According to a report released earlier this year, there has probably never been a more exciting time to be a tropical forest ecologist. With the emerging global forest carbon market alongside the growing interest in payments for ecosystem services, there is an immediate and unprecedented need for ecologists’ expertise.
Forest carbon market frameworks, like the UN REDD+ initiative (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation), depend on establishing historical baselines for land-use changes and drivers of deforestation, estimating carbon stocks and monitoring the response of forests over 10 to 20 year periods into the future.
The report – “How can ecologists help realise the potential of payments for carbon in tropical forest countries?” – was written by several authors, including Tim baker of the University of Leeds, and published in the Journal of Applied Ecology. Real world examples analysed in the study came mainly from the Peruvian Amazon, which contains 88% of that country’s forest. Peru’s forests are high in carbon content and face a variety of deforestation rates and threats. There are several REDD type projects already off the ground here and the new Ministry for Environment is about to implement a national programme for forest conservation which aims to collaborate with forest communities, including offering them payments for ecosystem services.
The knowledge that ecologists have about patterns of carbon stocks, biodiversity and the sensitivity of specific ecosystems to changing environmental, climatic and anthropogenic impacts is invaluable in informing the development of avoided deforestation projects within a forest carbon market. REDD+ projects, for example, need to have their carbon as well as social and economic data validated, verified and monitored periodically. Quantifying the changes in carbon stocks and assessing the permanence of project outcomes are issues that require an ecological perspective. The accurate assessment of leakage (negative impacts – like increased deforestation – outside of but related to the conservation project area) and also understanding the implications of a project for biodiversity management are also jobs which call for an ecologist as part of the team.
The single most important input from ecologists to global forest conservation is likely to be into the design of an effective and workable low-cost monitoring system for forest carbon stocks.
Sources: Cool Earth, Journal of Applied Ecology (British Ecological Society)