One of the most exotic and wild places on Earth has been undergoing an unprecedented loss in biodiversity during the past 50 years. As these nations in the region became industrialized and their populations boomed, their once pristine forests have fallen rapidly. The deforestation is occurring for agricultural use, palm oil plantations, timber harvesting, and various other human uses. As the forests go, so do the species which dwell in them. In a new study published by researchers from the University of Adelaide in Australia, it was found that this region has experienced the greatest loss of biodiversity in the whole world.
The study from the University of Adelaide's Environment Institute was published in the journal, Nature. It highlights the importance of maintaining natural forests undisturbed by humans in order to sustain tropical wildlife. Reforesting land that was previously cut down for agriculture of other reasons does not function as well as a "primary" forest would in preserving species.
"Until now, some have believed that revegetation and other conservation programs in these secondary forests will be enough to help preserve or bring back the majority of species. However, this study shows that the impact of human interference in those forests is too strong. We're kidding ourselves if we think the damage can be reversed," said co-author, Professor Barry Brook.
Southeast Asia was almost entirely lush tropical rainforests, green as can be. Over time, as nations like Indonesia, Malaysia, and Thailand developed, people began looking to their abundant natural resources for personal gain. This means that over the last half-century, this region has seen the highest rate of deforestation, with very little conservation opposition.
Lately, non-governmental organizations have stepped up efforts to preserve what is left of the jungles. Groups like the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) are very active in this regard, particularly in preserving tiger habitat. Governments such as that of Norway have gone as far as granting money to Indonesia in a deal to keep primary forests intact.
Authors of the study stress that other regions cannot be ignored, but Southeast Asia must be made a high priority for conservation action. Once a primary forest is taken down, biodiversity is highly unlikely to return to previous levels.
According to PhD student, Luke Gibson, from the National University of Singapore, "There's no substitute for primary forests. Our comprehensive assessment shows that all major forms of disturbance, with one possible exception [selective logging], invariably reduce biodiversity in tropical forests."