Wednesday, June 11, 2008

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Congo Roads

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In the dense tropical rainforest of sparsely populated northeastern Republic of the Congo, large tracts of relatively intact forest support a high concentration of biodiversity—including several large mammal species, approximately 1 700 plant species, 428 bird species, and many fish species. These forests play an important role in regulating local rainfall and climate. Tropical rain forests also absorb large amounts of carbon dioxide, a major greenhouse gas.

The 1976 image shows a large intact tract of humid tropical forest. By contrast, the 2001 image shows an extensive network of logging roads. The associated felling and removal of logs are causing considerable damage to the forest. The roads also provide access for bushmeat hunters and farmers into previously remote, intact forest. This has led to extreme over-hunting of vulnerable species including western lowland gorillas, elephants, and leopards.

Global demand for timber is expected to encourage substantial deforestation in the long term. If this deforestation triggers a landscape-scale transition from forest to woodland or savannah, the consequences for biodiversity and climate would be catastrophic.
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