Tropical tree biodiversity at risk

New study shows that many tree species are at serious risk of extinction

Scientists have uncovered unnerving results revealing that many tree species are at serious risk of extinction.

Published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), the study, which involved Liverpool John Moores University’s Professor Serge Wich showed that most tropical tree species are extremely rare, meaning that they may be under serious risk of extinction at current deforestation rates.

Given the importance of trees as key structural components of forest ecosystems, sources of timber and non-timber products, and providers of vital ecosystem services, this is worrying news.

Professor Serge Wich explains:

 “To be able to adequately protect our biodiversity we first need to know how many species there are. We know that most of the tree species occur in the tropics, but we do not know how many species there are and whether many tree species are rare or not. So this study that aim to answer how many tree species there are in the species-rich tropical rainforests and how many of those are rare is of key importance for conservation. Determining how many tree species there are is also important for conservation of  many other species that depend on these tree species.

“We also now know that conserving forests is of enormous value to society through the services that forests provide in for instance water regulation and mitigating climate change. LJMU as a university is keen to conduct research that has societal importance and participating in this large-scale scientific effort to provide basic scientific information for forest conservation illustrates this well.”

Africa lags the other regions in tree diversity, but it still far outpaces Europe, whose temperate forests have only 124 species, and North America, which has less than 1,000 species. Some rainforests may have more than 400 tree species per hectare. However diversity doesn't correlate to abundance, say the authors.

The paper "An estimate of the number of tropical tree species" is available at http://www.pnas.org/content/early/2015/05/27/1423147112.abstract

Interview contact details:

Professor Serge Wich   s.a.wich@ljmu.ac.uk  

LJMU Press Officer Clare Coombes  0151 231 3004  press@ljmu.ac.uk

Image: An overview shot of lowland tropical rain forest in the Leuser Ecosystem (Sumatra, Indonesia).

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Quotes

To be able to adequately protect our biodiversity we first need to know how many species there are. We know that most of the tree species occur in the tropics, but we do not know how many species there are and whether many tree species are rare or not. So this study that aim to answer how many tree species there are in the species-rich tropical rainforests and how many of those are rare is of key importance for conservation. Determining how many tree species there are is also important for conservation of many other species that depend on these tree species.
Professor Serge Wich