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Tropical Forests May Fail To Shelter Migratory Species Hit by Climate Change, Indo-Malayan Region Worst Hit

Range shifts are a crucial mechanism that enable species to avoid extinction under climate change. A recent study has found an ‘extensive and ongoing deforestation of tropical forests’ may impede the range shifts.

Swati Dey | News18.com@swatskat

Updated:July 31, 2019, 8:31 PM IST
Tropical Forests May Fail To Shelter Migratory Species Hit by Climate Change, Indo-Malayan Region Worst Hit
Representative image.

New Delhi: Researchers from the University of Sheffield and University of York have discovered how deforestation and climate change have the Indo-Malayan region is among the worst hit in providing favourable conditions to migratory species. The region extends from Afghanistan, through the Indian subcontinent to south-east Asia.

Species in our biodiversity have survived the past climate warming by moving up and down mountains and towards or away from the equator, i.e. from one range to the other. They continue to do so in search of favourable climate conditions.

Range shifts are a crucial mechanism that enable species to avoid extinction under climate change. If a recent study is to be believed, an ‘extensive and ongoing deforestation of tropical forests’ may impede the range shifts.

In their recent study, researchers Rebecca A Senior, Jane K Hill and David P Edwards have found how deforestation and climate change — two of the biggest drivers of species’ extinction — interact with each other to magnify their effects.

The authors have analysed the potential of tropical species to reach favourable or analogous climate by empirically assessing the change in ‘climate connectivity’ in response to deforestation between 2000 and 2012, amid other impacts of human activities on the environment.

Climate connectivity is referred to as the connectedness of natural areas to future climate analogues. Tropics have had the stronghold of the most existing terrestrial biodiversity and is the prominent source of new agricultural lands.

The findings are that 62% of the tropical forest area (~10 million square kilometre) is already ‘incapable’ of providing pathways to wildlife species for cooler or favourable climates.

The researchers attribute this to the continued deforestation that has led to a loss of climate connectivity for over 27%. It says, “Deforestation of tropical forests is creating a patchwork landscape where natural habitat is disconnected and confined to smaller spaces.”

Empirically put, if species’ ranges shift as far down as permitted by existing forest connectivity, by 2070, “they would still experience 0.77°C of warming under the least severe climate warming scenario and up to 2.6°C warming for the most severe scenario.”

The study says that range-shifting species in the Indo-Malaya biodiversity, which Indian forest ranges are part of, would fail to reach analogous temperatures, experiencing warming of 2.6°C.

Over 70% of the Indo-Malayan forest area would fail to connect climate analogues — a loss of about 32% in only 12 years, the study says. Similar, but not this worse, is the case with Australasia and Oceania which are warming at 2.4 and 2.2°C, respectively.

Simply put, at either given situation, the tropical forest is not sufficient to enable species to avoid climate change by changing locations. This can trigger extinction of the thermally sensitive species of the tropical forest.

For mobile species, such a situation can lead to long-distance dispersal that shall expose them to threats like reduced food intake and increased predation risk. The authors have warned that the situation may worsen if the forest loss continues at the present pace.

“In considering what we can do to solve this problem, we urgently need to fund mechanisms to stop tropical forest loss, while also investing in reforestation in places where deforestation has already been most severe,” said senior author Edwards. “The time to act is now and failure to do so will have catastrophic effects for tropical biodiversity over the coming century,” he added.

The authors suggested reinstating lost forest patches through initiatives such as the Bonn Challenge. It is a global effort to bring 150 million hectares of the world’s deforested and degraded land into restoration by 2020 and 350 million hectares by 2030.

India is a signatory to it and the government has pledged to bring under restoration 13 million hectares of degraded land by 2020 and an additional 8 million hectares by 2030.

A progress report, jointly collaborated by International Union for Conservation of Nature and the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change in 2018, on the Bonn Challenge found that India has already brought an area of 9.8 million hectares (98,109 sq-km) under restoration since 2011.

The forest cover was 6,92,027 sq-km in 2011, according to the India State of Forest Report (ISFR), that has increased by 16,246 sq-km till 2017. If the ISFRs of 2015 and 2017 are to be compared, there’s been a marginal increase of 0.2% in the forest cover — from 21.34% in 2015 to 21.54% in 2017 (an increase by 6,600 sq-km).

This has been wrongly calculated as an increase by 6,780 sq-km in a reply to Parliament. The forest cover, according to a 2015 survey was 7,01,673 sq-km and that as per the 2017 survey was 7,08,273 sq-km.

The Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change has not responded to the discrepancy in figures. This space will be updated if it responds.

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| Edited by: Sohini Goswami
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