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Rafflesia Flower / iStockPhoto

December 1, 2016. Earth / A Geography of Hope

Primary Forests Biodiversity

It may be hard to imagine, but most of Western Europe, including the British Isles, alongside places like the coasts of North Africa and the Middle East, was once covered in primary forests

Cyril F. Kormos, Russell A. Mittermeier, Tilman Jaeger, Brendan Mackey

Today, most primary forests are still found within “intact forest landscapes” (primary forests in contiguous blocks greater than 500 square kilometers), which include vast tracts of boreal forests in Russia, North America and Scandinavia; coastal temperate rain forests in Alaska, British Columbia, Chile and Australia; and tropical forests in South and Central America, Asia, Africa and Madagascar.  Perhaps near 20% of primary forests are found in blocks smaller than this, often the last vestiges of these unique habitats.

Primary forests, particularly tropical rain forests, are the most biodiverse terrestrial ecosystems on the planet, estimated to harbor up to 80% of terrestrial species.  Over 400 tree species have been recorded in a single hectare of tropical rain forest, 1,500 butterfly species in Panama’s rain forests, and more than 3,000 species of fish in the Amazon River. Because of their role in maintaining hydrological cycles and quality, primary forests are particularly important for freshwater biodiversity.

Biodiversity generally declines with increasing land-use intensity and disturbance-sensitive species are replaced by generalist species with high dispersal abilities. Numerous species are restricted to primary forests, including the largest flower (Indonesia’s Rafflesia arnoldii, measuring up to 100 centimeters across and weighing up to 10 kilograms) and the smallest vertebrate (the frog, Paedophryne amanuensis, of Papua New Guinea, just 7 millimeters long).


This is an excerpt from the CEMEX Nature Series Book “A Geography of Hope: Saving the Last Primary Forests” (2016)


A Geography of Hope

Saving the Last Primary Forests

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