Trees ‘grow faster, store more carbon’


In a press release, issued via Newswise, Mitchigan Technological University researcher Dr Andrew Burton suggested that moderate climate change was beneficial for northern hardwood trees.

In a very brief notice of the findings, reproduced in its entirety below, it offers a very basic explanation of how a slight warming changes the growth dynamics of the trees:

More than 20 continuous years of research into the effects of climate and atmospheric pollution on forest productivity in the Great Lakes region indicate that moderate increases in temperature with sufficient moisture and increased nitrogen deposition have extended the growing season in northern hardwood forests, causing the trees to grow faster and to store more carbon.

Dr. Andrew Burton, director of the Midwestern Regional Center of the National Institute for Climatic Change Research, can talk about his NSF-funded Michigan Gradient Study referenced above and the effects of temperature, moisture and acid rain on northern hardwood forests.

Tree Cover decided to attempt to find out more about this project and found an abstract for the project on the University’s website:

We will assess the degree to which temperature acclimation occurs in root systems of a variety of woody plants and determine if such acclimation is a short-term, direct physiological adjustment to warmer temperatures (days to months) or a longer term response to changes in nutrient, moisture and C availability and mycorrhizal status as the ecosystem adjusts to long-term warming (years).

Specific questions we will address include: Does rapid temperature acclimation occur in roots of large perennial woody plants? How do root biomass, root N concentration, and root respiration rates adjust to long-term changes in soil temperature and moisture and concomitant changes in N availability? How are rates of mycorrhizal infection influenced by the effects of warmer soil temperatures on host C balance and soil N availability? How do the short- and long-term responses of roots and mycorrhizae to warming and associated changes in soil nutrient cycling affect soil CO2 efflux and C availability for aboveground NPP? Are the interrelationships between warmer soil temperature regimes and C fluxes to and from roots and mycorrhizae adequately described by current ecophysiological models?

To understand both immediate and long-term effects, plots with 0 to 16 years of warming will be utilized. These include northern hardwood forests in Michigan, with warming to be initiated after a year of pre-treatment measurements; willow and alder in the shrub layer of a fen peatland in Michigan, with warming to be initiated in 2008; and mixed hardwoods at Harvard Forest that have been warmed since 1991, 2003 and 2006.

We will measure specific root respiration, root N concentration, root biomass, N mineralization, root N uptake, litter inputs, biomass increment, soil C content and mycorrhizal abundance, community composition and respiration. Treatments at the two Michigan locations include both soil warming and moisture manipulations, allowing us to examine the interaction of these two important global change factors.

We will know in the first year if rapid, physiological acclimation of root respiration occurs or if warming immediately alters mycorrhizal abundance. What may be of more importance are the amounts of C allocated to root respiration and mycorrhizal symbiosis that will exist in an ecosystem after N cycling, aboveground productivity, litter quantity, quality and decomposition, and microbial community composition and function have equilibrated to the altered climatic regimes. We will assess the interrelationships that exist between such processes and determine the factors that will ultimately control soil CO2 efflux and NPP in an altered climate.

However, there are no further details about the study’s findings, making it hard to know whether the project has completed gathering field data or whether this part of the research was ongoing. The abstract appears to have been uploaded on to the website in 2008.

It seems strange to release a statement saying “moderate climate change” was beneficial, especially when previous research papers have highlighted that forests are projected to responsed differently to a warming world, depending on what latitude they are located.

While there could be benefits to the region’s timber sector, it is seems bereft of key parameters – such as what extent of warming constitutes “moderate” warming, and to what degree is this warming projected to alter other factors, such as precipitation.

Also, in the context of the global carbon cycle, how does this degree of warming alter other carbon sinks – tropical forests, oceans etc – in  terms of sequestration; do we see a net increase or net decrease in the amount of atmospheric carbon being absorbed?

Looking forward to see more data on this interesting project being made available.

Source: MTU press release

Date: 17/10/2008

Researchers discover secret of plants’ ‘double fertilisation’ mystery


An enigma, unique to flowering plant, has been solved by a team of researchers from the UK and South Korea, reports Science Daily.

It was already known that flowering plants, unlike animals require not one, but two sperm cells for successful fertilisation.

However, how the “double fertilisation” was achieved from a single pollen grain, which then led to “twin” sperm cells, remained a mystery.

The process results in one sperm cell joining with the egg cell to produce the embryo, while the other to joins with a second cell in the ovary to produce the endosperm, a nutrient-rich tissue, inside the seed.

Double fertilisation is essential for fertility and seed production in flowering plants so increased understanding of the process is important.

Now Professor David Twell, of the Department of Biology at the University of Leicester and Professor Hong Gil Nam of POSTECH, South Korea, writing in the Journal Nature, report the discovery of a gene that has a critical role in allowing precursor reproductive cells to divide to form twin sperm cells.

Professor Twell said: “This collaborative project has produced results that unlock a key element in a botanical puzzle.

“The key discovery is that this gene, known as FBL17, is required to trigger the destruction of another protein that inhibits cell division,” he added.

“The FBL17 gene therefore acts as a switch within the young pollen grain to trigger precursor cells to divide into twin sperm cells.

