September 14, 2011
Selectively logged lowland forest in Indonesian Borneo. Photo by Rhett Butler
A number of studies have shown forests logged for only a few valuable tree species retain the majority of their biodiversity. The new paper, authored by Princeton University's Brendan Fisher and others, confirmed this by analyzing the number of birds and dung beetles — considered good indicators of overall species richness — in logged and unlogged forests in Malaysian Borneo. The researchers then looked at financial returns of logging in the same forests.
"Enlarging existing protected areas by acquiring logged forests can ensure larger, more viable populations of forest-dwelling species and reduce deleterious edge effects," write the authors. "Moreover, well-protected logged forests are likely to recover over time and therefore represent not only important current habitat for species, but also future habitat for species that require mature forests and cannot tolerate logged forests. For such species, maintaining connectivity between logged forests and unlogged forests is likely to be important in order to permit eventual dispersal into the recovering logged forest."
The findings are especially relevant in Asia because roughly 50 percent of forests in Malaysia and Indonesia are zoned for logging. While these "production forests" may be degraded, they do retain substantial amounts of biodiversity and provide ecosystem services like carbon sequestration, erosion control, and watershed maintenance.
The authors conclude with a careful warning not to misinterpret their results, lest loggers see the study as an opportunity to push for first-time logging of existing protected areas. They also caution that the study doesn't justify abandonment of primary forests as a priority for conservation efforts.
Selectively logged forests house more biodiversity and store more carbon than conventionally logged forests, industrial agriculture, and plantations—including oil palm and pulp and paper estates. Photo by Rhett Butler.
"Beyond biodiversity, Southeast Asia’s lowland dipterocarp forests provide numerous ecosystem services, including carbon storage, regulation of river flows and sedimentation, and a variety of aesthetic and cultural benefits. In some cases, these ecosystem services have quantifiable economic values, such that the logging of primary forests will predicate (sometimes large) social costs."
CITATION: Brendan Fisher, David P. Edwards, Trond H. Larsen, Felicity A. Ansell, Wayne W. Hsu, Carter S. Roberts, & David S. Wilcove. Cost-effective conservation: calculating biodiversity and logging trade-offs in Southeast Asia. Conservation Letters 0 (2011) 1–8
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