There’s much more to climate change than industrial pollution. All kinds of factors have a knock-on effect and impact on our climate and the carbon imbalance. This is why we bring together experts from different fields and collaborate with a wide range of international partners to look at things from different perspectives – it’s our Thinking Without Borders approach.
Take the issue of overhunting in the Amazon. You’re probably wondering what that has to do with carbon emissions. The simple answer is that large seed-dispersing mammals have a massive impact on the plant diversity of the tropical forests they call home, particularly in the Amazon.
To reproduce, heavy-wooded forest trees rely on animals to disperse their seeds as they move around the forest. The larger trees that store the most forest carbon tend to have bigger seeds, which need larger animals to disperse them intact. But unfortunately these animals are most at risk of being overhunted for food and when this happens carbon dense plant species are gradually replaced with low carbon plants.
Research by Carlos Peres, Professor of Environmental Sciences at UEA, estimates that such a reduction in forest biomass caused by overhunting could lead to the Amazon forests (an area 27 times larger than the UK) losing as much as 25% of their above-ground forest carbon stock over one tree generation. This problem is compounded by the fact that forest wildlife in the Amazon is also declining because of forest habitat destruction and degradation, which means these animals are being squeezed into much smaller areas.
The flipside to all of this is that consuming sustainably sourced wild meat instead of domesticated livestock actually reduces greenhouse gas emissions and deforestation. This was shown in a collaborative research study by Carlos Peres and Brazil’s Universidade Federal do Mato Grosso do Sul.
As with so many things in life, the answer is balance. The hunting of large mammals in the Amazon improves people’s food security and reduces the need for deforestation (cattle ranching is directly responsible for over 80% of all Amazonian deforestation). But too much hunting of slow-breeding game species alters the balance of the forest and leads to increased carbon loss.
The world’s tropical forests store more than 460 billion tonnes of carbon
“Our research shows that dense-wooded, large-seeded Amazonian tree species are replaced by light-wooded small-seeded trees that stock smaller amounts of forest carbon, because those species continue to be dispersed in overhunted forests by more resilient small-bodied mammal and bird species.” - Professor Carlos Peres