“Plants with a mutated version of this gene produce pollen grains with a single sperm cell instead of the pair of sperm that are required for successful double fertilisation.

“Interestingly, the process employed by plants to control sperm cell reproduction was found to make use of an ancient mechanism found in yeast and in animals involving the selective destruction of inhibitor proteins that otherwise block the path to cell division.

“Removal of these blocks promotes the production of a twin sperm cell cargo in each pollen grain and thus ensures successful reproduction in flowering plants.

“This discovery is a significant step forward in uncovering the mysteries of flowering plant reproduction.

“This new knowledge will be useful in understanding the evolutionary origins of flowering plant reproduction and may be used by plant breeders to control crossing behaviour in crop plants.

“In the future such information may become increasingly important as we strive to breed superior crops that maintain yield in a changing climate.

“Given that flowering plants dominate the vegetation of our planet and that we are bound to them for our survival, it is heartening that we are one step closer to understanding their reproductive secrets.”

Researchers at the University of Leicester are continuing their investigation into plant reproduction.

Further research underway in Professor Twell’s laboratory is already beginning to reveal the answers to secrets about how the pair of sperm cells produced within each pollen grain aquires the ability to fertilise.

Prof Twell’s work, in the Department of Biology at the University of Leicester is financially supported by the UK Biotechnology and Biological Research Council (BBSRC).

Source: Science Daily

Date: 23/10/2008

Row over when plants first emerged on Earth


Researchers taking a second look at ancient sediments have concluded that they do not represent the earliest traces of the rise of sun-fuelled photosynthesis/oxygen-producing organisms on Earth as previously thought, reports ScienceNOW website.

It says the findings come as a relief to some scientists, whose data had been in conflict with an earlier study with the same sediments that suggested oxygen first emerged in the planet’s atmosphere some 300 million years later.

According to the geological record, oxygen first rose in Earth’s atmosphere about 2.4bn years ago. The problem with using fossils to track down the organisms that gave rise to the oxygen is that fossils can take you back only about 2bn years out of the planet’s 4.5bn.

To figure out what was stirring before that, scientists must rely on traces of chemicals produced by biological processes and, by inference, in certain environmental conditions.

That’s what happened in 1999, when researchers examined samples of 2.7bn-year-old shale from Western Australia.

They found certain types of hydrocarbons that indicated oxygen-producing bacteria had existed at the time. But the discovery also created a conundrum, because it placed the rise of photosynthesis some 300m years before chemical studies of ancient rocks indicated oxygen began to spread in Earth’s atmosphere.

This discrepancy continues to bedevil researchers, who have struggled to mesh their data with evolutionary models.

An Australian team, writing in Nature, analysed microscopic solidified oil droplets contained in the shale, the researchers inferred the composition of the organic materials present as the shale formed.

The analysis clearly shows the hydrocarbons identified in the 1999 study could not have been derived from bacteria contained in the sediments, says geochemist and lead author Birger Rasmussen of the Curtin University of Technology, Perth, Australia.

Instead, they probably represent contaminants introduced from younger sedimentary rocks that somehow got mixed in with the shale layer or by the drills the researchers used to extract the samples, he says.

The conclusions are “pretty strong and a lot of eyes will be focused on how this shakes out,” says geobiologist Woodward Fischer of the California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, US.

He says the previous findings had been regarded as a standard time measurement for both the rise of oxygen and for photosynthetic organisms, and, therefore, any conflicting data produced by other researchers had been regarded as suspect.

But overall he’s convinced that the new results ultimately “will free up people’s minds again” to find the other sources of early oxygen.

Source: ScienceNOW

Date: 22/10/2008

Donors pledge $100m for tropical forest conservation


Donors meeting last week in Washington DC, US, pledged more than $100m (£50m) to the World Bank’s new initiative for conserving tropical forests, reports Mongabay.com.

In addition to the $100m in donations, the World Bank announced that more than 40 developing countries have asked to join the Forest Carbon Partnership Facility – the Bank’s foray into the emerging market for forest carbon credits.

Twenty-five countries have so far been selected to participate in the initiative, which builds capacity for countries to earn compensation through the carbon markets for reducing greenhouse gas emissions by reducing deforestation and forest degradation (REDD).

Experts say the mechanism could eventually lead to the transfer of billions of dollars per year to fund conservation and rural development in tropical countries, while at the same time helping fight climate change. Deforestation and land use change presently accounts for about one fifth of emissions from human activities.

The developing countries accepted into the facility include 10 in Africa (Cameroon, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Ethiopia, Gabon, Ghana, Kenya, Liberia, Madagascar, Republic of Congo and Uganda); 10 in Latin America (Argentina, Bolivia, Colombia, Costa Rica, Guyana, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama, Paraguay and Peru); and five in Asia and the South Pacific (Lao PDR, Nepal, Papua New Guinea, Vanuatu and Vietnam).

“The Congo Basin countries consider the FCPF as an opportunity to validate reducing forest degradation as a climate change mitigation instrument” said Etienne Makaga, director-general of L’Environnement du Gabon and Climate Focal Point.

“With the FCPF, forests will find their true role as carbon pools and providers of social and economic well-being. The FCPF is not a solution in and of itself. It must remain a structuring tool that will allow us to achieve the objectives of reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation.”

