A third (30%) of the world’s trees are at risk of extinction.
- Well-known trees such as magnolias and dipterocarps among most threatened, with oaks, maple (Acer) and ebonies also at risk.
- Agriculture, logging, and livestock farming are the top threats but climate change and extreme weather are emerging dangers.
- Islands including St Helena (69% of trees threatened), Madagascar (59%) and Mauritius (57%) have highest proportion of threatened trees.
(London, UK) — Today, Botanic Gardens Conservation International (BGCI) has published a landmark State of the World’s Trees report. The report, compiling work led by the Global Tree Assessment (GTA), is the culmination of five years of research to identify major gaps in tree conservation efforts. It is one of the first assessments of the world’s threatened trees.
Examining the globe’s 60,000 tree species, it reveals that 30% (17,500) of tree species are currently at risk of extinction. That means there are twice the number of threatened tree species globally than threatened mammals, birds, amphibians and reptiles combined.
Over 440 tree species are right on the brink of extinction, the report reveals, meaning they have fewer than 50 individuals remaining in the wild. These species are found all over the world, from the Mulanje cedar in Malawi, with only a few remaining individuals on Mulanje Mountain, to the Menai whitebeam found only in North Wales, which has only 30 trees remaining.
The report finds hope for the future, however, as conservation efforts led by the botanical community worldwide are growing. Identifying which trees are at risk and ensuring these are protected is the most effective way to prevent extinction and restore endangered species. The report reveals that at least 64% of all tree species can be found in at least one protected area, and about 30% can be found in botanic gardens, seed banks, or other ex situ collections, but further action is needed.
The State of the World’s Trees report brings together research from over 60 institutional partners, including botanic gardens, forestry institutions and universities worldwide, as well as more than 500 experts who have contributed to tree assessments in the last five years.
Yu Feng, Alan D. Ziegler, Paul R. Elsen, Yang Liu1, Xinyue He, Dominick V. Spracklen, Joseph Holden, Xin Jiang1, Chunmiao Zheng and Zhenzhong Zeng
Southeast Asia contains about half of all tropical mountain forests, which are rich in biodiversity and carbon stocks, yet there is debate as to whether regional mountain forest cover has increased or decreased in recent decades. Here, our analysis of high-resolution satellite datasets reveals increasing mountain forest loss across Southeast Asia. Total mean annual forest loss was 3.22 Mha yr−1 during 2001–2019, with 31% occurring on the mountains. In the 2010s, the frontier of forest loss moved to higher elevations (15.1 ± 3.8 m yr−1 during 2011–2019, P < 0.01) and steeper slopes (0.22 ± 0.05° yr−1 during 2009–2019, P < 0.01) that have high forest carbon density relative to the lowlands. These shifts led to unprecedented annual forest carbon loss of 424 Tg C yr−1, accelerating at a rate of 18 ± 4 Tg C yr−2 (P < 0.01) from 2001 to 2019. Our results underscore the immedi-ate threat of carbon stock losses associated with accelerating forest clearance in Southeast Asian mountains, which jeopardizes international climate agreements and biodiversity conservation.
By Brandon Barrett
Herb Hammond doesn’t quite fit the picture you probably have in mind of the typical forester.
A Dalai-Lama-quoting policy wonk, author and ecologist with 40 years experience in the industry, Hammond belies the clichéd image of forester as grizzled lumberman decked out in plaid.
But Hammond also defies the usual notion of forester in another significant way: He fervently believes B.C.’s forest management framework needs a complete overhaul—and urgently.
“Forestry causes the largest losses of biological diversity across this province, indeed virtually everywhere that it’s practised. It’s the primary cause of water degradation. It’s a major contributor to floods and droughts, and believe it or not, in B.C., it’s less than two-and-a-half per cent of the gross domestic product. That shows you the power of assumptions of convenience about what’s driving our economy. Certainly it’s not forestry,” he said. “Either we’re going to change this or we’re going to continue to down a path where Earth will change us.”
