There Are Really Only Two Big Patches of Intact Forest Left on Earth

Can a forest that exists only in the spaces between roads and patches cleared for human settlement and agricultural development truly be called a forest? Not so much, say researchers studying the growing, global problem of forest fragmentation.

The new study found that fragmented habitats lose an average of half of their plant and animal species within twenty years, and that some continue to lose species for thirty years or more. In all of the cases examined, the worst losses occurred in the smallest habitat patches and closest to a habitat edge. The study also demonstrates, using a high-resolution map of global tree cover, that more than seventy per cent of the world’s forest now lies within one kilometer of such an edge.

The consequences of that forest loss, the researchers discovered, may be more profound than we’ve previously realized. Fragmented habitats, they found, can reduce plant and animal diversity by anywhere from 13 to 75 percent. Fragmented forests experienced a decline in their core ecosystem functions, as well: they were less able to sequester carbon dioxide, an important element of mitigating climate change, and displayed reduced productivity and pollination.

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