Ecology and the Environment

How does deforestation affect biodiversity?
Answered by Ellen Stockstill and Planet Green
  • Ellen Stockstill

    Ellen Stockstill

  • Planet Green

    Planet Green

  1. Deforestation affects biodiversity in a number of ways.  Trees may be removed from particular areas in order to make various wood products, to clear land for new buildings or roads, or for creating new farming or grazing land.  Deforestation can also occur as a result of natural disasters or accidental fires.  When trees are removed or destroyed en masse, the species living in that forest lose their natural habitats, and some are not able to survive the change.  When animals or plants die as a result of deforestation, the biodiversity of that area decreases.  Fewer species in an area means a less biologically diverse environment. 

    Forests may grow back after being cleared out, but they don't always experience regrowth.  Reportedly, only one-fourth of tropical forests that have been cleared are used as land for crops.  The other three-fourths of the land is abandoned.  This abandoned land does not have much to offer its new or surviving residents because most of the land's nutrients were lost in the deforestation process [source: Encyclopædia Britannica].  Because the land's ability to support a variety of wildlife diminishes, again the environment becomes less biologically diverse. 

    But who cares?  Does biodiversity really matter?  According to the Environmental Protection Agency, preserving biodiversity is important in sustaining healthy ecosystems that provide food and cleaner air and water.  The trees in our planet's forests, for example, convert carbon dioxide into oxygen, helping to keep us breathing and regulating our climate by turning a greenhouse gas like carbon dioxide into oxygen.  A biologically diverse environment might also help protect us from insect-borne diseases [source: EPA].  Malaria, for example, spreads via female Anopheles mosquitoes and kills hundreds of thousands of people every year, mostly children [source: WHO].  Changes in the diversity of plant life from deforestation can significantly alter a mosquito population and increase the likelihood of malaria transmission by reducing predators of the insects or by giving them more breeding ground.  Because of deforestation's adverse effects on biodiversity, it's important that people all around the world work together to protect the forests that keep us healthy and that are home to countless species. 

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  2. Rainforests are believed by many to have been hit the hardest by deforestation. Although they cover only about 7 percent of the Earth's surface, rainforests are home to nearly half of all species on the planet. Many of these species have adapted to life only in very small and specific areas of the forests. Deforestation alters these species' forest habitats, and some of these organisms will not be able to survive their new circumstances. More and more species -- from tiny insects to large primates -- are becoming endangered or extinct.

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