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Forest Biodiversity

Forest Biodiversity

Think of some animals that call the Amazon Rainforest home. Jaguars, Sloths, Poisen Dart Frogs, or even the Red Howler Monkey might come to mind. Only people with really good memory would be able to name them all because there are over 400 species of amphibians living in the Amazon Rainforest alone. This is in comparison to only seven species that live in the UK. So what makes forests like the Amazon so biodiverse?


Firstly, what does forest biodiversity mean?

Forest biodiversity refers to the biological diversity within forested ecosystems. Let's quickly recap some important terms.

Biodiversity (short for biological diversity) is the variety of life in a particular habitat or ecosystem. Biodiversity encompasses species diversity, genetic diversity and ecosystem diversity.

A forest is an area of land dominated by trees.

Examples of forests

Tropical forests: found around the Equator, these vertically layered forests experience high temperatures and precipitation. Animal diversity is incredibly high. Scientists estimate that tropical forests are home to over 5 million undiscovered species.

The Amazon Rainforest is a well-known tropical rainforest.

Northern coniferous forests: found in northern Eurasia and America, these forests generally experience low precipitation and extreme seasonal differences in temperature. Mammals are diverse, whilst some birds migrate depending on the seasons.

The Cheremkhovsky Forest, Siberia, is the world's largest forest, spanning 7900 km2.

Temperate broadleaf forests: found in mid-latitude regions, these vertically layered forests have year-round precipitation and seasonal temperature differences. Mammals typically hibernate and birds migrate during colder months.

Temperate broadleaf forests surround America's Great Lakes.

Why is biodiversity so high in forests?

Forests are home to thousands of different species of animals, plants, and fungi. Tropical forests are the most diverse terrestrial ecosystems – home to 62% of the world's terrestrial vertebrates. Nearly half of these are endemic.

An endemic species is native to a particular region or country.

The lowland forests of the Amazon are home to 14,000 plant species, including 6000 trees.

But why are these tropical forests hotspots for biodiversity?

Energy Availability

Tropical rainforests are found close to the Equator, where temperatures are high year-round.

Consistent heat and sunlight provide more energy than we get here in the UK! Plants can photosynthesise throughout the year, enabling growth and an increase in biomass.

Biomass is the total mass of living organisms in an area.

High Biomass and Resources

The high biomass of tropical rainforests provides many resources. Food, nutrients, and shelter will always be available to support many species.

Additionally, the layered forest structure supports biodiversity. Light, plants, and nutrient levels vary between the top of the canopy and the forest floor, creating different habitats. Thus, different species will inhabit each layer.

Effects of Forests on Biodiversity

As well as being biodiversity hotspots themselves, forests play a key role in maintaining biodiversity in different parts of the world.

Atmospheric Regulation

Forests act as a carbon sink – absorbing more CO2 than they emit.

This atmospheric regulation minimises temperatures rising elsewhere in the world. Rising temperatures affect species distributions, forcing them to move to a higher altitude or latitude. Habitats will be damaged, causing population decline. Endemic species are particularly at risk, because of their small range size.

Climate change could affect interactions between species, producing 'winners' and 'losers'. Different species could become dominant, altering their food web and habitats. Specialists (species adapted to specific conditions) are likely to lose out to generalists (who can survive in a range of conditions). The distribution and abundance of pests are likely to change, which could affect agriculture.

Forests provide oxygen to the atmosphere through photosynthesis. The Amazon Rainforest alone produces 20% of the world's oxygen, earning its nickname 'Lungs of the Earth'.

Photosynthesis

All plants, including trees, are autotrophs. This means that they make their own food using sunlight via the process of photosynthesis:

carbon dioxide + water ⇾ glucose + oxygen

Plants release oxygen as a by-product; an unneeded waste product. But without atmospheric oxygen, animals wouldn't be able to survive. As well as oxygen production, plants remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, reducing the effects of climate change.

Hydrological Regulation

Trees have a higher leaf area than other vegetation types, making them more effective at intercepting rain and preventing soil erosion. Trees also have high water productivity, making them efficient biomass producers. Deep, large roots allow increased evapotranspiration (water loss) from leaves. More energy is used to evaporate this water, resulting in a cooling effect. The root systems contribute to soil infiltration, improving water retention and groundwater recharge. This helps regulate the water cycle, providing water to other ecosystems and humans.

The Importance of Forests on Biodiversity

Regulating the atmosphere and the hydrological cycle are essential to maintain a high level of global biodiversity. Changing climate and fluctuating water availability can make species survival very difficult. This is because ecosystems and Earth's physical systems are closely connected. The loss of biodiversity in one ecosystem can have knock-on effects all over the world.

Unfortunately, forests are under threat.

Forests provide important provisioning resources to humans: such as timber, food, fuel, fibres, and medicines. These resources are being harvested unsustainably, leading to forest loss. Furthermore, deforestation is taking place. Huge areas of land are being cleared for alternative uses such as mining and cattle grazing.

Provisioning resources are physical resources or goods obtained from ecosystems.

Provisioning resources are one of the four types of ecosystem service. The others are cultural, regulating, and supporting services. For more information, see Ecosystem Services.

Deforestation has a range of adverse effects on forests.

