Sydney: Many of the world`s rarest and richest forests, located in high-altitudes, could be all but wiped out by the combined impact of man-made climate change and habitat destruction.
An international scientific team has warned of the near-total loss of one of the world`s most delicate ecosystems, the Mexican cloud forest, along with 70 percent of its plant and animal species, as a result of human pressures.
"Cloud forests occur only at certain high altitudes and their species are exceptionally vulnerable to the loss of the cool, moist environment that sustains them," explains Rocio Ponce-Reyes of ARC Centre of Excellence for Environmental Decisions (CEED), who led the study.
"Habitat loss and degradation by human encroachment are the main threats to cloud forests around the world at the moment," says Ponce-Reyes, the journal Nature Climate Change reports.
"However, given the narrow environmental tolerance of cloud forests, the fear is that human-induced climate change could constitute an even greater peril in the near future," adds Ponce-Reyes, accordng to a CEED statement.
She and her colleagues decided to test whether this was so by investigating the specific impact of future global warming on Mexico`s 17,274 km2 of cloud forest. They concluded that only about 5,557 square km would survive.
When they factored in the impact of potential human forest clearing and land use, the surviving area was whittled down to a mere one per cent of its present extent - just 151 square km.
"At present only about 12 percent of Mexico`s cloud forest is protected - and it is not clear how effective that protection will be by the latter part of this century," Ponce-Reyes says.
"Immediate action is required to minimise this loss - expansion of the protected-area estate in areas of low climate vulnerability is an urgent priority," the international scientific team declared.
While Australia has no cloud forest, the same fate could befall its highly diverse temperate rainforests in North Queensland, says CEED director Hugh Possingham, professor.