Old Forest protects biodiversity and the climate

Recent research adds to our understanding of how forests can provide microrefugia and modify the microClimate. This may mitigate the effects of rapid climate change to some degree.
Spatial models reveal the microclimatic buffering capacity of old-growth forests
Sarah J. K. Frey1,*, Adam S. Hadley1, Sherri L. Johnson2, Mark Schulze1, Julia A. Jones3 and Matthew G. Betts1,*

http://advances.sciencemag.org/content/2/4/e1501392

This research found that inside the old growth forest canopy it may be 2.5 degrees Celsius cooler than the ambient air, and provide refuge for many species that could not survive in other types of ecosystem. When we consider the environmental services provided by that old growth forest, they include increasing rain ( microbial spores nucleate rain drops ) and hydrological services like breaking up rain drops into mist, fog drip, groundwater retention, slowing run off, and improving stream flow year round.

Indeed the species that are endangered are not just the "higher animals" such as large mammals, it is the microbial and plant extinctions, the extinctions of marine life, and of arctic life forms that may be the most severe legacy loss to future generations. It is possible to help these ecosystems survive the current human caused extinction event now underway due to climate change in refuges that are carefully chosen and protected.

Now that scientists are publishing the research that shows just how important it is to preserve the old growth in particular, since we are down to less than 2% of what existed only 150 years ago. I fear that it will be more difficult to preserve coral colonies, and some of the rich mashes that now house such an abundance of life forms. We humans can choose to create regions that preserve the biodiverse ecological communities that carry forward ancient genetic evolutionary triumphs and knowledge that is essentially irreplaceable (on an earth civilization's timescale anyway). The associations of many life forms that make up the ecological niches that say existed 30000 years ago are rare and essential to protect and nuture. With climate change we also must learn to help whole slices of the ecosystem ( microbes, arthropods, plants, worms, mammals and reptiles and birds and algae, bacteria and viruses) they may have to move rapidly to new geographical locations that provide appropriate climate conditions in the new weather map (as climate heats up), awaiting the eventual cooling when they might again flourish over large areas of the earth (maybe 12000+ years hence?).

If we continue BAU ("Business as Usual") then the mass extinctions now underway may take half or more of the species now living on the earth. I hope that we can figure out this energy thing in time to avert out of control climate heating. There is reason for optimism on the energy front, however we seem to be loosing the battle to stabilize land use and to slow destruction of forest. We actually need to be rebuilding forest and preventing the formation of large new deserts. Desertification is largely irreversible on timescales relevant to our civilization yet it can proceed at a very rapid pace indeed when humans accelerate the process.

During the 1930's the United States suffered from the "Dustbowl" that was a huge human and ecological disaster. Only years later are we understanding the role that human activity had in making the natural drought much worse and unleashing a migration away from the catastrophic devistation of their farms and communities. This was just one example, and folks at the time didn't have the understanding to do anything differently. They did learn about soil conservation and restored the area to become the breadbasket of the world. So humans caused an ecological disaster but also learned from their mistakes and learned how to overcome land use challenges that are similar to what we face today. Unfortunately land use changes are also always political and that can make rational planning for the future very difficult unless there is a human consensus that is very strong about what the problem is and how to solve it. Or some huge authority makes the change. The strongest land use change force in the near future may unfortunately be the emerging climate changes themselves.

So making a biorefuge and keeping it sacred through the stresses to come as climate heating develops will be no easy task. To be a steward of the habitat requires that we learn from the indigenous people, from scientists, from farmers and from the land itself.