October 22, 2005

Satellite images reveal Amazon forest shrinking faster

Deforestation can radically alter the environmental "services" the forests provide - from scrubbing the atmosphere of CO2 and harboring useful plants and animals to reducing erosion.

For example, in a related Science research paper, Columbia University ecologist Daniel Bunker and colleagues found that above-ground carbon storage varied widely, depending on which tree species vanish from within a patch of tropical rain forest and what triggered their loss.

In a 123-acre tropical-forest research site in Panama, they experimented with different mixes of species. The results show that carbon storage is strongly influenced by the types of trees present and the ways in which they are lost. Selective logging of prized hardwoods removes a small number of species from a forest. But it substantially reduces the forest's above-ground carbon storage because the lost wood is dense.

The bottom line, Dr. Bunker says, is that preserving species diversity may be the best way to ensure humans continue to reap the services healthy ecosystems provide.


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