Rainforest ‘defaunation’ contributes to climate change

Many people feel it’s no surprise that removing big creatures from the equation ruins the natural balance of a forest. It makes common sense. Now we have the evidence to back it up.

Everyone’s heard of deforestation. But what about defaunation? New research shows how the extinction of large animals from rainforests could help drive climate change to horrific new heights.

Decline in big forest creatures fuels climate change

According to a team from the University of East Anglia, São Paulo State University in Brazil, UEA, the Spanish National Research Council and the University of Helsinki, the research reveals how a decline in larger fruit-eating animals like primates and tapirs will have a negative knock-on effect on trees, and on global warming.

It’s a seed thing…

Big fruit eating animals like primates are brilliant at spreading seeds far and wide, and they’re particularly good at dispersing seeds from plants and trees with big seeds. Because these trees often feature dense wood, they’re better at capturing CO2 than smaller trees. Ergo, the fewer big tree seeds are spread and the fewer new trees grow, the worse the effect on climate change.

In rainforests, the larger mammals and birds are almost wholly responsible for spreading large seeds. At the same time they’re being threatened by illegal trade, hunting and the loss of natural habitats. The resulting steep decline in forest fauna is already having an effect. The remaining small birds and mammals, which aren’t hunted, can only carry and spread small seeds from smaller trees.

Large animals are vital for rainforests’ future health

The study proves the decline and extinction of large animals eventually drives a decline in large hardwood trees, studying data from over 2000 species of tree and more than 800 animal species in the beautiful Atlantic Forest in Brazil.

The findings highlight the importance of intergovernmental policies to not just cut carbon emissions, but also halt the trade in large rainforest creatures, who hold an equally important key to the forests’ long term health.


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