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Forest biodiversity directly linked to economic wealth

As proved in a study with UNIFI research team

forest with man hanging from tree

The biodiversity of forests means economic wealth as well. This fact has now been demonstrated in a research carried out by West Virginia University (USA) to which a team from the Department of Agrifood Production and Environmental Sciences (DISPAA) lead by Filippo Bussotti collaborated. The outcome of the study appears in the latest issue of Science (DOI: 10.1126/science.aaf8957).

An international team, of scientists from over 90 research centres part of the Global Forest Biodiversity Initiative, has shown that a reduction in biodiversity in forests worldwide has a measurable cost. They applied econometric models that take into consideration the sustainability criteria set forth by FAO, and calculated that such costs go from a minimum of 160 billion USD, in case of a reduction of 10% up to 500 billion, in the hypothesis that all mixed forests should be converted to monocultures. As a matter of fact, a wealth of vegetable species is not only important for the preservation of such environments but also to maintain products and services for future generations.

“Forests, explains Filippo Bussotti associate professor of Applied Environmental Botany, constitute the most diverse ecosystems on Earth and host thousands of species of plants, animals and micro-organisms”.

The study collected data from 770,000 areas with 30 million trees and over 8,700 forest species in 44 countries, representing the most important forest ecosystems, spanning from boreal to equatorial.

The researchers of DISPAA's Lab of Applied Environmental Botany have studied 36 areas in the forests of central Tuscany as part of the FunDivEurope project (7FP, Functional Significance of the Forest Diversity in Europe). Specifically, they investigated their health state and growth, as well as diversity of herbaceous plants, impact on wild animals and plants' vital cycles.

The analysis of the data collected indicates that the loss of diversity of tree species through deforestation, degradation and climate changes accelerates the decline in productivity of the world's forests, with a reduction both in direct economical benefits and in all correlated ecosystem services.

A larger number of species, comments Bussotti, proportionally increases the quantity of available and exploitable timber. A reduction in biodiversity will result in the decline of productivity. The data obtained in this study were merged in the Global Forest Biodiversity Initiative database and prove that the economic loss associated with reduction in diversity can reach levels which are double the amount necessary to the preservation of the forests themselves”.

08 November 2016