Forests and biodiversity


Biodiversity, refers to the variety of life on Earth, including the variety of plant and animal species, the genetic variability within each species, and the variety of different ecosystems. Forests account for as much as 90 percent of terrestrial biodiversity, while tropical forests alone, contain at least 50 per cent, and a considerably higher proportion of all the living species on the planet, including a great proportion of higher plants and mammals.

In fact, forest biodiversity encompasses thousands of animal species and provides thousands of other timber and non-timber species more, many of which are key for agriculture, fisheries and industry. Mangrove forests, for instance are among the world's most biologically diverse and productive systems. They act as nursery grounds for fish and shellfish, and are prime nesting and migratory sites for hundreds of bird species, they also provide nutrients for the marine environment .

Forests also support agricultural biodiversity. In the early 1970s Asia¿s rice crop was affected by a "grassy stunt" virus that threatened to devastate 300,000 square kilometres of rice fields. Fortunately a single gene from a wild rice species in an Indian forest offered resistance against the virus. In India alone, the introduction of wild rice strains (plus primitive cultivars) has increased yields by USD 75 million a year.

Many industrial products, rubber and oil palm, for example, are of forest origin. Various fruits and many other crops - ranging from food crops such as avocado, banana, cashew, coconut, grapefruit and lemon to beverages and spices such as cacao, cinnamon, coffee, paprika and vanilla- depend for part of their productivity and disease resistance, on genetic infusions from wild relatives in tropical forests. Just the exports of these crops are worth well over USD 20 billion a year. Moreover, widely used medicines produced by pharmaceutical companies were originally developed thanks to the analysis of forest plants, often those traditionally used by forest dwellers such as indigenous peoples.

Forest biodiversity is the result of millions of years of evolution of life on this planet. But human activities are causing losses in biodiversity 50 to 100 times faster than could be expected in the absence of human intervention. According to FAO, there has been an annual net loss of 9.4 million hectares (0.22 per cent annually) since 1990, of which most was natural forest in the tropics.

Sustainable forest management is one of the keys that may contribute to reverse this destructive trend. Sustainable forest management practices involve forest restoration, watershed management, the sustainable use of forest biological diversity and the establishment of protected areas. Today, an estimated 12 per cent of the world¿s forests are under protected area status (as defined by IUCN Categories I to VI).

At the 1992 Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro, UN member countries agreed on a comprehensive strategy for sustainable development and sustainable forest management. One of the key agreements adopted at Rio was the Convention on Biological Diversity signed by 150 government leaders.

The legally bindingConvention on Biological Diversitygathers the commitments adopted by countries. These are based on three main goals: the conservation of biological diversity, the sustainable use of its components, and the fair and equitable sharing of the benefits from the use of genetic resources.

last updated:  Monday, March 7, 2005