Hammond was the keynote speaker at an in-depth forestry webinar co-hosted last month by the Whistler Naturalists and the Association of Whistler Area Residents for the Environment, where he picked apart B.C.’s current forestry system, and laid out his vision for a new way of managing the province’s most vital asset that puts ecological integrity over industry profitability.
One of the most common notions put forth by the timber lobby is that old-growth forest, typically defined in B.C. as trees over the age of 250 on the coast, and 140 in the Interior, as a renewable resource. Not so, says local forest ecologist and Whistler Naturalists co-founder Bob Brett.
“Logging removes old forest from the landscape, and I think for all intents and purposes, we can say forever,” he relayed. “If you take out a forest that’s 300, 500, over 1,000 years old and then plant it like it has been planted at the higher elevations up in the Soo Valley, it will never in reasonable terms recover to being the old-growth forest it used to be. It’s going to be simpler, it’s going to have fewer species that require this old-forest habitat, and it will have fewer underground fungal connections. There are many reasons why it will never be the same forest again.”
While he acknowledges the legislation is by no means perfect. Hammond pointed to several landmark acts adopted south of the border as a potential example for B.C. to follow if we want to transform how forests are managed here.
In short, legislation like the U.S. Endangered Species Act, the National and Environmental Policy Act, which mandates ecological assessments “right down to individual cut blocks,” Hammond said, and the National Forest Management Act, which sets out clear standards for timber harvesting, as essential tools for the American public to keep industry accountable.
“I don’t think for a minute that forestry is perfect in the U.S.; trust me. But this provides a framework for accountability and communication,” he said.“We need to change the tenure system. What’s the rational for that? That public land was given to corporations because it was viewed by the government of the day to provide social benefits, and it was given and done quickly,” Hammond stressed. “We need to now quickly take back that public forest based on ecological and social needs.
“We better deploy our parachute or we’re not going to like how we land. As people, we need to reassume responsibility for the forest around us in socially and culturally responsible ways, based on ecosystem protection.”
By Soyeon Bae, et al
Recent progress in remote sensing provides much-needed, large-scale spatio-temporal information on habitat structures important for biodiversity conservation. Here we examine the potential of a newly launched satellite-borne radar system (Sentinel-1) to map the biodiversity of twelve taxa across five temperate forest regions in central Europe. We show that the sensitivity of radar to habitat structure is similar to that of airborne laser scanning (ALS), the current gold standard in the measurement of forest structure. Our models of different facets of biodiversity reveal that radar performs as well as ALS; median R² over twelve taxa by ALS and radar are 0.51 and 0.57 respectively for the first non-metric multidimensional scaling axes representing assemblage composition. We further demonstrate the promising predictive ability of radar-derived data with external validation based on the species composition of birds and saproxylic beetles. Establishing new area-wide biodiversity monitoring by remote sensing will require the coupling of radar data to stratified and standardized collected local species data.
An international conservation group is warning that more than half of the European tree species that exist nowhere else in the world are threatened with extinction.
The International Union for the Conservation of Nature said in a new report Friday that 58% of the continent’s 454 native trees are threatened and 15% are “critically endangered” – one step away from extinction.
More than 150 experts contributed to the report, which the conservancy called the first comprehensive assessment of the extinction risk of trees in Europe.
The findings in the “European Red List of Trees” come amid heightened concern about environmental issues and extinction risks in Europe and beyond. A U.N. report on biodiversity released in May warned that extinction looms for over 1 million species of plants and animals.
IUCN, a 71-year-old organization known for its “Red List” classification of threatened species, said that “invasive and problematic” species are the top threat to European trees, with urban development and “unsustainable logging” as other factors.
The group’s Europe director, Luc Bas, said “human-led activities” were resulting in population declines of important tree species.
Among the recommendations , the report’s authors called for the creation of protected areas, improved monitoring and increased research on the impacts of climate change on forests and individual tree species.
By Evan Bush
Scientists are using cutting-edge research in their efforts to restore Southwest Washington’s Ellsworth Creek Preserve, in hopes of easing the impacts of climate change.
Standing between nearly uniform rows of hemlock trees, scientist Tiara Moore clutched a tiny vial of evidence.
