The modified land still has wildlife value, the study says

  • Researchers who study how species respond to repeated and rapid landscape changes say more attention should be paid to protecting the biodiversity value of human-dominated landscapes.
  • With most of the world’s ecosystems now modified by humans, it warns that without careful management, species will be lost every time land is converted from one land use type to another, from forestry to plantations or agriculture.
  • Researchers call for biodiversity impact assessments when land is proposed for conversion, whether it is intact primary habitat or „impacted” land.
  • They recommend identifying, protecting and restoring natural features of landscapes, such as forest fragments, large and old trees, and wetlands, which serve as important refuges for species between successive land changes.

Humans have changed the planet to a staggering extent. studies Assessment As a species, we have modified at least three-quarters of the Earth’s land surface. Over time, vibrant mosaics of forest, grassland and wetlands have been replaced by our road networks, bustling cities and industrial-scale pastures, plantations and farmland.

With so much of the world under our influence, more attention needs to be paid to recognizing and protecting the biodiversity value of human-dominated landscapes, an international team of researchers says in a new study. Research study Published in Global Ecology and Conservation.

„I think the idea that we can have natural conservation of biodiversity in some parts of a landscape, country or continent, and then have our food-producing landscapes and human-dominated landscapes in separate areas, is a bit absurd,” study co-author Ben Sheeley, of the Australian National University. The ecologist told Mongabay. „We need to be serious about keeping wildlife in areas that have been heavily modified by humans.”

To this end, Scheele and his colleagues from Australia and the United States present a new conceptual framework based on ecological theory that they say will help resource managers and conservation biologists anticipate how species living in modified landscapes might respond repeatedly and rapidly. Changes in land use.

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Natural forests adjacent to an oil palm plantation in Sumatra, Indonesia. Large old trees are essential for species survival as the surrounding land is converted from one human land use to another. Red A for Mongabay. Butler’s picture.

Although the responses of individual species will vary according to local conditions, without careful management, the authors broadly conclude that species will be lost each time land is transferred from one landscape to another, from forests to plantations or agriculture.

According to the study, repeated conversion of already modified land is increasing in many parts of the world and will intensify in the future due to the combined effects of climate change, advances in technology, changing markets and unprecedented pressures. – Expands human population.

In Brazil, areas of the Atlantic Forest that were initially cleared for coffee plantations were later converted to cattle grazing. In Australia, almond trees are being planted in forests cleared to make way for cattle ranches, taking advantage of the lucrative nut market. Meanwhile, in Southeast Asia, vast seas of oil palm dominate many landscapes that were once tropical forest and were initially converted to rubber plantations.

Avoiding species losses during such transitions should be urgently considered by land managers and conservationists, Scheel said, adding that a key concern is „shifting bases,” whereby people use up fewer and fewer species with each succession. Land conversion.

Soy with forest chips
Forest fragments are important reservoirs of biodiversity in heavily modified landscapes, such as the Soy Sea in Brazil’s Mato Grosso state. Red A for Mongabay. Butler’s picture.

A key solution lies in preserving the natural features of landscapes, which the authors refer to as „biological legacies,” which can be key refuges for a variety of species between successive land changes. studies For example, in oil palm plantations, natural forest „islands” enhance biodiversity and improve ecosystem function while maintaining crop yields.

Retaining and restoring as much of these natural features of former landscapes makes it more likely that species will adapt to changes in their environment, Scheele said.

With this in mind, the authors call for thorough ecological and biodiversity assessments when land is proposed for conversion, regardless of whether it is intact habitat or degraded land. These assessments can identify features that need conservation and monitor changes in species diversity over time. The researchers propose integrating such studies with existing land transition planning processes and government policies.

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However, even with the risk of losing prime habitat, Schiele acknowledges that implementing environmental protections can be fraught with challenges in many parts of the world. „It’s still hard to get traction to build mechanisms for landscapes that are already heavily impacted by humans, so we have to think about what’s really realistic,” he said.

Forest Island in Costa Rica
A mixed land use landscape with a natural forest island in Costa Rica. Red A for Mongabay. Butler’s picture.

Roman Carrasco, an associate professor of environmental sustainability at the National University of Singapore who was not involved in the study, presents a new way of approaching land-use change that many previous studies have overlooked.

„The framework they propose is great because, in most cases, we think of land-use changes as one-off,” Carrasco told Mongabay. „We think of forests becoming oil palm. But especially in Southeast Asia, land-use change is very dynamic and ecological changes are variable. [multiple factors].”

Carrasco, who is Studied broad patterns of land change Across Southeast Asia, he said, land managers and companies could do more to protect biodiversity, including converting rubber plantations to oil palm. „We shouldn’t assume that modified land is 'degraded’ and therefore can be left alone. There are many other high-quality modified landscapes that may contain a lot of biodiversity.

Many oil palm companies take a simpler approach to avoiding deforestation, Carrasco said, by planting palm crops on land that has already been modified. But because some of that land can actually support many species, a more nuanced approach is necessary. Additional safeguards should be implicit in the planning process, including an assessment of natural features and other important „legacies” of previous landscapes, he said.

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„Planting on 'degraded’ land doesn’t automatically mean you’re not creating some environmental damage,” Carrasco said. „It is important to pay more attention to the history of land use when making new concessions. Reserved areas of original natural habitats are also very important. [and] Not necessarily in conflict with economic income. They are very beneficial even for plantation companies [by providing] Natural Pest Control, Pollination Services and Flood Control.”

Banner image: Oil palm landscape in Malaysian Borneo. Red A for Mongabay. Butler’s picture.

Caroline Cowan Staff writer for Mongabay. Follow her on Twitter @karolincoven11.

Quotes:

Lindenmayer, D., Scheele, BC, Lavery, T., & Likens, GE (2023). Biodiversity response to rapid continuous landscape change in human-dominated landscapes. Global Ecology and Conservation, 45, e02510. doi:10.1016/j.gecco.2023.e02510

Ellis, E.C., Gauthier, N., Klein Goldwig, K., Blige Bird, R., Bowin, N., Dias, S., … Watson, J. e. (2021). People have been shaping most landforms for at least 12,000 years. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 118(17) doi:10.1073/pnas.202348311

Zemp, DC, Guerrero-Ramirez, N., Brambach, F., Darras, K., Grass, I., Potapov, A., … Kreft, H. (2023). Tree islands promote biodiversity and function in oil palm landscapes. Nature, 618(7964), 316-321. doi:10.1038/s41586-023-06086-5

Jayathilake, H.M., Jamaluddin, J., De Alban, J.D., Webb, E.L., & Carrasco, L.R. (2023). Conversion of rubber to oil palm and other landraces in Southeast Asia. Applied Geography, 150102838. doi:10.1016/j.apgeog.2022.102838

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Agriculture, Biodiversity, Conservation, Deforestation, Degraded Lands, Environment, Forest Fragmentation, Forests, Grasslands, Greenery, Land Use Change, Oil Palm, Palm Oil and Biodiversity, Gardens, Tropical Deforestation, Tropical Forests, Wildlife Conservation

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