The World Bank also announced the election of the FCPF Participants Committee, a group consisting of 10 donor and carbon fund participants and 10 developing country participants.

The committee’s first decision was to establish a small grants program for forest-dependent indigenous peoples and other forest dwellers to benefit from REDD via the FCPF.

The decision – though initially funded with just $1m – seeks to address the criticism that the REDD process doesn’t involve indigenous people, a charge that has been a major stumbling block in negotiations to date.

The governing panel of the partnership includes nineteen countries – Australia, Bolivia, Costa Rica, Democratic Republic of Congo, France, Gabon, Germany, Ghana, Guyana, Japan, Kenya, Madagascar, the Netherlands, Norway, Panama, Switzerland, UK, US and Vietnam – and one NGO, The Nature Conservancy (TNC), which donated $5m.

“It is heartening to know that despite the current financial situation, countries around the world understand that we cannot delay action on battling climate change,” said Mark Tercek, president and chief executive of The Nature Conservancy.

“Forest protection is one of the most cost-effective methods available to fight climate change. If we don’t take action now, climate change ultimately will have a much greater impact on the global economy and the natural resources we all depend upon for survival.”

“Right now, developing countries can generate more money from cutting down their forests than from keeping them standing,” Tercek continued.

“The Forest Carbon Partnership Facility will bring developed and industrialized countries together – along with forest communities, indigenous groups, the private sector and civil society – to establish a financial value for the carbon stored in standing forests.”

The FCPF expects to raise more funds from governments, NGOs, and the private sector in coming months. Participants in the meeting said they are encouraged by the progress to date.

“It is very encouraging to note the enthusiasm for REDD among such a large number of developing countries,” said Per Pharo, deputy director Norway’s International Climate and Forest Initiative.

“Especially in light of the close cooperation being established between the World Bank and the UN REDD Program, we are very happy with how this is evolving. It is essential that REDD countries remain in the driver’s seat, and that all stakeholders are involved going forward.”

“I am impressed by the level of interest expressed in the FCPF by developing countries,” said Katherine Sierra, the World Bank’s Sustainable Development division’s vice president.

“We thought 20 would be a reasonable target, but more than 40 countries have said they were interested. Countries are investing considerable time and resources to prepare themselves for REDD, and they should be commended for taking these steps.”

Source: Mongabay.com

Date: 23/10/2008

Forest diversity ‘stems from specialisation’


The rich diversity of trees in tropical forests may be “the result of subtle strategies that allow each species to occupy its own ecological niche” rather than random dispersal, Mongabay.com reports.

Studying the traits of trees in Yasuni forest in Ecuador, Nathan Kraft and colleagues, writing in the journal Science, found evidence to support the theory that “niche separation” – subtle habitat specialisations among species – drives tree diversity in the rainforest.

The researchers’ findings challenge the recent hypothesis of “neutral theory”, which attributes community composition to chance.

“If the neutral theory is correct, we would expect these traits to be distributed at random throughout the forest, but that was not the case,” said Renato Valencia, professor at Pontificia Universidad Catolica del Ecuador and lead investigator at the Yasuni forest plot, which is associated with the Center for Tropical Forest Science/Smithsonian Institution Global Earth Observatory network.

“The traits we measured give us important clues about the strategy of each species in the forest – how they make a living – if you will.

“One exciting thing that we found is that trees growing near each other tend to make a living in different ways from their neighbors,” explained Dr Kraft, from UC Berkeley.

“This is a common pattern in less diverse communities, but it is hard to imagine in a hyper-diverse forest like Yasuni.”

The scientists plan to continue their research at Yasuni and other sites to better understand the patterns of biodiversity around the world.

The Center for Tropical Forest Science/Smithsonian Institution Global Earth Observatory network includes more than 30 forest dynamics plots in 17 countries.

Source: Mongabay.com

Date: 24/10/2008

UK weather sparks autumn spectacular


Parks and forests in the UK are making up for the miserable summer by providing visitors with spectacular autumn leaf displays, experts say.

A report on the BBC News website said that public gardens have been carpeted in an array of deep red and yellow leaves, thanks to the year’s unusual weather.

Experts at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, London, say a wet summer, followed by mild frost and some warm September days, were perfect for the display.

American oaks, ash, and sweet gum trees provide some of the best colours.

Tony Kirkham, Kew’s head of arboretum, said the wet summer provided good growing conditions for the trees.

An unusual mild frost on 28 September then helped the leaves turn to gold.

He said: “In September, we had some cold temperatures in the evening and warm, sunny days.

“The mild frost acts as an early warning to the trees to shut down for winter, so they can take some of the goodness out of the leaves and you get the good colours.

“If you get a long frost, they don’t get a chance to do that and the leaves fall quickly.”

“We have a real variety of trees in Kew, so you get a rainbow of colours but we seem to be getting good autumn colour all over the country.”

The National Trust says its gardens such as Sheffield Park in East Sussex and Stourhead in Wiltshire are attracting many visitors, keen to see the displays.

Meanwhile, the Woodland Trust says the wet summer has been good for nature, providing an abundance of fungi and berries for birds to feed on ahead of the winter.

