Is Earth running out of wilderness?
A new study on habitat fragmentation looked at data gathered over 35 years on 5 continents and quantified the alarming state of true wilderness on Earth: “The results were astounding. Nearly 20 percent of the world’s remaining forest is the distance of a football field – or about 100 meters – away from a forest edge,” Dr. Nick Haddad, William Neal Reynolds Distinguished Professor of Biological Sciences at NC State and one of the authors of the study. “Seventy percent of forest lands are within a half-mile of a forest edge. That means almost no forest can really be considered wilderness.”
This means that encroaching cities and suburbs, farming operations, deforestation, roads, etc, are fragmenting habitats and making what forests are left less fruitful from a biodiversity point of view. The study looked at the effects of this fragmentation and found that fragmented habitats reduce the diversity of plants and animals by 13 to 75%, with the top of that range mostly found in the smallest and most isolated fragments of habitat.
© Forest protection and reforestation are important factors when it comes to watershed conservation. PHOTO CREDIT: Ami Vitale
“The initial negative effects were unsurprising,” Haddad said. “But I was blown away by the fact that these negative effects became even more negative with time. Some results showed a 50 percent or higher decline in plant and animals species over an average of just 20 years, for example. And the trajectory is still spiraling downward.”
Another negative impact of this loss of biodiversity and productivity: Carbon sequestration is reduced, so this fragmentation also impacts our climate.
Solutions to this major problem are rather obvious, the hard part is just getting things to happen. We can fix this be stopping deforestation, increasing reforestation, creating more wildlife corridors and being smarter about agriculture and urban planning.