Wild fruit trees face extinction


Scientists have warned that the wild ancestors of common domestic fruit trees are in danger of becoming extinct, reports the BBC’s Victoria Gill.

Researchers have published a “red list” of threatened species that grow in the forests of Central Asia.

These disease-resistant and climate-tolerant fruit trees could play a role in our future food security.

But in the last 50 years, about 90% of the forests have been destroyed, according to conservation charity, Fauna & Flora International.

The Red List of Central Asia identifies 44 tree species in Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan and Tajikistan as under threat from extinction.

It cites over-exploitation and human development as among the main threats to the region’s forests, which are home to more than 300 wild fruit and nut species including apple, plum, cherry, apricot and walnut.

Antonia Eastwood, the lead author of the research, described the region as a “unique global hotspot of diversity”.

“A lot of these species are only found in this area,” she told BBC News. “It’s very mountainous and dry, so many of these species have a great deal of tolerance to cold and drought.

“A lot of our domestic fruit supply comes from a very narrow genetic base,” she continued.

“Given the threats posed to food supplies by disease and the changing climate, we may need to go back to these species and include them in breeding programmes.”

Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan are thought to be the ancestral homes of familiar favourites such as Red Delicious and Golden Delicious.

The US Department of Agriculture has already sponsored expeditions to Kazakhstan, during which scientists have collected samples with the aim of expanding the genetic diversity of farm-grown apples.

This type of genetic foraging, Dr Eastwood explained, allows domestic lines to be crossed with wild strains, producing varieties more resistant to diseases such as apple scab, a fungus that can devastate crops.

“But these countries lack the resources to conserve their valuable trees,” added Dr Eastwood.

This year, as part of the the UK Darwin Initiative, Fauna & Flora International is working with scientists in Kyrgyzstan to carry out research on threatened trees and develop methods to harvest the fruit sustainably.

The organisation is training local scientists and involving communities in the planning and managing of their own forests.

Source: BBC News website

Date: 07/05/2009

Top five invasive threats to US southern forests


Apologies that this post refers to information issued in a press release by the US Forest Service back in January, but it contains interesting data and links that could be of use to people – Take Cover team.

US Forest Service Southern Research Station (SRS) ecologist Jim Miller, considered to be one of the foremost authorities on non-native plants in the  southern US, has identified the five invasive plant species he believes pose the biggest threats to southern forest ecosystems in 2009.

“Cogongrass, tallowtree, and Japanese climbing fern are among the fastest moving and most destructive non-native plant species facing many southern landowners this year,” Dr Miller warned.

“Rounding out the top five invasive species that I’m very concerned about would be tree-of-heaven and non-native privets.

“While our forests are besieged by numerous invasive plants, these and other non-native species present serious financial and ecological threats to the South and its forests.”

Non-native species often out-compete native forest plants and may degrade forest productivity, wildlife habitat, recreational values, and water quality.

Invasive species also greatly increase expenses as public and private land managers work to combat their spread and deal with their effects (such as increased wildfire risk and severity).

Non-native plants can be introduced and spread by wildlife or through other natural means.

Humans also spread invasive species by planting them in their gardens and yards and as a result of seeds hitchhiking on clothes.

Additionally, tractors and mowers used in multiple locations without being cleaned often spread the plants.

In an effort to inform forest managers, landowners, and others about where the most threatening invasive plants are in the South, Dr Miller collaborated with SRS Forest Inventory and Analysis (FIA) scientists to develop maps showing the spread, county-by-county, across the south-east of more than 30 of the most serious non-native plant species.

The invasive plant data were collected on FIA plots throughout the southern US in co-operation with state forestry agencies.

In partnership with the University of Georgia’s Center for Invasive Species Science and Ecosystem Health, SRS researchers recently posted the maps and occupation levels online.

Dr Miller hopes government agencies, forest managers, natural resource professionals, landowners, students, and others will use the information to help combat the spread of non-native plant species in southern forest and grassland ecosystems.

Source: US Forest Service press release

Date: 12/01/2009

Quarter of PNG’s rainforests ‘lost to logging’


Nearly one quarter of Papua New Guinea’s rainforests were damaged or destroyed between 1972 and 2002, Mongabay.com reports.

Researchers, writing in the journal Biotopica, said the results – published in a report last June – show that Papua New Guinea is losing forests at a much faster rate than previously believed.

Over the 30-year study period, 15% of the nation’s tropical forests were cleared and a further 8.8% were degraded through logging.

“Our analysis does not support the theory that PNG’s forests have escaped the rapid changes recorded in other tropical regions,” the authors wrote.

“We conclude that rapid and substantial forest change has occurred in Papua New Guinea.”

Deforestation and forest degradation in Papua New Guinea are primarily driven by logging, followed by clearing for subsistence agriculture.

Since 2002 (a period not covered in the study), reports suggest that conversion of forest for industrial agriculture, especially oil palm plantations, has increased.

The study is based on comparisons between a land-cover map from 1972 and a land-cover map created from nationwide high-resolution satellite imagery recorded in 2002.

The authors found that most deforestation occurred in commercially accessible forest, where forest loss ranged from 1.1 to 3.4% each year.

Overall deforestation was 0.8 to 1.8% per year, higher than reported by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), but lower than the rate of deforestation on neighboring islands, including Borneo and Sumatra.

