OCT 19, 2016 10:01 AM PDT

In forests, biodiversity pays, literally

There has been found to be a trend throughout forests across all different biomes: Wooded areas with more tree species tend to be more productive – that is, more diverse systems are generating more wood.
Coauthor Radomir Balazy collects data on species diversity and annual timber production in a forest in Poland. Photo by Marek Drozd
The team of researchers, spearheaded by Jingjing Liang, published their findings, stating: “The relationship between biodiversity and ecosystem productivity has been explored in detail in herbaceous vegetation, but patterns in forests are far less well understood. Lianget al. have amassed a global forest data set from >770,000 sample plots in 44 countries. A positive and consistent relationship can be discerned between tree diversity and ecosystem productivity at landscape, country, and ecoregion scales. On average, a 10% loss in biodiversity leads to a 3% loss in productivity. This means that the economic value of maintaining biodiversity for the sake of global forest productivity is more than fivefold greater than global conservation costs.”

That economic value that they talk about, it’s big. Based on the results, the authors estimate that the value of biodiversity in maintaining commercial productivity is from 166 to 490 billion (USD), which would be considerably greater than the total cost of effective global conservation.

This information hopes to better inform forest management and restoration in order to maintain the forests' output and services for future generations.

This investigation was quite the undertaking. Scientists from 90 institutions consolidated field-based data forming one of the largest global forest inventory databases in the history of forestry research. Tens of thousands of forestry professionals collected the underpinning data, which extended over a period of 150 years. In total, data was collected from more than 770,000 plots consisting of more than 30 million trees across more than 8,700 species. The study took into account all major global forest ecosystems across 44 countries and territories. It included some of the most distinct forest conditions on Earth, such as the northernmost, in Siberia; the southernmost, in Patagonia; the coldest, in Oimyakon, Russia; the warmest, in Palau, an archipelago in the western Pacific Ocean; and the most diverse, in Bahia, Brazil.

"We are very fortunate to have worked with so many dedicated foresters and researchers on this study," said Jingjing Liang of West Virginia University, lead author of the study. "This team by itself shows that diversity can bring forth great productivity in scientific collaboration."
Researchers estimated that with a decline in tree species richness from the current level to one species, commercial forest productivity across the world would also decline up to 66 percent, even if other things including the total number of trees remained the same.“We are trying to show that biodiversity has substantial values that previously we have ignored,” Liang said.
Economic analyses of ecosystems typically include valuation of their services such as regulating the flow of water, providing habitat, and influencing the climate, but they often stop short of putting a figure to biodiversity.

"This is further evidence that biodiversity generates productivity benefits. Indeed, the productivity gains from conserving forest species far exceed the costs of conservation," said Chris Barrett, a co-author of the study and the Stephen B. and Janice G. Ashley Professor of Applied Economics and Management at the Charles H. Dyson School of Applied Economics and Management. "This finding is extremely robust across eco-regions and countries worldwide. Forest biodiversity conservation pays."

Sources: Mongabay News, Phys, Science Daily, Science
About the Author
Bachelor's (BA/BS/Other)
Kathryn is a curious world-traveller interested in the intersection between nature, culture, history, and people. She has worked for environmental education non-profits and is a Spanish/English interpreter.
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