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Forest loss in India is worse than expected due to climate change

Climate change has compounded the issue of deforestation in India over the last two decades, and forest loss in this region will continue to be worse than anticipated in the coming years. This is the conclusion of a new study, which found that recent reports of relatively small forest losses in the country are inaccurate.

“India has seen dramatic forest loss in recent decades, with land use changes to accommodate crops, livestock and a growing population cited as causes. While the contribution of land use change to forest loss has been studied extensively, little attention has been given to the role of climate change in recent decreases,” said study lead author Alice Haughan, a PhD researcher at the University of Reading.

“The rapid changes to the climate we identified suggests India’s forest loss in the coming decades could be far worse than feared, as deforestation is only one part of the problem. The high levels of reduction seen are also concerning for biodiversity, as India relies on connected forests for wildlife preservation.”

The study is the first of its kind to examine the relationship between forest loss and rainfall and temperature trends in India on a national scale. The researchers warn that rapid changes to the climate observed in some regions will necessitate targeted preservation action and funding to reduce the risk to biodiversity in India.

The study was focused on forest loss across India between 2001 and 2018 – a time period for which little data exists. The experts studied the velocity of climate change across India to determine how the impacts of rainfall and temperature patterns may be affecting forests.

In areas where the climate has changed most rapidly, the researchers found far greater forest losses. The most influential factor was reduced rainfall, while shifting temperatures also played a role. 

“Our study of Indian tropical and subtropical regions shows that rainfall rather than temperature comes into play as the biggest factor in forest loss, in contrast to trends found in many temperate studies,” said Haughan.

Because research has until now largely focused on annual changes to India’s climate, this has masked more dramatic changes to temperature and rainfall within seasons, such as the monsoon seasons, according to the researchers.

As one of the world’s most biodiverse countries, India is home to an estimated 47,000 plant species and 89,000 animal species. More than 10 percent of these species are believed to be threatened. 

By Chrissy Sexton, Staff Writer

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