The effects of deforestation are typically large and damaging. Deforestation drastically changes the land use of an area, and subsequently has multiple impacts on both the local and the global environment. It often severely reduces the biodiversity of forest ecosystems, ruins the lives of local people who depend on such environments, increases the rate of soil erosion, and contribute to climate change.
Forests provide essential habitats for many animal species, which feed off, and depend on, a rich diversity of tree and plant species. 80% of all terrestrial animal and plant species live in forests, as part of an interconnected web – a vast ecosystem – of different species that rely on each other in order to live and thrive. Trees also provide shade and shelter, keeping temperatures relatively low underneath the sheltered canopy, which is a particular bonus in areas with a hot and a wet climate. Removing trees simply reduces the number of animals and plants, and decreases the number of habitats they are able to safely live in, thereby putting a large number of species at the risk of extinction.
Forests and Communities
Effects of deforestation include risking people’s livelihoods. A 2011 United Nations report estimated that over 1.6 billion people across the world depend on forests, 300 million of which live within forest environments, relying on them for their very way of life. Forests provide a great deal of firewood, which is used solely by people living within them, as well as building materials. They also provide ample hunting areas for forest-dwelling communities. Since forests are home to a great number of animal and plant species, they are also a source of many natural products. People have to either uproot and find other forests, or end up working on crop plantations – either way, the removal of forests takes away people’s entire livelihoods.
The Domino Effect - The Destabilising Impacts of Deforestation
Trees significantly reduce rates of soil erosion. Root networks help to bind the soil together, tree trunks and dense undergrowth slow runoff water, preventing it from eroding, and tree canopies prevent many of the Sun’s rays from reaching the ground, thereby taking a long time to dry out. Effects of deforestation therefore include allowing runoff to erode the soil much more easily, which is a particular problem during heavy rainfall. Flooding can also become a much greater risk downstream of forest environments, as there are no plants to slow the water down. Runoff water also leaches the soil of nutrients, meaning that if forests are being removed for agricultural purposes, the soil will only remain fertile for a limited amount of time.
Forests are a huge carbon sink, with trees being a huge absorber of an important Greenhouse Gas – carbon dioxide. The World Wildlife Fund (WWF) estimates that tropical forests hold more than 228 gigatons of carbon – around seven times the amount emitted every year by human activities. Therefore, forests are essential in curbing the effects of climate change. However, when trees are cut down, they are often burned, releasing stored carbon back in the atmosphere – the WWF also estimates that deforestation (along with forest degradation) is responsible for 15% of the world’s Greenhouse Gas emissions. Thus, the effects of deforestation also include increasing carbon dioxide levels in the Earth’s atmosphere, therefore contributing to climate change.