbon storage in rainforests (from C. Bello et al. 2015. Science Advances).

Take-home messages

The bottom line: fragmentation and defaunation are really bad for tropical rainforests.  They play havoc with their ecology and diminish their biodiversity in myriad ways.

And beyond this, by damaging the capacity of rainforests to store carbon, habitat fragmentation worsens harmful climate change -- and that's bad for all of us.

Kategorien: english


28. November 2017 - 6:54

Dam.  Say it again.  Dam.

That’s the sound of degraded wild rivers, devastated fish populations, planetary warming, and indigenous and local residents losing their homes and livelihoods.  Damn.

While large-scale dams have long been touted as an environmentally friendly energy resource—as green—they are anything but.


In the tropics, a slew of mega-dams over the last few decades have led to crippled fisheries, conflicts with local and indigenous peoples, severe deforestation due from road networks created to build dams, and large releases of methane—a greenhouse gas far more potent than carbon dioxide.

Because they spew out so much methane, dams in the tropics can actually produce more greenhouse gas emissions than conventional fossil fuels such as coal.

Today, Brazil is planning nearly 50 dams on the Tapajós River Basin of Amazonia alone, seemingly learning nothing from its hugely controversial and corruption-laden Belo Monte Dam.  And hundreds of additional dams are planned for other Amazon and Andean Rivers.

Dams aren’t wreaking havoc only in South America.  Asia’s mighty Mekong River is now threatened by a planned suite of massive dams.

And in tropical Africa, two massive dams, Inga 1 and Inga 2, have been built on the Congo River.  A third planned mega-dam, Inga 3, would be the largest dam in the world.


Research has shown that dams are often not the good economic bet they are made out to be.  For instance, the construction costs alone of megadams often outweigh their worth—not even accounting for their environmental and social costs.

And many megadams are used primarily to power large-scale industrial projects that suck up tremendous amounts of energy, such as mining and smelting industries, rather than promoting rural electrical supplies.

Just as important: there are strong alternatives to big, high-risk dams.  ALERT member Philip Fearnside points out that Brazil has ample opportunity for efficient solar and wind energy, yet refuses to consider it seriously.

And a recent review article, coauthored by ALERT director Bill Laurance, found that hydropower is by far the most environmentally damaging of the so-called green energy sources, which also include wind and solar energy.

We need to stop pretending that dams belong in the ‘green’ category.

Biodiversity losses, conflicts with local communities, high economic risks, and major greenhouse-gas emissions are not green, but will only push us further down the road of the damned.

Jeremy Hance is a leading environmental journalist and regular contributor to ALERT.



Kategorien: english