Protecting biodiversity, at the same time battling climate change?

Introduction: Biodiversity decline and climate warming are two important challenges for mankind. New research shows the possibility to address both problems at the same time, in the tropical rain forest.

That is the core message a team of Belgian scientists brought along, back from an expedition in the rain forest of the DR Congo. Frederik Van de Perre ( Global Change Ecology Centre , research group Evolutionary Ecology ): “Tropical rain forests do not only provide habitat to multiple animal and plant species. They also take up substantial amounts of carbon dioxide, an important greenhouse gas. Old, pristine forests store more carbon in their biomass and soils than young forests.”

If forests with highest biodiversity would correspond to the forests storing highest carbon amounts, that would thus benefit both forest functions. Frederik: “While we already know that forests with highest number of tree species store most carbon, we are also aware that biodiversity is more than trees. Up till now, little research has linked carbon storage to other plantand animal groups. In our new study, we therefore gathered not only information about the trees, but also about mushrooms, lichens, slime molds, flies, ants, birds and small mammals.”

The new results show that what is true for trees, is not necessarily true for other species groups. It also became apparent that young forests with low carbon storage harboured other species than the older forests. This implies that both forest types are important for biodiversity conservation. Frederik: “Only if we protect both young and old forest, we can protect all biodiversity.”

The study, published Advances , shows how we can achieve the goals for biodiversity conservation (the Aichi Targets ) and climate change mitigation ( Paris agreement ) at the same time. “If we protect the young forests, we provide them the chance to store more carbon on the long term. And if we create new forests, the species that prefer young forests receive new suitable habitat.”

The study also brings the attention to the Congolese rain forest. After the Amazonian forest, the rain forest in Congo is the largest un-fragmented rainforest in the world. Until now, deforestation was low in the Congo region compared to South-America and South-East Asia, but recently the deforestation and the emergence of palm oil and rubber plantations has shifted to Congo. Frederik: “Rainforests are important for both biodiversity and the battle against climate change: their protection is essential for everyone.”