2012 May 16 Wednesday
Loss Of Megaherbavores Cuts Tropical Biodiversity

Elephants and rhinos spread seeds.

The progressive disappearance of seed-dispersing animals like elephants and rhinoceroses puts the structural integrity and biodiversity of the tropical forest of South-East Asia at risk. With the help of Spanish researchers, an international team of experts has confirmed that not even herbivores like tapirs can replace them.

"Megaherbivores act as the 'gardeners' of humid tropical forests: They are vital to forest regeneration and maintain its structure and biodiversity", as was explained to SINC by Ahimsa Campos-Arceiz, the lead author of the study that was published in the 'Biotropica' journal and researcher at the School of Geography of the University of Nottingham in Malaysia.

In these forests in East Asia, the large diversity of plant species means that there is not enough space for all the trees to germinate and grow. As well as the scarce light, seed dispersion is made more complicated by the lack of wind due to the trees that are up to 90 metres high. Plant life is then limited to seeds dispersed by those animals that eat pulp. They either scatter seeds by dropping their food, regurgitating it or by defecating later on.

The Asian elephant (Elephas maximus) occupies just 5% of its historical range and its range will likely continue to shrink as more forests get cut down.

Primate species in south east Asia are especially at risk from forest losses.

With the input of hundreds of experts worldwide, the primate review provides scientific data to show the severe threats facing animals that share virtually all DNA with humans. In both Vietnam and Cambodia, approximately 90 percent of primate species are considered at risk of extinction. Populations of gibbons, leaf monkeys, langurs and other species have dwindled due to rampant habitat loss exacerbated by hunting for food and to supply the wildlife trade in traditional Chinese medicine and pets.

Old growth forests support the most biodiversity.

A team of researchers from Singapore, Australia, Switzerland, the UK and the USA has carried out a comprehensive assessment to estimate the impact of disturbance and land conversion on biodiversity in tropical forests. In a recent study published in Nature, they found that primary forests – those least disturbed old-growth forests – sustain the highest levels of biodiversity and are vital to many tropical species.

As the human population grows toward 9 billion people and Asia continues to industrialize habitat loss is going to drive many more species to extinction.

By Randall Parker    2012 May 16 10:35 PM   Entry Permalink | Comments (2)
2007 November 17 Saturday
Asian Industrialization Threatens Many Species

Saiga antelopes are getting wiped out as a side effect of an attempt to save rhinos in Africa from use in Chinese folk medicine treatments.

A decade ago, the saiga antelope seemed so secure that conservationists fighting to save the rhino from poaching suggested using saiga horn in traditional Chinese medicines as a substitute for rhino horn.


In 1993, over a million saiga antelopes roamed the steppes of Russia and Kazakhstan. Today, fewer than 30,000 remain, most of them females. So many males have been shot for their horns, which are exported to China to be used in traditional fever cures, that the antelope may not be able to recover unaided.

By way of Alex Tabarrok.

The demand for folk medicine in China is wiping out lots of species. The World Conservation Union says most of the bear species are threatened with extinction and Chinese medicine is one of the causes.

Six of the world's eight species of bear are threatened with extinction, according to a report from the World Conservation Union (IUCN).

The smallest species of bear, the sun bear, has been included on the list for the first time, while the giant panda remains endangered, despite comprehensive conservation efforts in China.

China is going to keep industrializing and Chinese buying power for parts of endangered species is going to keep rising. At the same time, deforestation driven by Asian industrialization, population growth, and other factors will continue.

The main threat to bears across south-east Asia comes from poaching. Although illegal, poachers are prepared the risk the small chance of being caught against the lucrative gains they can make from sales on the black market.

Prized bear body parts include the gall bladder, which is used in traditional Chinese medicine, and their paw, which is considered to be a delicacy.

Another threat to bear populations comes from living in close proximity to human settlements. Bears are often killed when they prey on livestock or raid crops, or killed when the roam too close to a village because they are seen as a threat to human safety.

The Chinese raise incarcerated bears to extract bile for medicine. That probably saves some of the wild bears from death. But animal rights campaigners oppose using captive bears for bile extraction.

Even with a new state-approved "free drip" method of extracting bile, China's incarcerated bears lead miserable, pain-wracked lives, said campaigner Jill Robinson, who says she won't rest until the 7,000 bears kept on China's farms are free.

Tigers are in rapid decline too.

In the past 100 years, tiger populations around the world have declined by 95 percent. In India, home to at least half of the world’s tigers, only an estimated 1,500 remain, a decline of more than 50 percent since 2001, according to the government-run National Tiger Conservation Authority. In the past six years, it is believed, tigers have been killed at a rate of nearly one a day.

Over the next 20 years, the tiger population could “disappear in many places, or shrink to the point of ecological extinction,” according to a 2006 report by the World Wildlife Fund and the Smithsonian National Zoological Park in Washington.

Several factors have contributed to the decline in India, including a growing human population. There is also a demand for tiger parts from places such as China, where tiger skins priced at $12,000 and more are used for luxury clothes and wall hangings, and where equally pricey tiger bones are used in traditional medicines. Compounding the problem, wildlife activists say, is a pro-development Indian government more concerned with the economy than the environment.

Other types of species are also threatened.

More than 30 per cent of the world's amphibians, 23 per cent of mammals and 12per cent of birds are now threatened with extinction. More than 75 per cent of fish stocks are fully or overly exploited. Six in 10 of the world's leading rivers have been either dammed or diverted. One in 10 of these rivers no longer reaches the sea for part of the year. More than two million people die prematurely every year from indoor and outdoor pollution. Less than 1 per cent of the world's marine ecosystems are protected.

Humans are like "a plague of ravenous insects".

Humans affect, and are affected by, the environment to an enormous degree. The GEO-4 report includes a number of disquieting statistics on humanity. The global population has grown by 1.7 billion in the 20 years since 1987, to a grand total of 6.7 billion. And these 6.7 billion humans consume like a plague of ravenous insects. One small example noted in the report: every year, 1.1million to 3.4million tonnes of undressed wild animal meat, or bushmeat, is eaten by people living in the Congo basin.

Except the insects serve as food for birds and other animals. Humans are on the top of food chains.

Humanity's footprint on ecosystems keeps getting larger. This can't continue indefinitely. All exponential trends must stop eventually. I would like this one to stop short of ecological disaster.

By Randall Parker    2007 November 17 10:51 PM   Entry Permalink | Comments (7)
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