Effect of Forest LossImpacts
Resource LossesFewer resources are available for human use.This could lead to food insecurity and medicine shortages.
Reduced BiodiversityLoss of species, fragmentation of forest areas.This could lead to extinction.
Hydrology ChangesReduced interception and transpiration, increased runoff.This results in soil erosion and flooding.
Soil ChangesIncreased erosion, reduced organic matter and root binding.This results in soils being less effective at providing nutrients to plants.
Climate ChangesReduced carbon storage and rainfall.This could lead to more CO2 entering the atmosphere, affecting global temperatures.

Conservation of Forest Biodiversity

Conserving forests helps reduce the impacts of deforestation, and maintain high levels of biodiversity.

Conservation isn't always a straightforward process. It may conflict with people's jobs, homes, and livelihoods. Because of this, it is important to always consider people when it comes to making conservation strategies.

Methods to Aid Forest Conservation

  • Forest Restoration: examples of restoration methods include planting trees, improving soils and protecting wildlife corridors. Restoration is most effective when experts and conservationists engage with local communities and national governments.
  • Establish Protected Areas: This is most useful when combined with supporting initiatives to ensure long-term success.
  • Payments for Ecosystem Services: these provide strong incentives to conserve forests by creating a market for intact, functioning forest ecosystems. They can also offset costs borne by land-owners, whose land value is reduced by conservation projects.
  • Agricultural Reforms: these are most useful where protected areas and payments are less effective due to weak governance or private land.
    • Agroforestry is a farming technique incorporating crops alongside trees or natural pasture.

I hope that this article explained forest biodiversity to you. Remember that forests are diverse ecosystems, that provide important atmospheric and hydrological regulation!

Forests Biodiversity - Key takeaways

  • Forest biodiversity refers to the biodiversity within forested ecosystems.
  • Biodiversity is high in forests, especially tropical forests. This is due to high energy availability, biomass and resources, and different habitats within the forest structure.
  • Forests influence biodiversity elsewhere, through atmospheric and hydrological regulation.
  • Deforestation threatens biodiversity and has many negative impacts on the forest.
  • Conservation can help reduce the impacts of deforestation on biodiversity.

1. Andrew Guttierez, Climate change effects on poikilotherm tritrophic interactions, Climatic Change, 2008

2. AQA, Environmental Science Specification, 2017

3. Bart Muys, What role do forests play in the water cycle?, 2022

4. Domingos Cardoso, Amazon plant diversity revealed by a taxonomically verified species list, Biological Sciences, 2017

5. Eckehard Brockerhoff, Forest biodiversity, ecosystem functioning and the provision of ecosystem services, Biodiversity and Conservation, 2017

6. Jason Scullion, Conserving the Last Great Forests: A Meta-Analysis Review of the Drivers of Intact Forest Loss and the Strategies and Policies to Save Them, Frontiers in Forests and Global Change, 2019

7. Kevin Gaston, Global patterns in biodiversity, Nature, 2000

8. Neil Campbell, Biology: A Global Approach, 2018

9. One Tree Planted, Amazon Rainforest Facts, 2022

10. Rajeev Pillay, Tropical forests are home to over half of the world’s vertebrate species, Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment, 2021

11. Thomas Haaland, Generalists versus specialists in fluctuating environments: a bet-hedging perspective, Oikos, 2020

12. WWF, Jumping marvels of the Amazon, 2022

13. WWF, What is forest restoration and how do we do it well?, 2022

14. WWT, Amphibians, 2022

15. Yude Pan, Forest biodiversity, relationships to structural and functional attributes, and stability in New England forests, Forest Ecosystems, 2018

Frequently Asked Questions about Forest Biodiversity

Forest biodiversity is the biological diversity within forested ecosystems.

Forests affect biodiversity by atmospheric and hydrological regulation.

Increasing forest biodiversity can be done by restoration, establishing protected areas, establishing payments for ecosystem services and reforming agriculture.

Biodiversity is high in tropical forests because of high energy availability, biomass and resources.

Final Forest Biodiversity Quiz

Question

What is biodiversity?

Show answer

Answer

Biodiversity is the variety of life in a particular habitat or ecosystem.

Show question

Question

These forests experience low precipitation and extreme seasonal temperature differences.

Show answer

Answer

Northern coniferous forests

Show question

Question

What is an endemic species?

Show answer

Answer

An endemic species is native to a particular region or country.

Show question

Question

What is biomass?

Show answer

Answer

Biomass is the total mass of living organisms in an area.

Show question

Question

High temperatures result in high energy availability. True or false?

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Answer

True

Show question

Question

Forests are a carbon sink. What does this mean?

Show answer

Answer

This means that forests absorb more COthan they emit. 

Show question

Question

How much of the world's oxygen does the Amazon Rainforest produce?

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Answer

20%

Show question

Question

What is evapotranspiration?

Show answer

Answer

Evapotranspiration is water loss from leaves.

Show question

Question

Name some provisioning sources of a forest.

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Answer

Timber, food, fuel, fibres and medicines.

Show question

Question

Deforestation leads to increased...

Show answer

Answer

Runoff

Show question

Question

What is agroforestry?

Show answer

Answer

Agroforestry is a farming technique incorporating crops alongside trees or natural pasture.

Show question

Question

Name some forest restoration methods.

Show answer

Answer

Planting trees, improving soils and protecting wildlife corridors

Show question

Question

Trees have high water productivity. What does this mean?

Show answer

Answer

This means that they are efficient biomass producers.

Show question

Question

Why are endemic species at high risk from climate change?

Show answer

Answer

Endemic species are at high risk due to their small range sizes.

Show question

Question

What is a forest?

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Answer

A forest is an area of land dominated by trees.

Show question

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