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One in Ten Tree Species at Risk of Extinction

CAMBRIDGE, United Kingdom, August 4, 2003 - More than 8,000 tree species, 10 percent of the world's total, are threatened with extinction, and the situation has grown worse over the past five years, according to a new report sponsored by the UK Department for Environment Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA).

"Towards a Global Tree Conservation Atlas," published this week, shows that 976 tree species are in a critical situation, and very few of these endangered trees are being conserved in the wild. The report highlights the plight of five "flagship" species that the Global Trees Campaign is working to save.

The report provides new information about flagship species such as Araucaria araucana, Chile's national tree, called the monkey puzzle tree; Swietenia macrophylla, Brazilian Mahogany; Cinnamomum cebuense, Cebu Cinnamon; Baillonella toxisperma, known as Moabi and used for decorative timber, animal feed and cosmetics; and Caesalpinia echinata, called Pau Brazil, the national tree of Brazil.

One of the flagship species, the monkey puzzle tree, Araucaria araucana, was damaged by a forest fire in Chile 18 months ago, which destroyed 71 percent of the araucaria forest in Malleco National Reserve. Some of the trees were 2,000 years old.

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The monkey puzzle tree, Araucaria araucana, is Chile's national tree. (Photo courtesy Global Trees Campaign)
The Global Trees Campaign, developed by Fauna & Flora International in partnership with the UN Environment Programme World Conservation Monitoring Centre (UNEP-WCMC), is an effort to save the world's most threatened tree species and their habitats through information, conservation and wise use.

An important element of the information campaign is the development of a mapping program leading to a proposed World Atlas of Threatened Trees.

The Global Trees Campaign focuses on trees as flagship species for conservation of ecosystems and landscapes, and enables local people to carry out rescue and sustainable use operations. The campaign works in partnership with organizations around the world to save endangered trees.

The extent of the damage to the Chilean monkey puzzle trees was revealed in research by Cristian Echeverrķa, who is based at the UNEP-WCMC center in Cambridge. He is pioneering a technique for mapping the fragmentation of the forest, using remote sensing from satellite images of the last 25 years to assess the rate at which native forests are disappearing.

In one of the Chilean study areas, 64 percent of the wild forest has been lost in 25 years and the continuous forest cover broken. Reconstructed maps show that in 1550, when the Europeans arrived, the entire country would have been forest.

Echeverrķa said, "After years of destruction the monkey puzzle tree is now found in two small areas in the Andes and on the coastal mountain range. Fires in the summer season of 2001-2002 have destroyed 30,000 hectares of native forest, including 71 percent of the area of monkey puzzle and 61 percent of Nothofagus, a native beech, in one of the three reserves affected."

Mark Collins, director of UNEP-WCMC, said, "New research, such as that on the monkey puzzle, is revealing that fragmentation of wild forest and the re-plantation with potentially invasive foreign species are major threats, demonstrating the urgency of managing forests sustainably."

In 1990, the monkey puzzle tree was declared a protected species in Chile, and its logging was forbidden. As the araucaria species is highly prized for its timber, the government is under pressure to permit logging of the burned forest.

Echeverrķa warns that if logging is allowed, then human caused fires may increase, as only a small proportion of the native araucaria forests are in protected areas. The Valdivian ecoregion, declared by the World Bank as being an area of outstanding biodiversity, currently has no protection.

Araucaria seeds are a source of concentrated carbohydrates for the Pehuenche people, whose culture is dependent upon the tree. A DEFRA funded project set up after the fires is helping the people of Villas de Araucana establish a tree nursery. But this project will take experimentation to develop successful cultivation techniques, and it will be 200 years before the trees mature and produce seed.

The Andean araucaria forests are adapted to survive in volcanic soils and support a unique community of other species such as the flowers of Berberidopsis corilinla, the Chilean lion, a small deer known locally as "pudu," and a species of woodpecker.

Previously wooded private land has been cleared and replaced with grazing or plantations of Monterrey pine and eucalyptus, Echeverrķa says. There are now two million hectares of pine compared to just one quarter of a million hectares of araucaria forest.

Echeverrķa believes that education of the private landowners about the value of ecotourism is key to the survival of wild forest. "Chile has a good transport infrastructure and is particularly inviting for ecotourists wanting to visit South America," he explains. "The country stretches from the desert in the north through every type of climatic zone to the Antarctic in the south. The forests of the Andes have a rare beauty and could be a considerable attraction for travellers."

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The Cebu cinnamon is endemic to Cebu Island, Philippines and is relatively new to science. (Photo courtesy Global Tree Campaign)
Dr. Collins says "surprisingly little" is known about the status and distribution of tree species, including important timber species such as mahogany. "Our initial report demonstrates that conservation assessments are required for plant conservation targets to be achieved by 2010."

"In particular," Collins said, "we need spatial data, which will help us to identify the most crucial areas for tree conservation and ensure that these eco-regions are managed effectively to provide the protection required."

Destruction of woodland and forest and unsustainable logging of valuable timbers are causing the loss of many important species, the report shows.

Professor Peter Ashton, of Harvard and The Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew, warns that in the tropics many rare tree species are already "functionally extinct."

"The high diversity of plants in tropical rainforests means that specimens are naturally widely spaced, if forest cover is further fragmented then the probability of a pollinator being within range decreases. Some forests are becoming living museums," Dr. Ashton says.

UNEP-WCMC and Fauna & Flora International (FFI) are seeking public and private sector funding for a proposed "World Atlas of Threatened Trees," which will provide photographs of the species, full color maps showing their distribution, status reports compiled by workers in the field, and an analysis of policy options to prevent extinctions.

Mark Rose, FFI executive director, believes that further regulation of the timber trade is also required. "We estimate that almost 50 percent of the tropical timber in international trade has been illegally logged."

One thousand globally threatened trees are threatened in part by unsustainable levels of logging, Rose warns. "Accurate, objective information is required to strengthen international trade control mechanisms such as the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species."

Copies of the preliminary report "Towards a Global Tree Conservation Atlas" are available on: http://www.unep-wcmc.org/resources/publications/treeatlas



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