Unsustainable hunting and poaching are decimating wildlife in the world’s tropical forest reserves, according to scientists.
In a paper published in the journal BioScience, researchers report that unsustainable hunting is leaving behind “empty forests” that are largely devoid of larger mammals, birds and reptiles.
Such losses are likely to have significant impacts on whole ecosystems, removing vital seed dispersers and destroying food chains.
Around 18% of the world’s tropical forests currently receive some level of protection, a figure which is seen as a measure of conservation success by many. However, although this has helped to reduce habitat loss, hunting and poaching remain widespread problems across the tropical forests of Africa, Southeast Asia and the Amazon.
“In many parts of the tropics, hunting is now the biggest threat to tropical biodiversity,” said the author of the paper, Rhett Harrison. “There is a need to acknowledge the unpalatable but undeniable fact that current tropical conservation efforts are failing.”
Smaller reserves are especially vulnerable to poaching as they are generally considered to be lower conservation priorities. This is particularly true of reserves that lack large, charismatic species such as big cats or elephants.
Although the poaching of large animals often makes news headlines, many smaller, less well-known animals play equally important roles in the ecosystem. Hunters often target animals around fruiting trees, killing many fruit-eating species that are vital seed dispersers. The loss of these species could potentially affect the entire plant community of the forest. More....