Deforestation Shame in Australia

Think deforestation and Australia doesn’t immediately spring to mind. Maybe it should. According to the Society for Conservation Biology Oceania conference in Brisbane held in the summer, eleven regions of the world have been highlighted as in the most danger from deforestation. And eastern Australia is the only one in a developed country.

Rampant destruction and deforestation must be stopped

At the conference more than 200 senior scientists from Australia and beyond signed a statement ‘describing the rampant deforestation taking place across the continent and offering solutions’. It looks like fast-accelerating destruction of the nation’s forest, woodland and grassland is one of the biggest threats to the county’s unique wildlife, putting 60% of Australia’s 1700 or more endangered species at risk.

100 million native creatures lost in Queensland alone

Habitat disturbance sits at the heart of the problem, introducing predators and invasive species, and restricting the mobility of native species. Around 100 million native birds, reptiles and mammals perished between 1998 and 2005 thanks to habitat destruction in New South Wales and 100 million more in Queensland between 1997 and 1999.

Planting replacement trees just isn’t good enough

On the bright side, the nation’s government has promised to plant 20 million trees by 2020. On the downside, it just isn’t enough. Over 20 million trees are cleared in Queensland alone every year.

The scientists at the conference recommended ‘completely’ protecting habitats with high conservation value, restoring cleared landscapes, recognising biodiversity in every policy decision, and assessing  the impact of every single land clearing request in fine detail. All of which illustrates just how far the problem has already been allowed to go.

An early spring means trees use up crucial soil nitrogen too early

Apparently forests use up the nitrogen in soil faster during the typically earlier, greener springs we’re getting thanks to climate change. And it’s affecting trees in unusual ways.

The University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science has found that our fast-warming climate is causing earlier springs and later autumns in the USA’s vast eastern forests. This in turn makes the growing season longer, and changes the way forests work.

More demand for nitrogen means trees run out of food before autumn

It looks like earlier springs increase the trees’ demand for nitrogen, which means fewer leaves later in the growing season as well as early, pre-fall leaf loss. Trees use up more nitrogen in these early springs than the soil contains naturally, which in turn affects the amount of CO2 they’re able to remove from the air.

The positive side – Might this mean cleaner water?

The researchers harnessed a blend of satellite images and field measurements to reveal trees’ extra demand for soil nitrogen during early springs. The good news is that a bigger demand for nitrogen might mean less nitrogen finding its way into lakes, rivers and streams. The trouble is, earlier springs mean there isn’t enough nitrogen in the soil to ‘feed’ the trees throughout the elongated growing season.

Affecting forest growth rates

The scientists studied 222 trees, broken into three species, in Prince William Forest Park, Harpers Ferry Historical Park, Catoctin Mountain Park and Great Smoky Mountains Park, studying three decades of satellite imagery and comparing it with wood production and wood chemistry data.

While forest growth rates aren’t slowing down quite yet, they are not as good as they might be if there was enough nitrogen in the soil to last the full season

Article on behalf of The Rainforest Foundation.

South Korea’s shameful Indonesian palm oil antics

It’s scandalous enough that a South Korean-owned company has been caught cutting down primary rainforest for timber. Worse still, the corporate vandals are also busy setting illegal fires to clear land to plant more oil palms, and they’re doing it despite being forbidden by Indonesian law.

Environmental groups are taking a very dim view of South Korea’s disgraceful behaviour, as are we, and we’re determined to help spread the word.

The Korindo Group flouts Indonesian law

Apparently the Jakarta based Korindo Group PT have been harnessing the “systematic and widespread use of fire”, sending up vast palls of polluting smoke generated from clearing forest without permission. So far the rogue company has managed to clear over 193 square miles of tropical lowland forest for palm oil plantations, mainly in remote Papua and Maluku, and at least another 75,000 hectares are at immediate risk. Korindo are blaming local people for the fires, denying any involvement. But Indonesia’s environment ministry has just sent a team to Papua to collect evidence in the shape of materials and information.

How do Korindo’s customers feel about the revelation?

Wilmar International Ltd is one of the offending company’s main clients, and they’ve told Reuters they’ve stopped buying palm from Korindo as a result of the violation. Let’s hope more follow suit before their greedy, short-sighted suppliers trash any more precious rainforest.

Will Indonesia’s palm oil moratorium fail?

Indonesia is home to the planet’s third-biggest area of tropical forest. At the same time it’s the world’s fifth-biggest greenhouse gas emitters, mainly thanks to rampant deforestation. Korindo controls 619 square miles of oil palm concessions across Papua and Maluku, plus around 900,000 hectares yet to be transformed into plantations.

