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Taking Stock of Forest Ecosystems
Conditions and Changing Capacity

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Condition: Good
Capacity: Increasing

Global fiber production has risen nearly 50 percent since 1960 to 1.5 billion cubic meters annually. In most industrial countries, net annual tree growth exceeds harvest rates; in many other regions, however, more trees are removed from production forests than are replaced by natural growth. Fiber scarcities are not expected in the foreseeable future. Plantations currently supply more than 20 percent of industrial wood fiber, and this contribution is expected to increase. Harvesting from natural forests will also continue, leading to younger and more uniform forests.

Condition: Fair
Capacity: Decreasing

Forest cover helps to maintain clean water supplies by filtering freshwater and reducing soil erosion and sedimentation. Deforestation undermines these processes. Nearly 30 percent of the world's major watersheds have lost more than three-quarters of their original forest cover. Tropical montane forests, which are important to watershed protection, are being lost faster than any other major forest type. Forests are especially vulnerable to air pollution, which acidifies vegetation, soils, and water runoff. Some countries are protecting or replanting trees on degraded hillslopes to safeguard their water supplies.

Condition: Poor
Capacity: Decreasing

Forests, which harbor about two-thirds of the known terrestrial species, have the highest species diversity and endemism of any ecosystem, as well as the highest number of threatened species. Many forest-dwelling large mammals, half the large primates, and nearly 9 percent of all known tree species are at some risk of extinction. Significant pressures on forest species include conversion of forest habitat to other land uses, habitat fragmentation, logging, and competition from invasive species. If current rates of tropical deforestation continue, the number of all forest species could be reduced by 4-8 percent.

Condition: Fair
Capacity: Decreasing

Forest vegetation and soils hold almost 40 percent of all carbon stored in terrestrial ecosystems. Forest regrowth in the northern hemisphere absorbs carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, currently creating a "net sink" whereby absorption rates exceed respiration rates. In the tropics, however, forest clearance and degradation are together a net source of carbon emissions. Expected growth in plantation area will absorb more carbon, but likely continuation of current deforestation rates will mean that the world's forests remain a net source of carbon dioxide emissions and a contributor to global climate change.

Condition: Fair
Capacity: Unknown

Woodfuels account for about 15 percent of the primary energy supply in developing countries and provide up to 80 percent of total energy in some countries. Use is concentrated among the poor. Woodfuel collection is responsible for much local deforestation in parts of Asia, Africa, and Latin America, although two-thirds of all woodfuel may come from roadsides, community woodlots, and wood industry residues, rather than forest sources. Woodfuel consumption is not expected to decline in coming decades, despite economic growth, but poor data make it difficult to determine the global supply and demand.

Chart 1
Chart 2
Area of Forest Ecosystems
(click on image to enlarge)
Population of Forest Ecosystems
(click on image to enlarge)


Source note: Data are from the companion book, World Resources 2000-2001: Ecosystems and People: The Fraying Web of Life and from Pilot Analysis of Global Ecosystems: Agroecosystems (World Resources Institute, 2000).

For comprehensive data about the world's ecosystems and their current conditions and trends, visit EarthTrends at
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The Value of Ecosystems

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