Forest Diversity Loss Will Drive Productivity Decline, Study Shows

A new study co-authored by F&ES researchers estimates that biodiversity loss in global forests can cost the world as much as $490 billion per year — or about six times the cost of implementing effective global conservation.

Note: Yale School of the Environment (YSE) was formerly known as the Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies (F&ES). News articles and events posted prior to July 1, 2020 refer to the School's name at that time.

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Maintaining the diversity of the world’s forests not only promotes species richness but will also assure the forests’ productivity and services for future generations, according to a new study conducted by a global coalition of researchers including from the Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies (F&ES).

Writing in the journal Science, scholars from from 90 institutions found that tree species diversity consistently had a positive effect on the economic productivity of forests — and that declines in that diversity accelerate reductions in productivity. They estimate that the impacts of biodiversity loss can cost the world as much as $490 billion per year. That is about six times the cost of implementing effective global conservation.
And that is only part of the story, said Thomas Crowther, the paper's second author, who conducted the research as a postdoctoral fellow at F&ES. “It is important to note that timber production is only one of many ecosystem services provided by forests so we only report a tiny proportion of the full value of diversity,” he said. “In particular, by promoting biomass production, biodiversity will also enhance the uptake of carbon by the global forest system, and will therefore be critical in the fight against global climate change.”

The findings are based on an analysis of more than 770,000 plots worldwide, consisting of more than 30 million trees and more than 8,700 different species. It is one of the largest global forestry databases ever compiled.

RELATED: Yale Study Reveals There are Many More Trees Than Previously Believed

The paper was led by Jingjing Liang, assistant professor of forest ecology at West Virginia University. “We are very fortunate to have worked with so many dedicated foresters and researchers on this study,” said Liang, lead author of the paper. “This team by itself shows that diversity can bring forth great productivity in scientific collaboration.”

Henry Glick, a doctoral student at F&ES, was one of the contributors.

According to Crowther, the results highlight the need for a worldwide re-assessment of biodiversity values, forest management strategies, and conservation priorities.
– Kevin Dennehy    203 436-4842