Short Essay on Tropical Deforestation

In tropical forests as much as 50% of the original extent may have been lost to deforestation in the last two decades, primarily as a result of agricultural expansion. Global estimates of tropical deforestation range from 69,000 km2 year in 1980 to 165,000 km2 year in the late 1980s; 50 to 70% of the more recent estimates have been attributed to deforestation in the Brazilian Ama­zon, the largest continuous region of tropical forest in the world (Skole and Tucker, 1993).

Tropical deforestation is a major component of the carbon cycle and has profound implications for biological diversity. Deforestation increases atmo­spheric CO2 and other trace gases, possibly affecting climate. Conversion of forests to cropland and pasture results in a net flux of carbon to the atmosphere because the concentration of carbon in forests is higher than that in the agricultural areas that replace them.

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While covering less than 7% of the terrestrial surface, tropical forests are the home to half or more of all plant and animal species. The primary adverse effect of tropical deforestation is mas­sive extinction of species including large numbers of vascular plant species.

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Deforestation affects biological diversity in three ways: destruction of habitat, isolation of fragments of formerly contiguous habitat, and edge effects within a boundary zone between forest and deforested areas (Skole and Tucker, 1993).

As the boundary zone extends some distance into the remain­ing forest, there are greater exposures to wind; dramatic micrometeorological differences over short distances; easier access for livestock, other non forest animals, and hunters; and a range of other biological and physical effects. The result is a net loss of plant and animal species in the edge areas (Skole and Tucker, 1993).


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