We are used to thinking that a forest that is carved up by roads and settlements can still be called a forest. However, the results of a new study suggest quite the opposite, claiming that forest fragmentation has lasting detrimental effects on our planet’s ecosystems. In other words, a fragmented forest ceases to be a good natural habitat for wild animals and plants, which has a long-term negative impact on the ecosystem and the environment in general. Moreover, the study concludes that there are only two truly intact forests left on Earth – the rainforests of the Amazon and the Congo.
The study was funded by the National Science Foundation and involved 24 scientists from different countries led by Nick Haddad, a professor at North Carolina State University. Their task was to analyze the results of the experiments which have been conducted on five continents for decades and were aimed to simulate the effects of human activity on forests.
The researchers studied the impact of forest fragmentation on wildlife and came to astonishing and, at the same time, disappointing conclusions. It appears that the habitat fragmentation leads to 13 to 75 percent decrease in plant and animal diversity! It basically reduces the ability of animals and plants to survive and can even distort the food chain, as smaller patches of forest tend to have an increase in the predator population.
At the same time, forests with more edges have reduced core ecosystem functions, such as the ability to sequester carbon dioxide, which plays an important role in alleviating the climate change effects, and display a decline in productivity and pollination.
Thus, forest fragmentation affects the integrity of the natural habitat – that is why such forests exhibit a decline of wildlife. According to the results of the study, the most significant losses took place in the smallest patches of forest and closest to a habitat edge. What is even more disappointing is that more than 70% of the world’s forests lie within one kilometer of a habitat edge!
“Nearly 20 percent of the world’s remaining forests are the distance of a football field, or about 100 meters, away from forest edges. Seventy percent of forest lands are within a half-mile of forest edges. That means almost no forests can really be considered wilderness,” said professor Haddad.
The researchers also emphasize that the effects of forest fragmentation may remain unnoticed for years and only get worse over time. It was found that, on average, fragmented forests have more than a 50% decrease in plant and animal species abundance within just 20 years!
“The effects of current fragmentation will continue to emerge for decades. We still haven’t seen the full extent of what our slicing and dicing of the forests has wrought,” the researchers said.
Well, it is another study to show how terribly we, humans, treat our own planet… When will the humanity realize that, if we don’t change our attitude towards the nature and the environment, we will soon have no planet at all? The only way to save the environment and ourselves is to live in harmony with nature rather than to continue ruining and exhausting it with our activity. I hope the humanity will come to this understanding before it is too late.