A paper published in Forest Ecosystems concludes that frugivores, large, fruit-eating animals like toucans, tapirs, curassows and spider monkeys, help to keep the woods healthy by eating fruits and spreading seeds. As traps for carbon and an effective defense against global warming, forests collectively absorb up to 30 percent of the world’s CO2 emissions and store more than 1,600 gigatons of carbon in the soil.
“You have a lot of large birds that play a fundamental role for large trees,” says study author Mauro Galetti. “They increase the likelihood that seeds will turn into actual photosynthesizing plants.” However, big, tropical birds are constantly under threat of hunting, poaching and habitat loss; the International Union of Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources’ Red List notes that 14 of the world’s 16 toucan species, for instance, are decreasing in population. The study found that without the help of high-capacity frugivores, there would be no way for larger seeds to grow into the towering trees that store carbon best.
Scientists now want to research individual species to calculate how much each animal’s services are worth in terms of battling climate change. Putting a dollar amount on a species, say Galetti, could be the only way to persuade governments to protect it.
Find the study at Tinyurl.com/ForestCarbonReport.