. Scientific Frontline: New study finds logged tropical forests are surprisingly vibrant and need protection

Monday, December 19, 2022

New study finds logged tropical forests are surprisingly vibrant and need protection

Logged tropical forests are surprisingly vibrant and need protection.
Photo Credit: Zoe G Davies

A new study by researchers at the University of Oxford, finds that logged rainforests are treasure-troves of healthy ecological function and should not be written off for oil palm plantations.

The study examines the flow of ecological energy across old-growth forests, logged forests and oil palm

Surveys mammal and bird species across these landscapes to calculate food energetic pathways: how photosynthetic energy cascades from sunlight to be distributed among organisms

Relative to energy flow in old-growth forests, study finds 2.5 times more total energy flows in logged forests

The study findings question the use of the word “degraded” to describe logged tropical forests

Rainforest in Borneo.
Photo Credit: Zoe G Davies

Logging affects many of the world’s tropical forests, and such forests are often considered degraded because they have lost vegetation structure, biomass and carbon stocks. But there has rarely been analysis of whether the ecological health and functionality of these ecosystems are similarly degraded.

A new study by researchers at the University of Oxford finds that logged rainforests are treasure-troves of healthy ecological function and should not be written off for oil palm plantations.

"We were very surprised by how much more energy was flowing through the logged forests compared to the old-growth forest, and that it was flowing through the same diverse range of species found in the old-growth forest. We had not expected the logged forest to be so ecologically vibrant."
Yadvinder Malhi
Professor of Ecosystem Science at the Environmental Change Institute at the University of Oxford

The research, ‘Logged tropical forests have amplified and diverse ecosystem energetics’, published in Nature tackles this issue through the perspective of ecosystem energetics - the cascade of energy from plants to mammals and birds through the food they consume. The research team combined more than 36,000 tree, root, and canopy measurements with population data on 248 vertebrate species from old-growth forests through logged forests to oil palm plantations in Borneo.

Remarkably, the study found that the ecological energy flow through the logged forest was 2.5 times greater than in the old-growth forest, before collapsing in the oil palm plantations. The logged forest supported similar or greater densities of almost all bird and mammal species.

The authors emphasize that old-growth forests still hold immense ecological value and high carbon stocks, and need to be left intact where possible. But this study questions the labelling of logged forests as “degraded” when they are so ecologically vibrant. Such labelling can mean these logged forest landscapes are seen as lower priorities for protection and are cleared to make way for agriculture such as oil palm.

Professor Malhi concludes: ‘In tropical forests, and probably in many other ecosystems, not everything that looks broken, is broken.’

Published in journal: journal Nature

Source/CreditUniversity of Oxford

Reference Number: en121922_01

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