Forgotten Forests

A serial exploration into the planet’s most precious – yet neglected – tropical forests

19 March 2020
19 March 2020

This story is the first of the Landscape News series Forgotten Forests.

Let’s start at the beginning – or, at least the beginning according to what evidence we have. The world’s first trees are believed to be the Archaeopteris, fern-like trees that grew into 10-meter-high forests across the terrestrial Earth some 360 million years ago during the Late Devonian Period.

Rather than producing seeds, Archaeopteris reproduced by releasing spores. Their woody architecture developed to absorb the stress of branches, and novel root systems laid the literal groundwork for future forest ecosystems.

These are perhaps the first forests we’ve forgotten, for which we can be forgiven.

Then came the turtles, the dinosaurs, the hominids and Ice Ages, as all the while, forests continued to evolve into the biodiverse, multi-functioning, beautiful ecosystems and places of wonder we have today.

Many of which we are still forgetting, which is not acceptable.

The year of 2019 was somewhat of a heyday for forests in the media, with a headline-making report finding that a U.K.-sized area of forests are lost every year and uncontrollable fires ravaging the Amazon, Australia and many other places.

We all heard about the Amazon rainforest. We all heard about Australia (but how much did we recognize the continent’s Gondwana rainforests?). Some of us heard about the Congolese rainforests and Indonesian peat-swamp forests.

But who hears about the Mata Atlântica, which used to cover 1.3 million square kilometers of South America and is now 93 percent destroyed? Madagascar’s dry pine forests being slashed and burned for agriculture, or its southwestern spiny forests, one of the Maki lemur’s two homes? The Kerangas forests of Indonesia and Malaysia that miraculously grow on infertile sand, known by locals as “the land that cannot grow rice?”

There are approximately 4 billion remaining hectares of forests in the world, but many stand forgotten, despite pre-dating us by hundreds of millions of years. Perhaps they are too remote, too small, or perhaps there is simply no space to give them in the global conversation, which echoes the same forests again and again to attract readership with headlines.

This Forgotten Forests series, which will run on Landscape News through the duration of 2020, will illuminate some of the world’s most precious remaining forest ecosystems that filter our air; shelter the wildlife we adore; provide food, water, energy and income for millions; and yet get little if any attention from the mainstream media. These will include monsoon forests, limestone and karst forests, the Muhulu woodlands, tropical montane cloud forests, mangroves, the Mata Atlântica, Araucariaceae forests and others.

The preliminary selection of forgotten forests, chosen by the writers of this article, is entirely tropical, due to their critical importance. (The selection is open to input; see the bottom of this article.) Tropical forests support the largest amount of biodiversity and capture disproportionally more carbon compared to forests in other latitudinal regions; they are also the most threatened by deforestation.

“Protecting the pristine tropical forests is one of the best things we can do to slow the global threats of biodiversity loss and climate change,” says Tom Crowther of the Crowther Lab at ETH Zurich and contributor to the recent 1T.org initiative.

“Conserving and protecting the natural pristine forests that currently exist is critical for biodiversity and human livelihoods in every region that they are found around the world,” he says. “We must fight to conserve all native forests wherever they exist.”

But in addition to these forests’ benefits for our physical lives, so too are they the foundations of cultural profundity, of collective connections to nature and to the past. The forests in this series give us Mesozoic amber, ancestral spiritual grounds, ancient medicines and ceremonial substances. They are the bedrock of communities that have maintained traditions for centuries and the source of sounds, sights, tastes and smells that tell of the past and prophesize the future.

The world will not be dramatically changed if we lose our forgotten forests; for most of us, our lives will see little effect. However, we will have forever lost remnants of a past where humans had a much smaller place in the grand scheme of things. Without our forgotten forests, the world will have far fewer places of connection and far fewer places of beauty.

The first step toward preserving this beauty is to remember it.

Read and check back for the series here:

Monsoon forests: the tropics’ little-known lands of extremes

Karst forests: the labyrinthian wildlands of green and bedrock

Mangrove forests: the muddy mazes that stash carbon and hide secrets

Araucariaceae: the ancient giants that are the world’s rarest trees

Miombo woodlands: the vast southern African dryland forests hiding in plain sight

The Brazilian Cerrado: the upside-down forest on the frontlines of agriculture

Peatland forests: the swamps and bogs where tree-planting isn’t clear-cut

 For feedback and recommendations of further forgotten forests, please contact Gabrielle Lipton at g.lipton@cgiar.org


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