Papua New Guinea’s primary forest cover fell from 33.23 million hectares to 25.33 million hectares during the 30-year period.

In the same period, almost 93 million hectares of forest were degraded by logging.

Lead author Phil Shearman, director of the University of Papua New Guinea’s Remote Sensing Centre, said that without incentives to keep forest standing, Papua New Guinea would continue to lose its forests.

“Forests in Papua New Guinea are being logged repeatedly and wastefully with little regard for the environmental consequences and with at least the passive complicity of government authorities,” Dr Shearman said.

He noted that nearly half of the country’s 8.7 million hectares of forest accessible to mechanised logging have been allocated to the commercial logging industry.

But he added that there may be hope because Papua New Guinea had become a leader in the push by tropical nations to seek compensation from industrialised countries for conserving forests as a giant store of carbon.

The mechanism known as REDD (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation) could potentially provide billions of dollars for conservation, sustainable development and poverty alleviation.

“The government could make a significant contribution to global efforts to combat climate change,” observed Dr Shearman.

“It is in its own interest to do so, as this nation is particularly susceptible to negative effects due to loss of the forest cover.”

UN studies have show that coastal communities in Papua New Guinea are particularly at risk from climate change.
Source: Mongabay.com

Date: 23/02/2009

Norway to pay Guyana to protect rainforests


Norway will provide financial support for Guyana’s ambitious plan to conserve its rainforests, reports Mongabay.com.

During a meeting in Oslo, Guyana President Bharrat Jagdeo and Norwegian Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg signedan agreement to establish a partnership to reduce emissions from deforestation and forest degradation (REDD).

It is also understood that the leaders will also push for the incorporation of a REDD mechanism that includes low deforestation countries like Guyana in a post-2012 climate change agreement.

“We agreed that if the world is to prevent irreversible climate change, it is essential that greenhouse gas emissions from deforestation and forest degradation are drastically reduced,” the men said in a statement.

It continued: “To achieve this vital objective, they agreed that determined and concerted action is needed.

“They emphasised that efforts under the UNFCCC towards REDD must be properly designed to ensure that deforestation is significantly reduced in countries where it is already occurring, and avoided in countries where deforestation rates are still low.”

Mr Stoltenberg added that REDD “would provide funding for provide funding for a shift away from forest-dependent employment and income generation, towards support for the creation of low carbon development and low deforestation economies”.

Norway’s financial commitment was not specified, although the statement noted that the Scandinavian country was “prepared to provide performance-based, substantial and sustained compensation for the progress Guyana makes in limiting emissions from deforestation at low levels and further decreasing forest degradation”.

The agreement includes the establishment of a “reputable international organisation” to distribute funds for low-carbon development based on Guyana’s performance.

President Jagdeo welcomed the deal: “The developing and the developed countries must work together to address global warming. I commend the government of Norway for showing leadership through its climate and forest initiative.”

Norway has pledged up to $430 million per year to reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation in developing countries.

To date, it has already committed up to $1bn to Brazil’s Sustainable Amazon Fund, provided the South American country meet targets for reducing deforestation.

Source: Mongabay.com

Date: 05/02/2009

Wildlife trade ‘creating empty forest syndrome’


The illegal trade in wildlife products around the globe risks creating an “empty forest” syndrome, a US researcher has warned.

Mongabay.com reports Elizabeth Bennett, from the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS), as saying that for many endangered species it is not the lack of suitable habitat that has imperiled them, but hunting.

She made her remarks during a presentation at a Smithsonian Symposium on tropical forests, which Take Cover featured last week.

She outlined the perils for many species of the booming and illegal wildlife trade.

Dr Bennett added that pristine forests, although providing perfect habitat for species, stood empty and quiet because the areas had been drained by hunting for bushmeat, traditional medicine, the pet trade, and trophies.

“Hunting has long been known as a primary cause of wildlife species depletion in tropical forests,” she explained.

But she added that the problem had increased exponentially in the past few decades.

Between 1992 and 2002, trade in wildlife has increase by 75% and showed no signs of slowing down.

The US researcher highlighted several factors that had prompted the rapid growth: rising populations; a steady decrease in forest cover, and remaining forests becoming more accessible; and more efficient methods of hunting.

For the last factor, Dr Bennett used the example of hunters in Cambodia using landmines to kill tigers.

However, the most important factor, she said, was the commercialisation and globalisation of the wildlife trade.

Increasing demand for endangered species from countries like China has led to more people trekking into their forests for incomes.

In addition, increasing wealth has allowed many more consumers to afford illegal items made from endangered species on the black market.

To give a picture of the scale of this underground trade, Bennett pointed a number of examples:

  • in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, there are an estimated 1,500 restaurants selling wildlife meat
  • in Jakarta, Indonesia, the Pramuka market sells 1.5 million birds annually
  • a recent seizure of two shipments en route to China contained 14 tonnes of scaly anteater from Sumatra and 23 tonnes from Vietnam (the shipment contained an estimated 7,000 animals)

China is the world’s largest importer wildlife products, including an insatiable demand for turtles, ivory, tigers, pangolins, and many other species used for food or medicine.

Perhaps surprisingly, the USA is the second largest importer. According to Dr Bennett, many tonnes of bushmeat arrive in the US from Africa every month, and the US is large destination for the illegal pet trade.

Source: Mongabay.com

Date: 19/01/2009

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