At the same time, around 90% of the world’s palm oil crop is grown in Malaysia and Indonesia. Indonesia’s President has already put a moratorium on expanding palm oil plantations in place, and the product is under huge demand. Consumer giants like Unilever and Kellog are finally getting their acts together, starting to demand ‘sustainability certification’ on the palm oil products they buy.

In 2015 chronic forest fires in Indonesia burned an area the size of Britain and lost the country a whopping $16 billion, according to the World Bank. But the burning goes on, despite guilty companies being fined as much as $735,000 and offending managers being sent to prison for as long as a decade.

Korindo’s compensation schemes are horribly disingenuous

The long term damage is serious. Yes, plantation companies like Korindo compensate Papuan communities for clearing their forests. But short term compensation is no good to local tribes people: once the money runs out, there’s no forest left for them to hunt in.

The Korindo case poses a big challenge to President Widodo. If he weakens and lets Korindo carry on regardless, his moratorium will prove utterly meaningless. If that happens, we’re looking at the single biggest deforestation project in Indonesia.

World Environment Day heralds a new National Park in Indonesia

World Environment Day saw a brand new national park established in Sumatra, in a move that should threaten the Palm Oil producers who are busy destroying the region’s legendary rainforest. On the other hand corruption means the region’s national parks remain far from secure, far from safe.

Zamrud National Park – the third national park in the Riau region

The Zamrud spans almost 31, 500  hectares and contains two big lakes, Pulau Besar Lake and Bawah. It’s home to 38 bird species, including 12 protected species, as well as the super-rare Sumatran tiger and sun bear.  The Zamrud National Park is Riau province’s third national park. The new park is in the Siak district of Riau province, a place where unique peat swamps have already been drained for oil palm and pulpwood production. As a result they’re experiencing fierce annual wildfires that give off a toxic haze and cause even more distress to the forest and the creatures who live there.

Weak enforcement, greed, short term thinking and corruption mar Indonesia’s national parks

The saddest thing of all is that the illegal deforestation happens because of weak law enforcement and corruption, the reason why Riau’s older national parks have been so badly damaged. Tesso Nilo in particular is full of illegal oil palm plantations, linked to the supply chains of household name brands like Unilever and Nestle. Both organisations have promised to eliminate deforestation from their supply networks, but progress is extremely slow – if not non-existent – on the ground.

More than 40% of Riau’s forests have already been cleared 

In September and October 2015 wildfires emitted more CO2 than the entire EU, a shameful indictment of the palm oil and pulpwood industries’ greed and short-term thinking.

Since 2001 over 40% of Riau’s forests have been cleared for industry, according to the World Resources Institute.

While we’d like to congratulate the Indonesian government for setting a new national park in place to protect their precious rainforests, we must also lay the blame at their feet for ongoing deforestation. As long as corruption and greed continue to rule the day, the world’s rainforests will remain  under threat.

Alpine Forests Suffering from Droughts and Rainstorms

There’s more to rainforest conservation than lush, hot tropical rainforests. Research by the Technical University of Munich reveals cool Alpine forests will also suffer if there are more frequent droughts and torrential rain. Apparently the glorious mountain forests of the Bavarian Alps have seen a ‘significant reduction’ in topsoil organic matter over the last thirty years, and the study’s author recommends increasing the amount of soil humus to safeguard mountainous forests for the future.

Humus is vital for all sorts of reasons

Good stocks of humus are vital for soil fertility. They also support a good water balance and soil nutrient supplies. The thing is, carbon bound up with soil in cooler mountain regions reacts strongly to warmer weather caused by climate change, released in huge amounts by micro-organisms. Eventually the soil loses its capacity to store carbon altogether.

Humus reduced to a poor state over a very short time

The new study looks at changes in humus stocks in Alpine soil, based on data from 35 mountain forests and high altitude pastures going back 30 years. And it looks like there’s been a dramatic, rapid and statistically significant humus loss in the mountain forest soils studied.  The topsoil organic matter stock in the Bavarian Alps declined by an average of 14% and limestone and dolomite-based soils suffered the most, losing just under a third of their humus.

Warming Alpine climate dates back to the ’70s

Weather stations have recorded climate change in the area since the 1970s and the changes have been observable for the past century, especially in the badly-affected Berchtesgaden region where the average temperature rise has been ‘drastic’ through the summer months. In contrast there’s been very little humus loss in mountain pasture soils, but they’re always less humus-rich than nearby forest soils anyway.

What can be done?

