Loss of wildlife in tropical forests hinders achievement of Sustainable Development Goals

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PICTURE: Unspoiled view of the Amazon rainforest After

Credit: Photo by Torsten Krause (LUCSUS)

The current loss of biological diversity is unprecedented, and species extinctions are many times higher than the estimated background rate. Coinciding with increasing human domination and alteration of the natural world, this loss of abundance and diversity is particularly pronounced – but not limited to – the fauna of the tropics. A new publication by scientists from the Lund University Center for Sustainability Studies (LUCSUS) in Sweden and the Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research (Leibniz-IZW) in Germany now explores the links between tropical forest loss and the sustainable development goals of United Nations. (ODD). In an article published in the scientific journal Ambio they illustrate how the loss of an abundant and diverse wildlife compromises food security, increases the risk of infectious disease epidemics, reduces carbon storage capacity and thus weakens the fundamental pillars of sustainable global development. In light of this information, they urge that more attention be paid to defaunization in interdisciplinary research, forest policy and conservation.

Defaunation is a silent process currently taking place in tropical forests. It not only refers to the loss of diversity of animal species due to regional or global extinctions, but also understands the fact that species are much less abundant and cannot fulfill their ecological roles when limited to a small number. “An empty forest is inherently different from a forest with a healthy animal community. What happens under the canopy of the world’s remaining tropical forests is of the utmost importance to achieving the SDGs,” say Torsten Krause of LUCSUS and Andrew Tilker by Leibniz-IZW. Scientists explored the links between tropical defaunation and four of the 17 SDGs by examining and analyzing the available evidence on the significant social and ecological impacts of defaunation at the local and global levels. They show that defaunation threatens critical ecological functions and endangers human well-being at various levels.

Nutrition and Zero Hunger (SDG 2): Wild meat is an important source of nutrition for local people who live in or near tropical forests and depend on them for their livelihoods. Defaunation increases hunger, reduces access to healthy, nutritious and sufficient food throughout the year and increases child malnutrition. “It’s important to realize that the link also acts as a driver of overexploitation of forest animals,” says Tilker. Since tropical forest animals play a key role in pollination, a loss of insects, bats or birds can also threaten the yield of non-timber forest products such as fruits or nut trees – another pillar of food security and health in the tropics.

Good health and well-being (SDG 3): The past 18 months have shown that the consumption of wild meat can be of importance to global public health, as wild animals are hosts and can transmit many potentially fatal zoonotic diseases. “There is growing evidence that the anthropogenic loss of tropical forest fauna can dramatically increase the dispersal of host, parasite and vector species, thus allowing better contact with people and a greater frequency of disease outbreaks. infectious, ”Krause explains. “Leaving wildlife communities in relatively intact (and healthy) rainforests is essential to global health.” In addition, a rich and resilient forest fauna is often of great cultural significance and serves as a source of inspiration in art and literature – and contributes to the achievement of Goal 3.4 “Promote mental health and well-being ”Under SDG 3.

Climate action (SDG 13): Forests are one of the most important terrestrial carbon sinks in the world, and maintaining and protecting healthy forest ecosystems is essential to mitigate climate change. Intact wildlife communities play a crucial role in maintaining these forest ecosystem functions due to the myriad of ecological interactions between plants and animals. “Defunation changes and loses some of these interactions. Empty forests are much less resistant, for example because they do not have seed dispersers, ”Tilker explains. Recent studies have demonstrated the direct link between wildlife diversity and carbon storage capacity: when large-seeded trees scattered by animals decline, forests store less carbon. “Defaunation is therefore an indirect but significant threat to efforts to combat climate change.”

Life on Earth (SDG 15): The loss of wildlife in the world’s tropical forests is directly linked to the ability to protect and sustainably use terrestrial forest ecosystems and their biodiversity in the future. Defaunation is therefore a direct threat to SDG 15 targets, for example target 15.2 (by 2020, promote the implementation of sustainable management of all types of forests, stop deforestation, restore forests degraded and significantly increase afforestation and reforestation globally) and target 15.5 (take urgent and meaningful action to reduce the degradation of natural habitats, halt biodiversity loss and, by 2020, protect and prevent extinction of endangered species). “In this context, defaunation does not hinder the achievement of an objective, stopping defaunation is the main objective and therefore a fundamental pillar of sustainable global development,” conclude Krause and Tilker.

In light of this information, more attention needs to be paid to defaunization in various areas of research, environmental governance and conservation at the global and local levels. Since the consequences of tropical defaunation are profound, but particularly complex – as the wild meat dilemma illustrates – more interdisciplinary research is needed to fully understand the implications of the process. “The loss of tropical forest fauna has innumerable ecological, evolutionary, socio-economic and cultural repercussions and compromises the achievement of the SDGs, so it is important that researchers studying tropical forest biodiversity recognize that forests are inherently socio-ecological systems, ”says Tilker. Based on this evidence, holistic and location-based conservation approaches need to be designed to mitigate and reverse defaunation. Local socio-economic systems must play an important role for the success of conservation strategies. Defaunation has also been largely neglected in forest conservation policies and needs to be directly addressed in forest governance strategies, stimulated for example by the inclusion of wildlife in global climate finance focused on forests. Finally, effective action to curb and control the trade in tropical wildlife is a major cornerstone in the fight against the loss of forest ecosystems.

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