Source: BBC News website

Date: 20/10/2008

Forest peoples’ rights key to reducing emissions


Unless based on respect for the rights of indigenous peoples and forest communities, efforts by rich countries to combat climate change by funding reductions in deforestation in developing countries will fail, and could even unleash a devastating wave of forest loss, cultural destruction and civil conflict, publication Science Letter reports.

Leading forestry and development experts gathered in Oslo with policymakers and community leaders for a conference on rights, forests and climate change. The conference was organized by two non-profits, Rainforest Foundation Norway and the US-based Rights and Resources Initiative (RRI).

Speaking at the meeting, Norway’s Minister of Environment and International Development, Erik Solheim, said efforts towards reduced emissions from deforestation in developing countries needed to be based on the rights of indigenous peoples to the forests they depend on for their livelihoods, and provide tangible benefits consistent with their essential role in sustainable forest management.

“In addition to reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation, early action, pilot projects and demonstrations should safeguard biodiversity, contribute to poverty reduction and secure the rights of forest dependent communities in order to achieve any degree of permanence, legitimacy and effectiveness,” said Mr Solheim.

Deforestation is responsible for about 20% of global greenhouse gas emissions, and reducing it is seen as one of the quickest and cheapest ways of cutting emissions.

“Moves to finance reductions in tropical deforestation and forest degradation are necessary and welcome,” said Andy White, Coordinator of RRI.

“But on their own they won’t solve the problem. Poorly devised, they could even make it worse. If such initiatives are well designed they can not only secure carbon but present a global opportunity to address the underlying causes of poverty and conflict in many developing countries.”

Globally, climate change negotiators are considering the introduction of a new financial mechanism, known as Reduced Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD), that could generate billions of dollars for reducing forest loss in the tropics.

Meanwhile, Norway’s government has already pledged up to 3bn Norwegian kroner annually (US$500m/£250m) to cut emissions from deforestation and forest degradation in tropical countries.

“To achieve long-term reductions in deforestation and forest degradation, it is absolutely necessary to respect and strengthen the rights of indigenous and other forest dependent communities,” said Lars Lovold, director of Rainforest Foundation Norway.

“Many of these schemes are still being developed, and major decisions on how to spend the money will be made in the next few years. For us, the question is whether this money will result in a great deal of good or a great deal of harm to the environment and forest communities.”

Previous attempts to reduce deforestation and forest degradation have largely failed, often due to a lack of attention to human rights, property rights and transparency.

Source: Science Letter

Date: 28/10/2008

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UPDATED ON 27 OCTOBER, 2008

Luke from Rights and Resources Initiative has kindly highlighted that the Oslo conference was covered on the Rights, Forests and Climate Change site.  It is packed with more details and outcomes from the week-long gathering, so please do take a moment to visit the site.

Thanks, Take Cover team

EU crack-down on imports of illegal timber


The European Union has taken steps to crack down on illegal timber imports, according to the European Commission.

On its website, the Commission said that illegal logging destroyed millions of acres of forest each year.

It warned that much of the timber ended up in Europe, one of the world’s largest markets for wood products like lumber, plywood and furniture.

About 20% of these imports came from trees that were illegally felled, it added.

Until now, the EU has promoted voluntary action to curb illegal logging. But under a new legislative proposal unveiled on 17 October, importers would have to take certain steps to verify the wood is legal.

The regulation would also apply to timber producers in the EU, where illegal logging has been reported in some countries.

Research shows that illegal logging is wreaking environmental havoc, accelerating deforestation, biodiversity loss and climate change.

Deforestation also accounts for almost a fifth of global greenhouse gas emissions.

The Commission warned that the problem was getting worse, adding that more than half of logging now occurred in vulnerable regions, such as the Amazon basin, central Africa, and south-east Asia.

In some countries, illegal logging is so rampant it far outstrips legal timber production.

Deforestation is expected to be a priority in the upcoming international talks on climate change. The Commission is proposing a global scheme to reward developing countries for cuts in greenhouse gases achieved by reducing deforestation.

The Commission’s website stated: “Illegal logging is not just a problem for the environment.

“It robs indigenous and local people of jobs and resources, and it fosters corruption and organised crime, with profits often used to fund regional wars.

“It also costs governments billions of euros in lost revenues and undermines the competitiveness of legal logging operations in both importing and exporting countries.”

Source: European Commission website

Date: 20/10/2008

Summit opens Europe’s first Forest Week


The role forests can play in the battle against dangerous climate is one of the topics to be discussed by delegates at a summit to mark the first European Forest Week.

The gathering in Rome, hosted by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), will run from 20-24 October.

In a press release, the FAO said Europe’s forests were growing at the rate of about 13 million cubic feet annually, yet only two-thirds of this growth was being exploited.

“Forests cover 44% of Europe’s land area and continue to expand,” said Jan Heino, FAO’s assistant director-general for forestry.

“Collaboration across the forest and forest-related sectors is crucial if we are to take full advantage of the multiple resources forests offer.”

Delegates from 46 countries are attending the Rome meeting, which has been jointly organised by the European Commission, FAO, the Ministerial Conference on the Protection of Forests in Europe (MCPFE) and the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE).

Partnering the talks in Italy, the European Economic and Social Committee (EESC) is hosting a conference in Brussels, looking at the “role of forests and the forest-based sector in meeting the EU’s climate commitments”.

