Roads are the biggest threat to tropical rainforests

October 26th, 2009 - 3:40 pm ICT by IANS  

Sydney, Oct 26 (IANS) Roads, the most visible symbols of progress, are the biggest threat to the world’s tropical rainforests, says a new study.
“Clearing wide paths in any forest has a strong effect on the ecosystem, but these impacts are particularly acute in tropical rainforests,” said William Laurance, study co-author and biology professor at the Smithsonian’s Tropical Research Institute in Panama.

Tropical rainforests mainly occur in developing nations, many of which are experiencing continued population growth, rapid economic development and intense natural resource exploitation.

“In many of these areas, industrial logging, oil and gas development large-scale agriculture and mining provide an economic impetus for the expansion of road and infrastructure developments, said Laurance.

“New logging roads make forests greatly more accessible to exploitation by hunters, miners and settlers and disease and invasive species generally follow the influx of humans,” added Laurance.

Miriam Goosem, principal research fellow at James Cook University and Laurance’s associate, said the team analysed dozens of studies on Amazon, Australasia and Central Africa to conclude that roads are the number one threat to tropical rainforests.

“We believe that maintaining large areas of intact forests without roads should be the highest priority of conservationists worldwide,” she said.

Biologically, rainforests are characterised by a complex architecture and a uniquely humid, dark stable climate. They sustain many species that are incredibly specialised for the forest’s interior and understory conditions, said a James Cook release.

“Some species strongly avoid forest edges and are unable to traverse even narrow forest clearings,” Goosem said. “Other tropical species are susceptible to hunting, increased predation, invasive species and being killed by vehicles.”

These findings appeared in Trends in Ecology and Evolution.

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