New study, reforesting tropics essential for biodiversity conservation

Dense tropical vegetation

In partnership with Conservation International and the Global Trophic Cascades Program at Oregon State University, the ASU Center for Biodiversity Outcomes published a new study in Conservation Biology revealing the potentially significant contribution reforestation could have on biodiversity conservation.

The publication, titled “Global reforestation and biodiversity conservation,” was led by Postdoctoral Research Associate Krista Kemppinen and co-authored by Pamela Collins and David Hole from Conservation International, Christopher Wolf and William Ripple from the Global Trophic Cascades Program at Oregon State University and Center for Biodiversity Outcomes Founding Director Leah Gerber.

In 2019, a United Nations report, co-authored by Gerber, revealed that one million wildlife species are currently in danger of extinction – the main drivers being climate change and habitat loss.

During the past couple of years, lead author Kemppinen has been studying the role of nature in achieving the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals. Her research on ecological-based solutions to reduce the number of species loss revealed the promising effects of reforestation.

The UN’s Convention on Biological Diversity calls for the restoration of at least 15 percent of degraded ecosystems. Yet, the potential impacts that reforestation has for biodiversity conservation and climate change mitigation continue to be debated.

In this study, the scientists analyzed maps of threatened species and degraded forests that have restoration potential. Areas that overlap on the maps identify opportunities for conserving species. The results were encouraging.

Nearly half of the maps overlapped, meaning that restoration has the potential to conserve a diverse range of threatened wildlife. In fact, the overlapping area is more than 1.424 million square miles of degraded land that could be restored.

As stated in the study’s abstract, “Reforestation on at least 43% (∼ 369 million ha) of reforestable area was predicted to potentially benefit threatened vertebrates. This is approximately 15% of the total area where threatened vertebrates occur. The greatest opportunities for conserving threatened vertebrate species are in the tropics, particularly Brazil and Indonesia.”

These findings recognize the potential and significant contribution reforestation could make to biodiversity conservation as a complementary strategy and calls for the global implementation of policies to support restoring habitats.

In addition, the scientists show that reforesting the proposed degraded areas would also positively contribute to climate-change mitigations, propelling multiple sustainability efforts in the right direction.

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