Environment Magazine

Slicing the Second ‘lung of the Planet’

Posted on the 12 December 2011 by Bradshaw @conservbytes
Slicing the second ‘lung of the planet’


Apologies for the slow-down in postings this past week – as many of you know, I was attending the International Congress for Conservation Biology in Auckland. I’ll blog about the conference later (and the stoush that didn’t really occur), but suffice it to say it was very much worthwhile.

This post doesn’t have a lot to do per se with the conference, but it was stimulated by a talk I attended by Conservation Scholar Stuart Pimm. Now, Stuart is known mainly as a tropical conservation biologist, but as it turns out, he also is a champion of temperate forests – he even sits on the science panel of the International Boreal Conservation Campaign.

I too have dabbled in boreal issues over my career, and most recently with a review published in Trends in Ecology and Evolution on the knife-edge plight of boreal biodiversity and carbon stores. That paper was in fact the result of a brain-storming session Navjot Sodhi and I had one day during my visit to Singapore sometime in 2007. We thought, “It doesn’t really seem that people are focussing their conservation attention on the boreal forest; how bad is it really?”.

Well, it turns out that the boreal forest is still a vast expanse and that there aren’t too many species in imminent danger of extinction; however, that’s where the good news ends. The forest itself is becoming more and more fragmented from industrial development (namely, forestry, mining, petroleum surveying and road-building) and the fire regime has changed irrevocably from a combination of climate change and intensified human presence. You can read all these salient features here.

So, back to my original thread – Stuart gave a great talk on the patterns of deforestation worldwide, with particular emphasis on how satellite imagery hides much of the fine-scale damage that we humans do to the world’s great forests. It was when he said (paraphrased) that “50,000 km2 of boreal forest is lost each year, but even that statistic hides a major checkerboard effect” that my interest was peaked.

So I finally come to the point of this post. In the special issue of essays devoted to the memory of Navjot Sodhi to be published in Biological Conservation in early 2012 (see also the previous post on another paper of ours that will appear in that issue), Ian Warkentin and I (Ian co-authored the first paper in TREE mentioned above) have written a ‘boreal’ tribute to Navjot that has just come out online early.

The paper is entitled A tropical perspective on conserving the boreal ‘lung of the planet’ and in it we describe the little-known fact that despite being one of the world’s top tropical ecologists, like Stuart Pimm, Navjot had his roots in the boreal realm and was keen to apply his expertise to saving its species. So much did he believe this was necessary that prior to his untimely death, Navjot had accepted a posting at the University of Toronto where he was to set a portion of his research focus on developing a hard-hitting boreal conservation programme. Unfortunately, he never made it.

In the essay we describe Navjot’s boreal past and future intentions, and we also highlight another research project currently under way that has impressed me in its scope and breadth. The project is called Ecosystem Management Emulating Natural Disturbance (EMEND) and I believe it is EXACTLY the sort of long-term experiment that needs to be done across the boreal biome to examine how fire, timber harvesting and other human activities interact to change biodiversity and ecosystem resilience. Bit of a coincidental story there – the only reason I knew about EMEND at all prior to writing the essay was that I had the good fortune of meeting John Spence in Guangzhou, China earlier this year for the International Symposium for Biodiversity and Theoretical Ecology organised by Fangliang He. John gave a wonderful talk describing EMEND, so I just had to include a blurb about it in our essay.

And good things come to those who dabble. Very soon after the Guangzhou symposium, I was contacted by Jon Moen and Lucy Rist of Umeå University in Sweden about joining their special symposium entitled ‘Boreal Forests in a Sustainable World’ to be held during the EcoSummit 2012 conference in Columbus, USA in September 2012. I’m not entirely sure what analysis I’ll be presenting with Ian, but it probably will be along the lines of measuring the fragmentation component more precisely (perhaps in collaboration with Stuart Pimm if he’s keen). Jon and Lucy have also organised a pre-EcoSummit meeting in Sweden in April that I hope to attend. Should be interesting.

Enough waffle for a Monday morning. If you’d like a PDF copy of the boreal ‘lung’ essay, just e-mail me.

CJA Bradshaw

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