Filled with dirt and no bigger than her pinkie finger, the vial contained traces of hundreds, perhaps even thousands of creatures that had oozed by, crawled past or fluttered into this tiny corner of the Ellsworth Creek Preserve.
The microscopic flecks of DNA — from insects, amoebas and mushrooms — could help tell the story of a forest trying to regrow to its former might.
These forest forensics, part of a fast-growing field called environmental DNA, will tell researchers what’s living here, which, in turn, tells forest managers if what they’re doing is working here.
The soil where Moore dug for DNA was once rooted with old-growth trees common across the coastal Northwest, before decades of clear-cutting stripped them from the land.
Restoring landscapes like these helps take up and store more carbon, part of the solution to reduce the impacts of climate change.
The Nature Conservancy, a nonprofit which owns about 8,000 acres at Ellsworth, hopes Moore’s work can help in pursuit of a longtime Northwest quest: to restore its old-growth forests — rich with biodiversity — and fast.
“These are some of the most carbon-rich systems on Earth,” said David Rolph, director of land conservation for the organization in Washington. “Could we rebuild?”
The conservancy’s theory — backed by years of Northwest forest science — was that thinning and mimicking nature would create a more complex, vibrant forest with a diversity of species, more light for trees and less competition among them for nutrients.
“Any modeling you do will show you get bigger trees faster with thinning,” Rolph said. “You can manipulate and accelerate that complexity.”
The larger the tree, the more carbon can be absorbed and stored, making old-growth forests a boon to mitigating climate change.
By Eloise Gibson
Pinus Radiata sequesters carbon at a much higher rate in NZ than much-preferred native trees. So scientists propose an unconventional solution to get the best of both.
To measure how much carbon is in a tree, you first have to kill it.
You slice up the trunk, branches, twigs, leaves and roots and dry the dismembered tree parts in an oven. Then you weigh them.
“It takes a long time,” says Euan Mason, a professor at the University of Canterbury’s School of Forestry. “I did some in 2012 with two students, and in six weeks I think we did 25 trees.”
Sacrificing trees like this is expensive, but researchers need these measurements.
Typically, about half a tree’s dry weight is carbon, which you can multiply by roughly 3.7 to work out how much carbon dioxide the tree has sucked from the atmosphere.
Once enough trees of different ages and species have been dissected, the results are used to help build computer models estimating how much carbon is in a hectare of living forest, or an entire country’s worth of trees.
Forest owners can use models like this to see how much money they can claim for carbon credits under the Emissions Trading Scheme. Similar estimates tell the Ministry for the Environment that New Zealand’s forests removed 24 million tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent from the atmosphere in 2017, enough to offset 29 percent of the country’s greenhouse gas emissions.
Most of this CO2 was absorbed by Pinus Radiata, a species much-loved by commercial foresters for its astonishing rate of growth, but seemingly little-loved by anyone in the general population.
Radiata became the nation’s wood crop after most of our ancient Kauri forests were destroyed by indiscriminate logging in the 1880s. (“I wouldn’t call it forestry, because it was just pillaging,” says Mason).
Permanent indigenous forest still covers a much larger area than pine – almost quarter of the country, compared with 6.6 percent in wood plantations. But old-growth forests on conservation land are excluded from the tallies of New Zealand’s carbon sinks and emissions. (This sounds less insane after you find out that mature forests often reach a steady state, sucking about the same amount of CO2 they are losing from dead wood.)
For such peaceful beings, trees have sparked some heated arguments lately: how many we should plant, where and what kind. One point on which no one disagrees is that New Zealand needs to hold on to its old, indigenous forests: mature forest in the conservation estate holds about twice as much carbon per hectare as tree plantations do. After all, our ancient forest has centuries to hoard it.
But the question of what to plant in the next few decades is different, and even forestry scientists can’t agree. The basic points are common ground. We face a climate emergency. The Government, like others around the world, is committed to being carbon neutral by 2050. Trees can help.
But do we want maximum carbon-sucking, fast, or do we value other attributes more, or is there some way to have it all?