More than 130 events will be staged throughout Europe over the course of the five days to highlight the value of Europe’s forests and what needs to be done to fully utilise their potential.

Organisers hope the inaugural European Forest Week hope the focus on sustainable forestry management will contribute towards finding solutions for some of the most challenging issues facing forests and forestry today: climate change, energy and water.

In the last 15 years, forest area in Europe has grown by 32 million acres or an area equivalent to the size of Greece.

Source: FAO press release

Date: 17/10/2008

World’s second tallest tree found in Tasmania


THE world’s second tallest tree has been found by Tasmanian foresters less than five kilometres from a popular tourist attraction, reports the website news.com.au.

Reporter Damien Brown says the 101m giant swamp gum is second in height only to a giant coast redwood in the Redwood National Park, California, which stands at 115m.

The Tasmanian tree has been aptly named Centurion, after the rank of soldier in Roman times, who was in charge of 100 soldiers.

Foresters have estimated the tree to be about 400 years old.

Centurion will also go into the record books as the tallest hardwood tree in the world; the tallest eucalyptus in the world and the tallest flowering tree in the world.

Forestry Tasmania field officers found the tree this week near the popular Tahune Airwalk tourist attraction close to timber town Geeveston, south of Hobart.

They also suggest that at some stage in the past, the upper reaches of the tree were damaged or snapped. This means that it is possible that the tree was even higer than what it is today.

Centurion was not previously located in a reserve, but it has now been protected under Forestry Tasmania’s Giant Tree Policy.

And standing right next door is an equally breath-taking 86.5m gum that has been named Triarus which is Latin for a veteran soldier.

Forestry Tasmania staff says it has eclipsed what was Tasmania’s tallest tree and the world’s third largest at 97m, located in the Styx Valley.

The agency says that it plans to make the majestic beauty accessible to the public with a boardwalk and other facilities on the drawing board.

David Mannes, Forestry Tasmania’s resource information manager, and resource officer Mayo Kajitani found the trees using airborne laser scanning.

The laser signals reflect off the canopy of the trees and showed it was at least 99-metres. Ground inspections and laser measurements then confirmed the significant discovery.

Mr Mannes says it might not be the last giant Forestry Tasmania will find with the leading edge laser technology also scanning other forest areas around the state.

“It is hard to believe they have been here so long without us even knowing they are here,” Mr Mannes said.

“Considering the other tall trees around the state, this one is in very good condition.”

Source: News.com.au

Date: 10/10/2008

Rich nations ‘must fund global forest preservation effort’


The international community should enable tropical forest nations to halve the rate of deforestation by 2020.

The assertion was among the recommendations made in an independent report commissioned by the UK prime minister.

The Eliasch Review, entitled Climate Change: Financing Global Forests, also said that industrialised nations should look to make the global forest sector “carbon neutral” by 2030.

Its main findings included:

  • Reducing emissions from deforestation should be fully included in any post-2012 global climate deal, which is expected to be struck at the key UN summit in Copenhagen next year.
  • National governments should develop their own strategies to combat deforestation in tropical forest nations.
  • Rich nations should provide financial support to establish the necessary mechanisms to deliver the goals of halving deforestion by 2020 and making the global forest sector carbon neutral by 2030.

The review estimates that the costs to build the necessary mechanisms will be up to $4bn over five years for 40 forest nations.

The review, headed by Swedish businessman Johan Eliasch, was set up by Gordon Brown in order to pull together a comprehensive analysis of the financing and mechanisms needed to support sustainable forest management and reduce emissions resulting from deforestation.

“Saving forests is critical for tackling climate change,” Mr Eliasch said.

“Without action on deforestation, avoiding the worst impacts of climate change will be next to impossible, and could lead to additional climate change damages of one trillion dollars a year by 2100.

He added that deforestation would continue for as long as cutting down and burning trees was more profitable than preserving them.

“Access to finance from carbon markets and other funding initiatives will be essential for supporting forest nations to meet this challenge.”

Mr Eliasch is Mr Brown’s special representative on deforestation and clean energy.

Source: Eliasch Review press release

Date: 14/10/2008

Time to invest in nature’s capital


Amid the global financial crisis, it is time to recognise the wealth we enjoy from nature’s capital, says Andrew Mitchell, director of the Global Canopy Programme.

Writing on the BBC News website, he argued that there would be no government bailout if we fail to protect the vital services provided by the world’s forests.

The world’s largest gathering of conservation scientists and NGOs have been meeting in Barcelona to ask: “What price do we put on nature?”

In these extraordinary times of credit crunch and climate change, the world feels hitched to an uncertain roller coaster ride where we don’t know what to value any more.

What investors thought was safe as houses has turned out to be nothing more than the property of the poor disguised in a silver wrapper, enabling bankers to pocket billions.

In a curious way, all this chaos may turn out to be a good thing because it will force the world to ask: “Are we creating wealth that’s worth having?”

A wine broker said to me recently: “The thing about investing in a first growth is, the more the world drinks a good vintage, the more valuable it gets.”

So could disappearing forests one day be a safer investment than housesA major new theme of this Congress of the World Conservation Union (IUCN) is about how we value natural capital, which up to now has not appeared on company balance sheets.

