As an initiative to combat climate change by storing carbon in forests, REDD offers incentives to avoid deforestation and forest degradation. REDD+ goes further to encourage conservation, sustainable management practices, and the increase of carbon storage in forests, rather than simply aiming to keep forests intact.
“Whilst biodiversity is currently acknowledged as important, its protection is seen as a co-benefit, rather than as an integral part of the success of a project,” said co-author Dr. Dorothea Pio of Fauna & Flora International. “In order for REDD+ projects to help keep carbon locked in trees in the long term they need to address wider threats to the biodiversity living within forests.”
A decreases in biodiversity makes a forest more vulnerable to climate change, disease, and fire because it disrupts key ecological interactions between tree seeds and animals.
“Species that disperse the seeds of larger trees are particularly important in this context,” said Amy Hinsley, lead author of the study. “These will vary from forest to forest but include large bodied mammals like tapirs, forest elephants and orangutans, birds such as hornbills and smaller vertebrates such as agoutis.”
On the other hand, plants dispersed through wind such as woody vines become more dominant since they are able spread in the absence of large mammals and often outcompete slower-growing trees for light, water, and nutrients. Eventually, forest composition shifts so that there are fewer large trees to store large amounts of carbon, and more woody vines that store much less carbon.
According to Pio, adopting approaches that are appropriate for local context and the financial constraints of each project are essential for improving REDD+ projects.
“In terms of biodiversity, the priority for REDD+ should be to include the protection and monitoring of a key set of indicator species,” she said. “Participatory monitoring should be favored wherever possible. It has a range of advantages including the strengthening of local level forest management institutions, meaningful local participation, and cost-effectiveness.”
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