UNESCO’s World Heritage Committee voted Friday to add Iran’s Hyrcanian forests to its World Heritage List, praising the area for its “remarkable” biodiversity. The ancient Hyrcanian forests in northern Iran run 530 miles (850 kilometres) along the coast of the Caspian Sea, according to the global body. “Their floristic biodiversity is remarkable,” UNESCO said, with some 44 per cent of Iran’s known vascular plants found in the Hyrcanian area.
The forests, which date back up to 50 million years, are also home to the Persian leopard and nearly 60 other mammal species, as well as 160 bird species.
They were just one of two natural sites added to the UNESCO list on Friday, the other in China, when the World Heritage Committee met in Azerbaijan’s capital of Baku.
Iran’s only other natural site listed by UNESCO is the Lut Desert in the country’s southwest, which gained the status three years ago.
By Mark Johnson
This huge yet little-known South American wilderness is under threat. But plans to turn it into a sustainable tourism hub will help protect its people and wildlife.
In the far north of Argentina lies a vast and extremely hot lowland known as the Gran Chaco. Were you to find yourself in it, as I did, you might kayak across a lily-filled lagoon and stumble into a solitary mansion peeking out above an endless sea of green.
It was here, at Estancia La Fidelidad, that eccentric rancher Manuel Roseo lived until 2011, when he was brutally murdered by criminals hoping to take his large (and little-touched) property. Thanks to the quick actions of Argentinian conservationists, provincial officials and the federal government, that tragedy had a silver lining with the birth of a new national park that could just shine a light on a forgotten South American wilderness.
El Impenetrable national park opened to the public in August 2017, following a telenovela’s worth of drama that included not only Roseo’s murder but the hunt for his missing heirs and a long legal battle to expropriate his land. At 128,000 hectares, it’s now the largest national park in northern Argentina and a beacon of hope for the entire Gran Chaco, which fans out into Paraguay, Bolivia and Brazil (where it is connected to the Pantanal region) and is South America’s second-largest forest ecosystem after the Amazon.
While the Amazon has become a rallying cry for environmentalists, the bulbous silk floss trees, towering cacti and bushy bramble of the Chaco are disappearing in relative silence. Never as well-known – or as protected – as the Amazon, the Chaco is fast becoming the domain of cattle ranches and soya farms.
By Dr. Ranil Senanayake
What is known by science reveals the forest as an ecosystem of tremendous complexity. The trees, while providing the essential framework of a forest constitutes only a fraction of the total biodiversity. It contains a huge array of organisms, that continually change in form and function. Thus biodiversity is what gives a forest its identity. It should also be borne in mind that, from the small bushes of an area after a fire to the tall growth fifty years later, the species and architecture goes through many changes, and all these ecosystems are expressions of the growing, maturing forest.
The international response to the loss of natural forest ecosystems can be seen in the massive global investment in forestry. However, a great majority of these revegetation programs around the world do not seem to provide an environment that is hospitable for sustaining local forest biodiversity. A situation brought about by neglect of the ecological and biodiverse reality of a forest in project planning. There is no excuse to be found in the argument that there was no information. Forest Ecology has a long and distinguished history in the scientific literature. The result of this neglect was that institutional forestry activity was centered around the growing of even aged monocultures of fast growing trees with no requirement to attend to the rehabilitation of forests.
The discussions on the sustainable management of forests still lack clear definitions creating a sense of confusion in the identification of goals. For instance, the inability to distinguish between plantations and forests have allowed processes that have led to a massive reduction of forest biodiversity. A clear definition of ‘a Forest’ needs to be clarified and harmonized in statements transmitted from the CBD to the IPF or the CSD. As forests are biological entities, any criteria or indicator chosen to represent biodiversity status must be rooted in biological variables. The current practices of assessing physical cover alone will not adequately indicate forest quality and trends. In this context, socio-cultural values should also be incorporated into the setting of criteria and indicators. Further, for every acre of forest that stands today, hundreds of acres of forest have been lost in the surrounding countryside. Yet there has been no mention of the need for rehabilitation and recovery of the biodiversity status of such degraded lands. If these fundamental issues are not addressed, the loss of forests and biodiversity in these critical ecosystems cannot be contained.