I believe the current financial crisis may force the global community to right that wrong, along with many others, because we all want a more stable economy.

However, in global markets today, rainforests are worth more dead than alive. Poor and often opaque governments, with little to sell, offer their rainforests to raise revenue, attracting largely risk capital with strings attached.

The only way to do this is to convert rainforests into something else, usually timber, beef, soy or palm oil that Westerners, and now prosperous Asians, have a burgeoning appetite for.

Most deforestation today is enterprise driven and funded by hedgefunds, pension funds, and other sources of liquidity from capitals often far from, and blind to, the forests they are destroying.

Billions in green dollars end up on investors’ balance sheets, but there is a catch: billions of tonnes of carbon dioxide goes up in smoke from the trees burned in the process – and the risk to everyone is building up to a climate credit crisis.

Just one day of emissions from deforestation equates to 68 million people flying from London to New York.

Seven billion tonnes of carbon dioxide (CO2) annually places rainforests just second to energy as a source of global emissions and is more than the entire world’s transport sector put together.

And it is not just about carbon. The world’s rainforests are a giant “utility”, providing services we all use but do not pay for.

The Amazon releases 20 billion tonnes of water into the atmosphere each day. This air-conditions the atmosphere, waters agri-business and underpins energy security from hydro to biofuels across Latin America on a gigantic scale.

Were it possible to build a machine to do this, every day it would consume the energy equivalent to the world’s largest hydro dam running on full power for 135 years; and the Amazon does all this for free. Now that’s natural capital and we are eroding it fast.

Pavan Sukhdevs’ landmark report, The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity, published by the EU earlier this year, estimated the annual losses of natural capital to be, at the low end, equivalent to the value of the Indian stock market and, at the high end, the entire London stock market.

If what biodiversity does for us is so valuable, why is this happening? The answer is in part ignorance and, in part, that the global economy may no longer be fit for purpose.

The problem is that nature is priceless. What nature does for us is not valued economically. Whilst only financial and human capital drive human endeavour, and inputs from natural capital remain unrecognised, business proceeds on a false sense of security.

The economy, I believe, is at a truly historic tipping point where the global economy will rapidly need to incorporate the risks from the collision course that energy security, food security and environmental security are all on.

By 2050, to keep global temperatures from rising more that 2C and at the same time feed nine billion people, we cannot go on as we are.

Investing in natural capital may in time indeed turn out to be as safe as any other public utility but for that to happen we need the equivalent of an ecosystem services market with an environmental regulatory body that forces us to value the common goods that we continue to plunder at our peril.

Source: BBC News website

Date: 14/10/2008

Nowhere to run for tropical species


Climbing temperatures may doom many tropical species to extinction if they are unable to migrate to higher elevations or cooler latitudes, reports Mongabay.com.

Analysing data for 1,902 species of plants, insects, and fungi in the tropics, Robert Colwell and colleagues, writing in the journal Science, warn that lowland areas are particularly at risk of biodiversity loss due to warming since “there is no source of species adapted to higher temperatures to replace those driven upslope by warming”.

The authors estimate that more than half the species they studied in Costa Rica could potentially face such risks.

At the same time species adapted to high elevations will be faced with “mountaintop extinctions” when they reach the summit of mountains.

A second study, by Craig Moritz and colleagues, found that warming in California’s Yosemite National Park has already caused elevational shifts in the range of mammals species.

“These kinds of changes in community composition have been going on forever,” said James Patton, a UC Berkeley professor emeritus of integrative biology who led the field work for the second study in Yosemite.

“The only thing that makes this different is that it has probably happened in our lifetime. It is the speed with which these changes are taking place that gives one pause.”

Source: Mongabay.com

Date: 10/10/2008

Scottish scheme ‘planting 1,149 trees a day’


A conservation partnership has planted the equivalent of 1,149 trees each day for the past eight years.

In a press release, the Scottish Forest Alliance (SFA) said that more than 3.3 million trees had been planted or had been allowed to naturally regenerate, as its decade-long project enetered its ninth year.

The The SFA is described as a “unique woodland conservation project” involving oil giant BP, Foresty Commission Scotland, the Woodland Trust Scotland and RSPB Scotland.

In 2000, BP pledged to invest £10bn over 10 years to support the SFA project, which has been described as Scotland’s biggest corporate commitment to the environment to date.

The goal is to help regenerate the nation’s fragmented native woodlands, helping to restore the rich diversity of flora and fauna that once flourished in these habitats.

It is also seeking to encourage local communities to become involved in the management of these areas.

Over the full 10 years, the scheme intends to create more than 8,400 hectares of new tree cover by planting almost 8.2 million trees.

“This successful project is playing a major role in creating significant new areas of native woodland,” said Andrew Fairbairn, development manager for the Woodland Trust Scotland.

“Across Scotland, we have planted millions of trees and encouraged millions more to naturally regenerate.”

He aded that the scheme had enabled  hundreds of thousands of people each year to enjoy the great outdoors.

“This in turn has a positive spin off for biodiversity and wildlife, as well as toruism and local communities.”

