Species in southeast Asian forests face risk of extinction

London, Aug 11 (IANS) Species endemic to Southeast Asia’s natural forests face a much higher risk of extinction from habitat loss than previously thought, a recent study has revealed.

More than 200 of the mammal, bird and amphibian species that were newly identified as being at high risk by the study are not currently listed as threatened or endangered by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN).

“Many of these species have alarmingly small ranges that make them extremely vulnerable. We may lose them before we are even able to get enough data to officially list them as threatened,” said Binbin Li, researcher at Duke’s Nicholas School of the Environment.

According to the study published in the journal PLOS ONE, Li and her team used newly available remote-sensing data to identify the unlisted species and their habitats most of which are located in remote montane forests that snake across national borders in a region framed by eastern India, Singapore and China’s Yunnan Province.

Remote-sensing technologies add a valuable new tool to our conservation toolbox which gives a much more accurate and up-to-date method for evaluating species’ threat levels especially for unlisted endemic species.

About 28 bird species, 147 amphibian species and 42 mammal species were identified as being at high risk, despite currently not being listed as threatened or endangered by the IUCN.

Scientists often refer to these unlisted species as being “data deficient” because knowledge about their numbers and geographic distribution has historically been spotty and incomplete.

By comparing the new information gleaned from remote sensing with maps of natural forests within national parks, preserves and other conservation areas in the region, the new study reveals that nearly 40 per cent of the species likely have less than 10 per cent of their habitats protected from future development or deforestation.

Production of agricultural tree crops such as rubber and oil palm has expanded dramatically across mainland Southeast Asia in recent years.

“More than 56 per cent of the world’s rubber and 39 per cent of its palm oil are now produced in Southeast Asia, much of it on land that formerly was natural forest compared to the lush and diverse natural forest, few species can thrive in these green deserts,” added Li.

The study suggested that increased use of remote-sensing technologies could help scientists and governments better identify which remaining natural forests should be made a conservation priority.

“Without access to the new and frequently updated information remote sensing provides, between 20 percent and 40 percent of our current conservation priority areas could turn out to be a waste of effort because there are no forests, or natural forests, in them,” said Stuart L. Pimm, Professor at the Duke University

–IANS

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