Home Career Carbon conservation efforts boosted by singling out endangered forest primates – ScienceDaily

Carbon conservation efforts boosted by singling out endangered forest primates – ScienceDaily

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Environmentalists from the University of Oregon claim today in an article published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

“Climate change and the biodiversity crisis are two of the planet’s greatest threats,” said William Ripple of the OSU College of Forestry. “And it’s becoming clear that large-scale climate action won’t happen if we treat climate change as an isolated issue.”

Ripple and co-author Christopher Wolff, also of the College of Forestry, analyzed 340 endangered forest primate species in terms of how much carbon is stored in their range. Endangered species are species classified as vulnerable, endangered or critically endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature.

The researchers note that the world’s forests hold a total of 861 gigatons of carbon, equivalent to about 87 years of fossil fuel emissions if they continue at current rates.

These carbon stocks include nearly 140 gigatons classified as “irreversible.” Based on typical recovery rates, this unregulated carbon, if lost today, would likely not be recovered by 2050, the deadline many scientists have accepted for the Earth to reach net zero emissions to avoid the worst effects of climate change.

Most of Earth’s non-restored carbon is stored in rainforests (both tropical and temperate), mangrove swamps, and peatlands. Threats to its preservation include fire, development and conversion to agriculture.

“Among the lands with the highest levels of non-renewable carbon, there are 635,000 square kilometers that also contain the highest levels of forest primate species richness,” Wolfe said.

This combined area, not quite the size of Texas, contains 15.5 gigatonnes of unregulated carbon, an amount equivalent to more than 40% of the world’s current annual fossil fuel emissions.

“Conserving unregulated carbon is clearly an important goal, and policies aimed at achieving it could be more attractive and effective if framed in the context of multiple benefits,” he added.

Wolfe and Ripple list four reasons why combining carbon with primates would be a valuable framework:

  • As humans’ closest animal relatives, nonhuman primates are generally loved and considered charismatic.
  • Sixty-seven percent of forest primate species are threatened with extinction, with deforestation as a major risk factor.
  • Some primates may benefit from reforestation.
  • Due to habitat requirements, many primate species have overlapping ranges with areas in the tropics where nonrenewable carbon is stored.

Focusing on individual flagship species rather than primates as a “monolithic group” would probably be the most powerful approach, Wolff and Ripple say, citing the common woolly monkey, eastern gorilla and Bornean orangutan as examples.

“The common woolly monkey lives in the headwaters of the Amazon and has significant irreversible carbon stocks throughout its range,” Ripple said. “It’s an important seed disperser in forests, helping regeneration and future carbon sequestration.”

Two hundred and twenty-five of the 340 species of forest primates threatened with extinction are endangered or critically endangered, and all but five species are showing a declining population trend, the researchers said.

In South America, Africa, and Asia, many of the species live in “hotspots”—areas with a lot of unrestored carbon that are also rich in primate species—but despite their importance for conservation and climate mitigation, the hotspots are largely unprotected .

“The effectiveness of sequestering nonrenewable carbon and forest primates will depend on the details of policy implementation,” Ripple said. “For example, some primate species may be particularly charismatic and have habitats closely associated with non-renewed forest carbon. This opens the door to sustainable ecotourism that can provide funding for primate and carbon conservation at the same time.”

Any policies designed to address ancillary benefits must take into account local conditions and help support indigenous peoples and the general well-being and resilience of the people, he said.

“Ultimately, this is a global problem, as the main driver of deforestation is external demand for resources, including wood products, animal feed and palm oil,” Ripple said.

“What we’re arguing for is going to require a lot of cooperation,” Wolfe added. “And primates make up only one taxonomic order, which is largely concentrated in the tropics. This means that efforts are needed to examine the overlap between non-restored carbon and species in other taxonomic groups, especially in temperate regions. But the primate-carbon connection is an important start.”

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