Bolstering Biodiversity and Combating Climate Change are Mutually Supportive
Discussion about climate change often ignores the natural processes that are at play. Although climate change threatens biodiversity, it's also a powerful tool toward stabilization, a study published in Nature led by researchers at Yokohama National University found.
At first glance, this finding may seem obvious. However, the Anthropocene marked by the rise of industry, seemingly endless development and techno-fixes, has been a period when humanity has failed to see the return on investment that nature yields. This is made evident by another study published in Nature, which found that in 2020 we reached a critical threshold when the amount of human-made artifacts globally came to exceed all living biomass on Earth.
Yet, there is still potential for change. The Yokohama National University researchers led by Akira S. Mori found that climate change and biodiversity are mutually dependent and can influence each other.
"There is now recognition of the need for nature-based solutions, which involve working with nature to address [societal] challenges, including carbon storage by restoring forests," Mori said. "However, natural climate solutions are currently missing biodiversity as part of the equation: it is not yet widely appreciated as a powerful contributor to climate stabilization.”
There is much emphasis on the undesirable feedbacks where climate change drives biodiversity loss (magenta arrows feedback). Here, we highlight the contribution of an underutilized positive feedback in which biodiversity-dependent productivity could contribute to climate change mitigation (green arrows feedback). The conservation and restoration of tree diversity could enhance this feedback and promote the desirable pathway whereby forest biodiversity contributes to climate stabilization.
To demonstrate the interplay of biodiversity and climate change, the research team divided Earth’s forests into 115 million grids and analyzed how changes in biodiversity affect the carbon cycle.
"We found that greenhouse gas mitigation could help maintain tree diversity, and thereby avoid a nine to 39% reduction in terrestrial primary productivity across different biomes, which could otherwise occur over the next 50 years," Mori said.
Forests, in turn, can sequester carbon in living biological tissues helping to mitigate climate change. The team found that countries with the greatest carbon footprints are headed toward the most devastating economic impacts from climate change. However, these countries also stand to benefit the most from maintaining tree diversity.
"Our results emphasize an opportunity for a triple win for climate, biodiversity and society, and highlight that these co-benefits should be the focus of reforestation programs," Mori said.
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