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Terragenesis: Using landscape ontogeny to predict the persistence of species

Final Report Summary - TERRAGEN (Terragenesis: Using landscape ontogeny to predict the persistence of species)

Biodiversity scenarios have the potential to exert a strong influence on public perception of the current biodiversity crisis, and on national and international policies to mitigate that crisis. Here, we generated a novel conceptual and analytical model of biodiversity loss, and combined that with deforestation models to generate biodiversity scenarios for the world’s most species rich ecosystem, the rainforests of the humid tropics. Studies of the ecological consequences of habitat fragmentation almost entirely ignore the historical patterns of landscape change that have led to habitat patches being distributed in the way they are. Our model shows, however, that explicit consideration of landscape history generates a remarkably diverse set of predictions about biodiversity patterns in fragmented landscapes.
We found that species in tropical rainforests will still go extinct even if deforestation is stopped immediately, unless efforts are made to restore damaged areas. Deforestation does not cause extinction of a species immediately, as the animals that remain try to adapt to their changed environment. The lag between the deforestation event and species extinctions causes ‘extinction debts’, which build up over time, as more and more deforestation takes place. These still need to be paid, even after forest loss has stopped.