Source: SFA press release

Date: 09/10/2008

‘Historic deal’ to save Sumatran forests


The Indonesian government and conservation group WWF have announced a commitment to protect the remaining forests and critical ecosystems of Sumatra, the world’s sixth-largest island, which holds some of the most diverse and endangered forests, a press release by the green group anounced.

They wrote:

Sumatra is the only place on Earth where tigers, elephants, orangutans and rhinos co-exist but since 1985 the island has lost 48 percent of its natural forest cover. This historic agreement represents the first-ever island-wide commitment to protect Sumatra’s stunning biodiversity. It has been endorsed by governors of all the provinces across Sumatra and also by four Ministers.

“This agreement commits all the Governors of Sumatra’s ten provinces, along with the Indonesian Ministries of Forestry, Environment, Interior and Public Works, to restore critical ecosystems in Sumatra and protect areas with high conservation values,” said Hermien Roosita, Deputy Minister of Environment. “The Governors will now work together to develop ecosystem-based spatial plans that will serve as the basis for future development on the island.”

WWF, Conservation International (CI), Fauna and Flora International (FFI), Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS), and other conservation groups working in Sumatra have agreed to help implement the political commitment to protect what remains of the island’s species-rich forests and critical areas.

“WWF is eager to help make this commitment a reality to protect the magnificent tropical forests across Sumatra. These forests shelter some of the world’s rarest species and provide livelihoods for millions of people,” said Mubariq Ahmad, CEO of WWF-Indonesia.

Today’s announcement follows commitments made at the Convention on Biological Diversity’s Conference of Parties in Bonn in May to achieve zero net deforestation by 2020 – that means that global forest coverage must remain the same, taking into account deforestation and reforestation.

Source: WWF press release

Date: 08/10/2008

UK city stages ‘tree-athlon’


Hundreds of trees have been planted in Greater Manchester as part of the city’s first “tree-athlon” event, reports the BBC News website.

About 500 people took part in a 5km (three-mile) run in Heaton Park, before each was given a sapling as a prize.

Competitors could either plant the tree at home or in specially-created woodland in the park after the event.

The race, which took place at 1430 BST, was organised by the charity Trees for Cities, which aims to raise money to plant trees in urban areas.

Councillor Richard Cowell, of Manchester City Council, said: “As well as cutting our carbon footprints, trees are an important part of our response to climate change and our drive to become Britain’s greenest city.

“Whether you’re taking part in the Tree-athlon or the Tree Party, this is a wonderful opportunity for families and young people to enjoy a good day out whilst learning about the importance of trees.”

Trees for Cities has been running greening projects in Greater Manchester since 2005.

It works in partnership with the Red Rose Forest, one of 12 Community Forests in England that are regenerating the environment in and around many of England’s urban centres.

Source: BBC News website

Date: 05/10/2008

Leaves ‘keep their cool’


This is a bit of an old one, but this story featured on the Nature website by Heidi Ledford about how leaves regulate their temperature in order to maximise their metabolism is worth a mention on these pages:

Whether growing in the heat of Puerto Rico or in the icy chill of northern Canada, tree leaves are able to buffer against the outside temperature, new research has found.

A survey of 39 North American tree species over an area spanning 50° of latitude has shown that plants protect one of their most important functions – photosynthesis – by maintaining average leaf temperatures at around 21 °C, regardless of the weather.

Source: Nature.com

Date: 11/06/2008

Pine beetles ‘affecting Rockies air quality and climate’


When pine bark beetles kill trees, scientists believe they may also alter local weather patterns and air quality, reports the Environmental News Service (ENS).

For the next four years, researchers will study forests from southern Wyoming to northern New Mexico to determine the precise relationship between the beetles, the trees they kill and the atmosphere.

A new international field project, led by scientists at the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) in Boulder, is exploring how trees killed by the beetles influence rainfall, temperatures, smog and other aspects of the atmosphere.

“Forests help control the atmosphere, and there’s a big difference between the impacts of a living forest and a dead forest,” says NCAR scientist Alex Guenther, a principal investigator on the project. “With a dead forest, we may get different rainfall patterns, for example.”

Preliminary computer modeling suggests that beetle kill can lead to temporary temperature increases of between two and four degrees Fahrenheit. This is partly because of a lack of foliage to reflect the Sun’s heat back into space.

Beetle kill stimulates trees to release more particles and chemicals into the atmosphere as they try to fight off the insects, Dr Guenther says. This worsens air quality, at least initially, by increasing levels of ground-level ozone and particulate matter.

The mountain pine beetle, Dendroctonus ponderosae, is a species of bark beetle native to the forests of western North America from Mexico to central British Columbia and Alberta.

Forests in Colorado, Wyoming, and South Dakota are experiencing bark beetle epidemics at a historically unprecedented scale, according to the US Forest Service.

A plan by the Service to deal with the beetles will log, burn, or spray 104,000 acres of lodgepole pines in the Rocky Mountain Region by 2011.

Researchers from the Canadian Forest Service have studied the relationship between the carbon cycle and forest fires, logging and tree deaths.

They conclude that by 2020, the pine beetle outbreak will have released 270 megatonnes of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere from Canadian forests.

