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      Primary forests are irreplaceable for sustaining tropical biodiversity

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          Abstract

          Human-driven land-use changes increasingly threaten biodiversity, particularly in tropical forests where both species diversity and human pressures on natural environments are high. The rapid conversion of tropical forests for agriculture, timber production and other uses has generated vast, human-dominated landscapes with potentially dire consequences for tropical biodiversity. Today, few truly undisturbed tropical forests exist, whereas those degraded by repeated logging and fires, as well as secondary and plantation forests, are rapidly expanding. Here we provide a global assessment of the impact of disturbance and land conversion on biodiversity in tropical forests using a meta-analysis of 138 studies. We analysed 2,220 pairwise comparisons of biodiversity values in primary forests (with little or no human disturbance) and disturbed forests. We found that biodiversity values were substantially lower in degraded forests, but that this varied considerably by geographic region, taxonomic group, ecological metric and disturbance type. Even after partly accounting for confounding colonization and succession effects due to the composition of surrounding habitats, isolation and time since disturbance, we find that most forms of forest degradation have an overwhelmingly detrimental effect on tropical biodiversity. Our results clearly indicate that when it comes to maintaining tropical biodiversity, there is no substitute for primary forests.

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          Most cited references 22

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          Beyond deforestation: restoring forests and ecosystem services on degraded lands.

          Despite continued forest conversion and degradation, forest cover is increasing in countries across the globe. New forests are regenerating on former agricultural land, and forest plantations are being established for commercial and restoration purposes. Plantations and restored forests can improve ecosystem services and enhance biodiversity conservation, but will not match the composition and structure of the original forest cover. Approaches to restoring forest ecosystems depend strongly on levels of forest and soil degradation, residual vegetation, and desired restoration outcomes. Opportunities abound to combine ambitious forest restoration and regeneration goals with sustainable rural livelihoods and community participation. New forests will require adaptive management as dynamic, resilient systems that can withstand stresses of climate change, habitat fragmentation, and other anthropogenic effects.
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            Impacts of roads and linear clearings on tropical forests.

            Linear infrastructure such as roads, highways, power lines and gas lines are omnipresent features of human activity and are rapidly expanding in the tropics. Tropical species are especially vulnerable to such infrastructure because they include many ecological specialists that avoid even narrow (<30-m wide) clearings and forest edges, as well as other species that are susceptible to road kill, predation or hunting by humans near roads. In addition, roads have a major role in opening up forested tropical regions to destructive colonization and exploitation. Here, we synthesize existing research on the impacts of roads and other linear clearings on tropical rainforests, and assert that such impacts are often qualitatively and quantitatively different in tropical forests than in other ecosystems. We also highlight practical measures to reduce the negative impacts of roads and other linear infrastructure on tropical species.
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              Global State of Biodiversity and Loss

              Biodiversity, a central component of Earth's life support systems, is directly relevant to human societies. We examine the dimensions and nature of the Earth's terrestrial biodiversity and review the scientific facts concerning the rate of loss of biodiversity and the drivers of this loss. The estimate for the total number of species of eukaryotic organisms possible lies in the 5�15 million range, with a best guess of ~7 million. Species diversity is unevenly distributed; the highest concentrations are in tropical ecosystems. Endemisms are concentrated in a few hotspots, which are in turn seriously threatened by habitat destruction�the most prominent driver of biodiversity loss. For the past 300 years, recorded extinctions for a few groups of organisms reveal rates of extinction at least several hundred times the rate expected on the basis of the geological record. The loss of biodiversity is the only truly irreversible global environmental change the Earth faces today.
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                Author and article information

                Journal
                Nature
                Nature
                Springer Science and Business Media LLC
                0028-0836
                1476-4687
                October 2011
                September 14 2011
                October 2011
                : 478
                : 7369
                : 378-381
                Article
                10.1038/nature10425
                21918513
                © 2011

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