Singapore Extinctions Spell Doom For Asia?

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Biodiversity in Crisis

The figures reported for Singapore have wider implications, said Brook. "In most respects a local extinction is like a global extinction," he said. When all the local populations of a species have been extirpated, it becomes globally extinct.

The scientists used the data to estimate how Southeast Asia's entire tropical diversity might fare if current rates of deforestation continue. Satellite images show that around 0.7 percent of the forests are currently lost annually.

Extrapolating this loss into the future they predict that 74 percent of the region's original vegetation will disappear by the turn of the next century. Almost half the forests found prior to human alteration of the environment have already gone, said Brook. Following the Singaporean example, the researchers estimate that up to 42 percent of local plant and animal populations will have died out by the year 2100. "More than half of those will be global species extinctions," said Brook. That's one fifth of Southeast Asian species.

"This is a very interesting and depressing analysis," commented the University of Tennessee's Simberloff, adding that the actual and inferred species losses for Singapore were almost certainly correct.

"There's certainly nothing outrageous about the extrapolations either," he said. It's plausible and worrying that Asia could lose so many species in the next century, he added. However, " we hope that measures will be taken to minimize extinctions by preserving habitats very rich in species." There are steps that can be taken to mitigate species losses even with such "horrendous" rates of deforestation, he said.

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