Mountains contribute disproportionately to the Earth’s diversity of life. While mountains account for about 25% of the land area on Earth, they are home to more than 85% of the mammal, bird, and amphibian species. But alarmingly, forested mountain habitats in which these species live are disappearing, and they appear to be disappearing at an accelerating rate.
According to a new study recently published in the journal One Earth, more than 300,000 square miles of mountain forest has been lost globally since 2000, which is an area larger than the state of Texas.
A research team led by scientists from Leeds University in the United Kingdom and the Southern University of Science and Technology in China tracked changes in mountain forests on an annual basis from 2001 to 2018. The researchers found logging to be the biggest driver of mountain forest loss, responsible for 42% of the overall decline. This is followed by wildfires at 29%, so-called “slash-and-burn” cultivation at 15%, and permanent or semi-permanent agriculture at 10%. Significant losses occurred in Asia, Africa, Europe, Australia, and South America, but not in Oceania or North America.
The research team also found that the rate of mountain forest loss seems to be accelerating: in fact, the annual rate of loss increased 50% from 2010-2018 when compared with 2001-2009.
While developing additional forest protection strategies and interventions is critical, the researchers emphasize the importance of also considering food production, livelihoods, and human wellbeing in any new measures.
Photo, posted December 6, 2018, courtesy of Lance Cheung / USDA via Flickr.