Cloud Forests : Conserving Our Botanical Treasures


Conservation in Action
Why is biodiversity conservation important?


We have been hearing this same old refrain, "The world's biodiversity is being lost at an alarming rate" for such a long time that many of us are desensitized to it. Whatever our reaction, the phrase remains true. In every country, especially in the tropics, there have been irreparable losses of natural habitat. In Malaysia, rare forests have been cleared for a resort-casino complex. In the Philippines, squatters are replacing mountain forests with cabbage and potato fields, and are cutting the trees for wood from which to carve tourist trinkets. In Indonesia, irreplaceable peat wetlands were consumed by agricultural fires gone wild because the 1997 El Nino event prevented normal rains from quenching the fires.

Paphiopedilum

Discovered in 2001, this Vietnamese Paphiopedilum orchid is new to science.

Right here in the United States, the situation is similar. Fertilizers and chemicals from agriculture are upsetting the delicate balance of the Florida Everglades, and acid rain has been decimating forests in the Eastern States. Even in a country that has seen catastrophic changes to the natural environment, new species are still being found on a regular basis, e.g. the Shasta Snow Wreath and Twisselmannia in California, or the Okeechobee gourd (Cucurbita okeechobeensis) in Florida.

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Nature in Peril

Potato fields area fast replacing cloud forests (Luzon, Philippines.)


Smoke from El Nino wildfires completely obscure the sun except for rare moments like this one (Borneo, 1997.)

Rare ridge-top habitat is mowed for parking lots and hotels (West Malaysia.)

Most of the world's biodiversity is being destroyed even before it has a chance to be studied or described. Aldo Leopold, the pioneer of environmental conservation, said that each species is a link in the web of life, and if some links become extinct, the web loses integrity and eventually disintegrates. This implies that every species is dependent on other species for its survival. It is vital to save all the links, even if we are unaware of their connections, as somewhere along the line, the human race will be affected by such losses. The main premise is that humans are part of this web of life. Hence the need to conserve as many links (species) as possible, i.e. entire ecosystems, so that all the species and their inter-relationships in an ecosystem remain intact. Another common simile describes the world's biodiversity as a library of genetic information about life on earth. If the books (species) are being burned even before they are read, we are losing irretrievable information that may one day improve our lives, such as a cure for disease through new or improved medicines.

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