The authors of the study recommend humus-promoting forest management to mitigate the effect as the climate continues to warm and we see more extreme weather.  A healthy humus layer helps store water to nourish trees and Alpine flora, and also help reduce floods. To keep things working as they should, proactive humus restoration is essential.

The proof – Rubber plantations destroy biodiversity

Everyone knows palm oil plantations are wreaking havoc in rainforests all over the world. Now rubber plantations have come under equal scrutiny, and it’s no surprise to see they bring about a ‘sharp decline’ in the overall biodiversity of an area.

Rubber – The fastest-growing agroecosystem in Asia

A team at the Okinawa Institute of Science and Technology Graduate University have been studying rubber plantations, the most rapidly spreading agroecosystem in Southeast Asia, and it looks like they’ll have a  profound impact on biodiversity through disrupting the natural landscape.

The research centred on ants in Xishuangbanna, China, in a forest converted to a rubber plantation, and used the creatures to establish the effects of the change on other invertebrates. The results revealed a dramatic drop in the overall biodiversity of ants in the plantation.

Why ants?

Ants are a good surrogate for other invertebrates, as well as being functionally vital, doing a wide variety of tasks in the forest ecosystem including helping with decomposition and dispersing seeds. And because ants are everywhere, they’re relatively easy to study.

Watching a rubber plantation do its evil work

The team collected 186 different ant species at 11 sites on a rubber plantation in China, and 24 sites from the surrounding forest. They sorted the ants by species and measured how they interacted with their home ecosystem. Stuff like body size, eye dimensions and leg length were all noted, as well as the creatures’ phylogenetic diversity – in other words how closely related they were to each other. And they looked at  biodiversity in different dimensions, to check what was happening as the forest was converted to grow rubber.

Sadly they realised that there was a striking decrease in ant biodiversity, with fewer different species and less variety in species function after the natural forest was disrupted. And the decrease was bigger than anyone expected. Worse still, the data revealed only a small subsection of the forest species could survive in the rubber plantation, which acts very like an ecological filter.

Decimating the ant population is bad news for rainforests

Combine the ant species loss with a reduction in their functional diversity and the news isn’t looking good for countless other species who depend on the ants, and the complex natural processes that maintain the delicate ecosystem.

Will rubber become the new palm oil?

With more and more rubber plantations springing up, it looks like rubber might become the next palm oil, something else to avoid, protest against and raise awareness about

The tropics are more sensitive to extreme weather than anyone thought

As reported by Stanford University, USA ( in late April, the Amazon’s carbon balance is capable of changing remarkably quickly when faced with heat and drought. It looks like tropical ecosystems are more sensitive to climate change than anyone thought, and it’s worrying news as CO2 and other greenhouse gas emissions continue to increase.

About land systems and CO2

Land ecosystems breathe CO2 when they grow and decay. The amount of gas they take up and release delivers vital insights into the way the systems react to climate change. Tropical forests have a remarkable potential to stash and release carbon, which means tropical regions and ecosystems play a huge role in regulating the planet’s overall climate.

Analysing CO2 and weather data

The team from Stanford analysed data combining information about the weather data with CO2 measurements from air surveys. They were looking at the amount of atmospheric carbon exchange taking place across the Amazon basin, noting the sources of CO2 in the rainforest every month for three years and covering an area measuring several million square kilometres.

The powerful 2010 drought plays a part

During 2010 a nasty drought plus unusually high temperatures hit great swathes of the Amazon basin, but things had returned to normal a year or two later.  The shift was alarmingly quick, revealing that the region changes fast in response to climate changes. As the report said: “Heat anomalies during the wet season are strongly correlated with increased carbon loss in the same month, and lower-than-average rainfall during the wet season is correlated with increased carbon loss in the following month.”

We already knew the 2010 drought caused massive carbon loss in the Amazon. But the new study let scientists analyse the carbon and climate conditions in different areas of the region as the drought spread and evolved. The results revealed how lost carbon might have preceded the drought, when the climate was unusually hot but hadn’t yet become unusually dry.

Climate change set to make things worse

There’s strong evidence that the Amazon is already experiencing dramatic hikes in heat, and experts predict ongoing climate change will make things even worse. It doesn’t matter how much levels of rainfall change, since the region could be even more vulnerable to heat stress than anyone thought. And it means tropical rainforests could take several years to recover from a big drought.

Why does it matter?

The Amazon ecosystem plays a crucial part in the world’s climate and carbon system, as well as being home to a unique level of biodiversity. We still don’t know enough about the interactions between tropical carbon and the climate, but we do know they can have a profound effect on the planet’s climate. Knowing more will help scientists ‘resolve major unknowns’, to everyone’s benefit.