We all rely on the biodiversity of tropical forests

Image courtesy of Matheus Queiroz, via Unsplash.

Alex Morrice

This blog for International Day for Biological Diversity forms the first of a weekly five-part series on why we rely on tropical forests.

When we think of tropical forest conservation, there are a few species which spring immediately to mind. Orangutans, rhinoceroses, hornbills and harpy eagles are majestic creatures beloved by many, with great efforts made to ensure their survival. But spare a thought for invertebrates, the unsung heroes of the forest canopy and the soil. These little creatures are often unloved, but without them we could not exist.

Invertebrates are one of the most important, and yet most poorly understood, groups of living things on the planet. Many invertebrates are lost to extinction without ever being scientifically ‘discovered’ in the first place. And yet, we are completely reliant on them.

This huge group, from butterflies to weevils, with hundreds of species per square kilometre in most forests, is responsible for an equally broad range of ecosystem services. A number of invertebrate species break down organic matter, allowing uptake by other organisms. This keeps the carbon cycle running and supports agriculture. The production of cocoa — a highly specialised plant — is reliant on midges. Next time you are enjoying a chocolate bar, you may well have a tiny fly in West Africa to thank.

These midges need forests to survive. Invertebrates are threatened by habitat loss. They are highly sensitive to any disturbance of the trees and soil they call home. Our lack of interest in them relative to more charismatic species may have devastating impacts. In Germany, the total biomass of invertebrates, particularly flying insects, has declined by nearly 80% in fewer than 25 years. Yet habitat loss is not the only threat.

Climate change will drive an ‘ecological Armageddon’ of insect species, hitting key pollinators particularly hard. Nowhere is this more pressing than in the tropics. 40% of all invertebrates are found in the tropical canopy, and in that habitat they are of unparalleled importance. There is hope, however. If we protect tropical forests and the fragile, essential habitats they provide, this will ensure the persistence of flora and fauna from the smallest beetle to the largest jaguar.

Global Canopy works to do this through engaging with the most influential ‘powerbrokers’ of deforestation in companies, financial institutions and governments around the world, building understanding of natural capital and developing tools to conserve it. To find out more about our work, visit our new website at www.globalcanopy.org.

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