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Monday, March 27, 2023

Can Elephants Save the Planet? These Majestic Animals Are Key to Capturing Atmospheric Carbon

Majestic Elephant Sunset

Based on current analysis, elephants play an important function within the improvement of forests that retailer massive quantities of carbon and preserving the biodiversity of forests in Africa. If elephants, that are already going through crucial endangerment, have been to grow to be extinct, the African rainforest, the second largest on earth, would lose between 6-9% of its capability to soak up carbon from the ambiance, exacerbating international warming.

Researchers uncover elephant extinction might have main affect on atmospheric carbon ranges.

In findings revealed in Proceedings of the Nationwide Academy of Sciences (PNAS), Saint Louis College researchers and colleagues report that elephants play a key function in creating forests that retailer extra atmospheric carbon and sustaining the biodiversity of forests in Africa. If the already critically endangered elephants grow to be extinct, the rainforest of central and west Africa, the second largest rainforest on earth, would lose between six and 9 p.c of its capability to seize atmospheric carbon, amplifying planetary warming.

Assistant professor of biology at Saint Louis College and senior writer on the paper Stephen Blake, Ph.D., has spent a lot of his profession devoted to finding out elephants. Within the present paper, Blake, lead writer Fabio Berzaghi from the Laboratory of Local weather and Environmental Sciences (LSCE), France, and colleagues doc precisely how the ecology of megaherbivores has such a robust affect on carbon retention in African rainforests.

“Elephants have been hunted by people for millennia,” Blake mentioned. “Consequently, African forest elephants are critically endangered. The argument that everyone loves elephants hasn’t raised ample assist to cease the killing. Shifting the argument for elephant conservation towards the function forest elephants play in sustaining the biodiversity of the forest, that shedding elephants would imply shedding forest biodiversity, hasn’t labored both, as numbers proceed to fall. We will now add the sturdy conclusion that if we lose forest elephants, we will probably be doing a world disservice to local weather change mitigation. The significance of forest elephants for local weather mitigation have to be taken significantly by policymakers to generate the assist wanted for elephant conservation. The function of forest elephants in our international atmosphere is just too essential to disregard.”

Throughout the forest, some timber have gentle wooden (low carbon density timber) whereas others make heavy wooden (excessive carbon density timber). Low carbon density timber develop rapidly, rising above different vegetation and timber to get to the daylight. In the meantime, excessive carbon density timber develop slowly, want much less daylight, and are capable of develop in shade. Elephants and different megaherbivores have an effect on the abundance of those timber by feeding extra closely on the low carbon density timber, that are extra palatable and nutritious than the excessive carbon density species. This “thins” the forest, much like a forester would do to promote growth of their preferred species. This thinning reduces competition among trees and provides more light, space and soil nutrients to help the high carbon trees to flourish.

“Elephants eat lots of leaves from lots of trees, and they do a lot of damage when they eat,” Blake said. “They’ll strip leaves from trees, rip off a whole branch or uproot a sapling when eating, and our data shows most of this damage occurs to low carbon density trees. If there are a lot of high carbon density trees around, that’s one less competitor, eliminated by the elephants.”

Elephants are also excellent dispersers of the seeds of high carbon density trees. These trees often produce large nutritious fruits which elephants eat. Those seeds pass through the elephants’ gut undamaged and when released through dung, they are primed to germinate and grow into some of the largest trees in the forest.

“Elephants are the gardeners of the forest,” Blake said. “They plant the forest with high carbon density trees and they get rid of the ‘weeds,’ which are the low carbon density trees. They do a tremendous amount of work maintaining the diversity of the forest.”

Due to these preferences, elephants are directly tied to influencing carbon levels in the atmosphere. High carbon density trees store more carbon from the atmosphere in their wood than low carbon density trees, helping combat global warming.

“Elephants have multiple societal benefits,” Blake said. “Kids all over the world play with stuffed elephants in bedrooms. African forest elephants also promote rainforest diversity in a multitude of ways.”

With this knowledge, Berzaghi is now looking ahead to the future to determine how other animals in the rainforests affect its biodiversity and if they have the same impact as elephants.

“The implications of our study extend beyond just forest elephants in Africa,” Berzaghi said. “As we show that leaves from low carbon density trees are less palatable to herbivores, those findings imply that other large herbivores, such as primates or the Asian elephant, could also contribute to the growth of high carbon density trees in other tropical forests. Our aim is to expand on this by investigating those other species and regions.”

Armed with this vital information, the arguments to conserve the forest elephants of the Congo Basin and West Africa have never been greater. Populations of elephants have been eliminated from many areas of the forest, and in many areas, they are functionally extinct, meaning that their populations are so low that they have no significant impact on the ecology of the forest. Blake calls for more protection for forest elephants.

“The illegal killing of elephants and the illegal trade remains active,” Blake said. “Ten million elephants once roamed across Africa, and now there are less than 500,000, with most populations living in isolated pockets. These elephants range from endangered to critically endangered, with their numbers plummeting by more than 80 percent in the last 30-plus years. Elephants are protected under national and international law, and yet poaching continues. These illegal killings must stop to prevent forest elephant extinction. Now we have a choice. As a global society, we can continue to hunt these highly social and intelligent animals and watch them become extinct, or we can find ways to stop this illegal activity. Save the elephants and help save the planet, it really is that simple.”

Reference: “Megaherbivores modify forest structure and increase carbon stocks through multiple pathways” by Fabio Berzaghi, François Bretagnolle, Clémentine Durand-Bessart and Stephen Blake, 23 January 2023, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
DOI: 10.1073/pnas.2201832120

Other researchers on this study include Francois Bretagnolle and Clementine Durand-Bessart from the Universite de Bourgogne, France.

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