The NCAR project, known as BEACHON for Bio-hydro-atmosphere interactions of Energy, Aerosols, Carbon, H2O, Organics and Nitrogen, is funded by the National Science Foundation, NCAR’s sponsor.

BEACHON will allow scientists to gain insights into cloud formation, climate change, and the cycling of gases and particles between the land and the atmosphere, according to Cliff Jacobs, program director in NSF’s Division of Atmospheric Sciences.

The exchange of gases and particles between the surface and the atmosphere is critical in arid areas such as the western United States.

Dr Guenther says even slight changes in precipitation can impact the region.

“Here in the western United States, it is particularly important to understand these subtle impacts on precipitation,” Guenther says. “Rain and snow may become even more scarce in the future as the climate changes, and the growing population wants ever more water.”

Researchers will use aircraft as well as towers that reach above the forest canopy to measure emissions at 100 feet above the ground.

Additional data will come from soil and moisture sensors, instruments for gases and tiny particles, radars, and lidars, which are radar-like devices that use light instead of radio waves.

“BEACHON will give us a very comprehensive picture of a forest’s impact on the atmosphere,” Dr Guenther says.

“But at this point, we don’t know what the project will reveal. We may end up with more questions than answers.”

Organisations participating in the project include Colorado College, Colorado State University, Cornell University, Texas A&M University, and the universities of Colorado, Idaho, Minnesota, New Hampshire, and Washington, as well as the U.S. Forest Service, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, and universities in Austria, France and Japan.

Source: ENS

Date: 2/10/2008

Shade trees can protect coffee crops from climate extremes


Farming techniques that use shade trees may improve crops’ resistance to temperature and rainfall extremes that climate change is expected to trigger, says a study in BioScience magazine.

Researchers from the University of Michigan, US, focused on coffee production, although they added that their conclusions could be applied to other cash crops, including cocoa and tea, which also were traditionally grown under shade trees.

The scientists gathered evidence that showed that the intensification of coffee production in recent decades had made the crop, and the millions of people whose livelihood depends on it, more vulnerable to higher temperatures and changes in rainfall.

In an effort to boost production, the US researchers added, growers had increased their use of pesticides and relied less on shade trees.

Their findings suggested that these developments made the coffee plants more susceptible to extreme weather events.

The team added that the benefits of shade trees appeared to be greater in marginal growing areas.

They called for more research in to whether a return to more traditional agroforestry techniques were likely to protect the livelihoods of farmers threatened by climate change.

Below is the paper’s abstract:

An inevitable consequence of global climate change is that altered patterns of temperature and precipitation threaten agriculture in many tropical regions, requiring strategies of human adaptation.

Moreover, the process of management intensification in agriculture has increased and may exacerbate vulnerability to climate extremes.

Although many solutions have been presented, the role of simple agroecological and agroforestry management has been largely ignored.

Some recent literature has shown how sustainable management may improve agroecological resistance to extreme climate events.

We comment specifically on a prevalent formof agriculture throughout Latin America, the coffee agroforestry system.

Results from the coffee literature have shown that shade management in coffee systems may mitigate the effects of extreme temperature and precipitation, thereby reducing the ecological and economic vulnerability of many rural farmers.

We conclude that more traditional forms of agriculture can offer greater potential for adapting to changing conditions than do current intensive systems.

Source: American Institute of Biological Sciences

Date: 1/10/2008

Jamaican landslides blamed on deforestation


The landslides, triggered by the downpours from Tropical Storm Gustav, have prompted the Jamaican government to call on people to replant trees in deforested areas.

Conservator of Forests, Marilyn Headley, has pointed out that most land slippage as a result of Tropical Storm Gustav, occurred in deforested areas.

“There was little damage to trees,” said Marilyn Headley, conservator of forests told the Jamaican Information Service.

“There was mainly land slippage and damage to infrastructure, and areas with good tree cover had the least damage.”

She added that she was asking people to help replant the areas where deforestation had left the soil exposed to the elements.

“In observance of National Tree Planting Day on 3 October, I am appealing to schools, community groups, NGOs and farmers, particularly in the hilly areas, to collect the free seedlings available from the Forestry Department and plant these trees for crop shade or to restore cover on bare hillsides.

She explained that hills without sturdy tree cover could not sustain agriculture, as crops would always be lost in heavy rains.

“Rich top soil is also washed to the sea. For food security and rural development, keeping trees on our hills is therefore critical.

“Our theme this year – Deforested hillside, Downstream disaster – is in keeping with this concept,” Miss Headley noted.

She also said that farmers had often cleared land too much, removing all vegetation – including trees- before replanting the area with banana trees.

Forest trees, which provided the necessary shade after about five years, also survived much longer than banana trees.

These trees, she observed, were also much more resilient against the high winds and torrential rains of tropical storms.

Since National Tree Planting Day was initiated five years ago, there has been a significant increase in urban forests.

She encouraged more planting of forest trees in rural areas such as the eastern Blue Mountains and Yallahs River watershed, which suffered severe damage during this Atlantic hurricane season.

“Seedlings available from the Forestry Department this year are mahogany, silky oak, yucca, Spanish elm, niem, milkwood, cedar and other less known varieties that are suitable for watershed areas and inter-cropping,” she explained.

Source: Jamaican Information Service

Date: 29/09/2008

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