What is deforestation?
Deforestation is natural or human destruction or continued loss of forest habitats; human causes are mining, unsustainable methods of forestry, urban sprawl, or agricultural methods, whilst natural causes vary from tsunamis to forest fires. There are many wide-ranging effects of deforestation which has lead to global efforts to limit the extent to which forests are lost.
What are the environmental effects of deforestation?
Trees take up CO2, which helps to buffer the increased production of carbon dioxide worldwide through industrialisation. Deforestation reduces forest cover and consequently the ability of wooded areas to act as carbon sinks. Burning wood releases more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere to contribute to the growing problem of global warming.
The destruction of tracts of forests eliminates the home of much forest wildlife. The removal of this habitat means that the biodiverse community can no longer be supported and population shifts or even extinction may ensue.
Trees are highly involved in a number of aspects of the water cycle. Transpiration causes the release of water vapour into the air from the leaves of the trees. Their leaves intercept water in the form of precipitation and therefore interrupt its direct pathway to the ground, reducing surface run-off. Roots of trees provide routes by which water can infiltrate the soil, again reducing surface water and increasing the water content of the soil. Their litter adds organic matter to soil that allows the surrounding ground to retain more water. Therefore, the loss of trees through deforestation can result in increased surface run-off and soil erosion, and changes in the amount of water in the soil and atmosphere.
Normally trees offer some protection to the soil from wind, from the direct impact of precipitation on the soil and from increased surface run-off. The organic matter formed from the litter of the trees forms humus which binds the soil together, reducing soil erosion, and tree roots offer support to the soil. Deforestation removes these supporting factors, increasing the rate of soil erosion and in some cases rendering land unusable. Landslides may follow.
What are the social effects of deforestation?
Deforestation may result in the destruction of areas of forest or the removal of land that once belonged to indigenous tribes inhabiting the forest. This was the case when enormous deforestation was undertaken in Brazil. Impoverished city slum dwellers were relocated to the rainforest under a government scheme to clear plots of land and become farmers (such as beef farmers). This resulted in the deprivation of the indigenous people already living in the forests.
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