Biologists have found a link between the extinction of elephants and global warming

(ORDO NEWS) — Like other large herbivores, forest elephants play a key role in shaping the landscape of the areas in which they live.

Their extinction could significantly impair the ability of African forests to capture and retain atmospheric carbon.

Elephants have been hunted by humans for thousands of years, and now all three species of these giant herbivores are endangered.

Particularly vulnerable today is the African forest elephant, an inhabitant of the forests of Central and West Africa: over the past 30 years, the number of this species has decreased by 86 percent, mainly due to poaching and habitat destruction.

Now, researchers from St. Louis University (USA) have found that the eventual loss of forest elephants will not only be a huge loss to African biodiversity and humanity as a whole.

By exterminating the last elephants, humans will worsen an already serious climate situation on the planet, as these animals play a key role in maintaining the African forest and its ability to sequester atmospheric carbon.

In the African forest, there are trees with light and heavy wood, which retain little and a lot of carbon, respectively. The former grow quickly, which allows them to overtake competitors in the fight for sunlight, so the “high-carbon” trees remain in the shade.

However, thanks to elephants, the dominance of “low-carbon” trees does not last forever: animals thin the forest, feeding on the branches and leaves of such plants, because they are more nutritious and tastier than the leaves of “high-carbon” trees in the shade.

As a result, trees with dense wood in elephant habitats grow better and produce large fruits that animals eat and carry for many kilometers.

Researchers estimate that if forest elephants do disappear completely or their populations decline so much that the animals cease to have a noticeable impact on the environment, then African forests, the second largest after Amazonian forests, will lose six to nine percent of their ability to capture atmospheric carbon. And this can increase global warming.

Scientists are calling for more attention to be paid to the problem of these vulnerable “forest gardeners”, because in the end their disappearance will affect the entire Earth.

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