May 24, 2016

Disappearing animals strike a blow to forest carbon

Big animals spread the biggest seeds, which in turn grow into the biggest trees. Some seeds are spread exclusively by animals. This means that a decline in the number of large animals can cause reductions of up to 60% in the abundance of the tree species they disperse.

We rely massively on these trees to store carbon. Rainforest leaves suck in carbon dioxide from the air. The trunks, roots, and soil beneath them represent a store of up to half the world’s carbon.

Cool Earth is all about working with local people to keep trees standing and keep carbon locked in. And recent research1 shows it’s just as important to protect the large animals that call the rainforest home.

baby grauer gorilla

The effect that animal loss has on carbon storage is biggest in the Amazon, Africa, and South Asia, as there are more tree species that are dispersed by animals. The researchers estimated that if half the large animals were lost, 5% of the aboveground carbon stock would disappear. If all the large animals were lost, that figure rises to 12%. Across Cool Earth’s projects, that would equate to over 24 million tonnes of CO2.

88% of the world’s tropical forests face losing their large animals through the combined effects of hunting, habitat loss, logging and other threats like mining. Animals that disperse large-seeded tree species are the most vulnerable to these threats. That’s because they need more food, and have larger ranges than smaller animals so are often the most hunted.

Given the fact that large trees contribute the most to above ground carbon stocks, protecting the animals that disperse their seeds across the tropics is vital for climate regulation.

Leopard on a tree



  • Roz says:

    How about the clearing of the palm forests in places like Borneo where the habitat for the orangutans is being decimated for the production of palm oil. Don’t hear much about that. And is anyone working on stopping the hunters from killing all the beautiful wild animals ?! Especially in Africa ?? And this also goes for the gorilla habitats. This is one great reason to keep these animals protected and cared for in our zoos and animal sanctuaries. Having seen them in captivity I am happy that they are there for everyone to see and be educated about them. Let people know about the disappearance of the habitats of these wonderful animals. Let them know who is killing them in the wild and let them know who the companies are that are destroying their habitats. Education to the public should be your #1 priority.

  • Guillaume says:

    Wow, didn’t know that. Helps think deeper about the impact of the donations ! #effectivealtruism

  • Chris says:

    Palm oil is in so many products we use that it’s impossible to avoid buying it. But we can check labels and try to only buy products that contain SUSTAINABLE palm oil, thereby reducing the need to clear more rainforest to build plantations.

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