A report published in the science journal One Earth reveals that mountain forests are disappearing rapidly, with a global loss of 78.1 million hectares (7.1%) since 2000, which is larger than the size of Texas or France. The loss is especially significant in tropical biodiversity hotspots, putting more pressure on already endangered species.
Biodiversity plays a crucial role in ensuring food security by providing genetic diversity that enables crops and livestock to adapt to changing environmental conditions, such as droughts, floods, and pests.
Biodiversity also plays a crucial role in medicine development, as many medicines are derived from natural compounds found in plants, animals, and microorganisms. Biologically diverse ecosystems can help prevent the spread of antibiotic resistance.
There are also significant economic benefits deriving from biodiversity through tourism, recreation, and cultural activities, that offer employment and income for millions of people.
Mountain forests were once considered relatively safe from deforestation due to their rugged terrain. However, since the start of the 21st century, mountain forests have become increasingly vulnerable as lowland areas become depleted or protected by law. That is concerning, as mountains are home to more than 85% of the world's bird, mammal, and amphibian species, many of which rely on forest habitats for their survival.
Logging was the primary cause of mountain forest loss worldwide, accounting for 42% of the total loss. Wildfires were the second leading cause, responsible for 29% of the loss, followed by shifting or "slash-and-burn" cultivation at 15% and permanent or semi-permanent agriculture at 10%.
The study found a substantial increase in the rate of mountain forest loss, with the annual rate of loss increasing by 50% from 2001-2009 to 2010-2018. This resulted in the loss of approximately 5.2 million hectares of mountain forests per year. According to the study, tropical mountain forests suffered the most loss and experienced the fastest rate of acceleration.
While protected areas can help to reduce rates of mountain forest loss, they may not provide sufficient protection for threatened species. Preserving large, intact areas of forest is crucial for supporting natural movements and providing adequate habitat for a range of species.