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We need to count every tree on the planet -here's why

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Planting trillions of trees won’t replace the 10 million hectares of forest ecosystems lost each year, but documenting them could prevent further losses Read more: https://www.newscientist.com/article/mg25333760-100-we-need-to-count-every-tree-on-the-planet-heres-why/#ixzz7XLUxMlu7
6/26/22, 2:58 PM
We need to count every tree on the planet - here’s why | New Scientist
https://www.newscientist.com/article/mg25333760-100-we-need-to-count-every-tree-on-the-planet-heres-why/
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We need to count every tree on the planet - here’s
why
Planting trillions of trees won’t replace the 10 million hectares of forest ecosystems lost each
year, but documenting them could prevent further losses
ENVIRONMENT | COMMENT 2 March 2022
By Jingjing Liang
Michelle D’urbano
SINCE the 13th century, forests have been managed as sources of trees that can be processed
into timber. More recently, with mounting concerns over climate change, they are often
studied as potential carbon sinks because trees are capable of sequestering greenhouse gas
emissions. But what remains largely unknown is the true relationship between a forest and the
trees that make it up. While there is an international commitment to protecting biodiversity, a
lack of knowledge about forests poses a huge obstacle to making effective conservation
decisions.
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6/26/22, 2:58 PM
We need to count every tree on the planet - here’s why | New Scientist
https://www.newscientist.com/article/mg25333760-100-we-need-to-count-every-tree-on-the-planet-heres-why/
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With global attention drawn to increasing the number of trees as a means of climate change
mitigation, highly publicised strategies such as the Million Tree Initiative, the Plant a Billion
Trees scheme and the Trillion Tree Campaign have emerged. Overshadowed by these
commendable feats is the degradation and deforestation of 10 million hectares of forests
worldwide each year.
Many of the trees we are losing are in primary forests – a type of pristine ecosystem that offers
irreplaceable ecological and socio-economic benets, such as harbouring threatened ora and
fauna, as well as underpinning the unique cultures and customs of Indigenous communities.
Some have survived earthquakes, hurricanes, res and other natural disasters over thousands
of years, but have been wiped off the face of the Earth in a short space of time due to adverse
human impacts. Perhaps we can plant millions, billions or even trillions of trees, but those we
are putting in the ground today can hardly make up for the forests we are losing, and very few
of these trees will ever grow into a primary forest.
When a forest is regarded as simply a collection of trees, we miss the holistic value of its
biodiversity. From uniform alpine and circumpolar forests to tropical rainforests that host a
plethora of species, they are the most important global repository of terrestrial biodiversity.
When a forest is cut down, we also lose other living organisms from which we can draw new
materials, processes, designs and inspiration to confront environmental, medical and
engineering challenges in a world full of crises. For instance, in 2019, scientists discovered a
new antibiotic in a Mexican tropical forest; hundreds of other potential pharmaceuticals are
still waiting to be found.
To address the lack of knowledge about tree populations, my colleagues and I compiled a
unique, ground-sourced forest database through the Global Forest Biodiversity Initiative.
Underpinned by complete tree-level survey records from more than 1 million sample plots
across 110 countries and territories, it is a snapshot of forest ecosystems and allows us to
estimate important attributes of forest biodiversity at a global level. One such attribute is the
total number of tree species worldwide. According to our estimate, there are approximately
73,000 tree species on Earth, and more than 12 per cent of them haven’t been documented
yet. These ndings remind us how little we understand our own planet.
What is still unknown is the number of tree species at a local level and how evenly trees are
distributed among these species. Mapping them across the global forest range is vital for
prioritising global conservation and detecting, monitoring and assessing the rate of
extinction, as well as its impact on ecosystem functionality and human well-being.
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6/26/22, 2:58 PM
We need to count every tree on the planet - here’s why | New Scientist
https://www.newscientist.com/article/mg25333760-100-we-need-to-count-every-tree-on-the-planet-heres-why/
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To effectively protect forests, international communities must work together to address the
disproportionate share of responsibilities between richer and poorer countries, since more
than 90 per cent of the most diverse forests are in low-income nations. Together, we can truly
begin to see the forest for the trees.
Jingjing Liang is a co-founder of the Global Forest Biodiversity Initiative
More on these topics: CLIMATE CHANGE DEFORESTATION RAINFORESTS
Magazine issue 3376 , published 5 March 2022
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