World bamboo diversity falling to deforestation

NAIROBI, Kenya, May 11, 2004 (ENS): Half of the world's 1,200 woody bamboo species may be in danger of extinction as a result of massive forest destruction, according to a joint United Nations-commercial study, the most comprehensive ever conducted on bamboos.

As a consequence many vulnerable species such as lemurs, giant pandas and mountain gorillas that depend almost entirely on bamboo for food and shelter face a greater struggle for survival.

The study, produced by the International Network for Bamboo and Rattan (INBAR) and the United Nations Environment Programme World Conservation Monitoring Centre (UNEP-WCMC), uses novel analyses to combine data on the distributions of bamboo species and on existing forest cover.

It shows that many bamboo species, including relatives of those cultivated commercially, have tiny amounts of forest remaining within their native ranges. Some 250 woody bamboo species have less than 2,000 square kilometers of forest remaining within their ranges - an area the size of the city of London.

Nadia Bystriakova, the report's lead author, says, "The study recommends recognizing the 'at risk' status of many bamboos and developing new strategies and efforts to slow the loss of forest and secure the survival of important forest species like bamboos."

Individuals of each species of bamboo flower once simultaneously every 20 to 100 years and then die, and this pattern makes bamboos vulnerable to rapid deforestation that is restricting the areas in which they can survive.

Klaus Toepfer, executive director of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), said, "Bamboos are some of the oldest and most fascinating life forms on Earth with high economic and conservation value. Many curious and unique species depend on bamboo. Trade in these plants is worth as much as bananas or American beef. Yet until now, their status and condition have been largely ignored with many species taken for granted."

The new report highlights how vital it now is for the international community to take a far greater interest in bamboos, Toepfer said.

Millions of people use wild bamboo for construction, handicrafts and food, and international trade in bamboo products, mostly from cultivated sources, is worth more than $2 billion annually. But humans are not alone in depending on bamboos.

In Asia, endangered species that depend on bamboo are the the giant panda, the red panda and Himalayan black bear.

In Africa, mountain gorillas depend on bamboos for up to 90 percent of their diet in some seasons. The survival in the wild of the mountain bongo depends on conservation of the bamboo thickets to which it migrates during the dry season.

" Trade in these plants is worth as much as bananas or American beef. Yet until now, their status and condition have been largely ignored with many species taken for granted."
In Madagascar, the critically endangered greater and golden bamboo lemurs depend on bamboo for much of their diet, and the rarest tortoise in the world, the ploughshare tortoise, is also connected with bamboos.

In South America, the spectacled bear, the mountain tapir and many endangered bird species are connected with bamboo in the Andes, Amazon and Atlantic forests.

Ian Hunter, director general, International Network for Bamboo and Rattan said, "The report is the first step towards quantifying existing resources of bamboo. The survival of many potentially important bamboo species may be threatened as they grow in forests that are shrinking under human pressure."

"INBAR is greatly concerned about this potential loss of biodiversity and wishes to encourage both in-situ and ex-situ conservation," he said.

This study shows locations of high forest bamboo diversity and the areas where deforestation risks are highest, creating a valuable planning tool for conservation action.

Mark Collins, director of UNEP-WCMC, explains that the researchers used unique mapping techniques to identify for the first time the worldwide distribution of bamboos and this has revealed some surprising findings. "Woody bamboos are important world-wide. Many people will be surprised to learn they are found not only in Asia but also in the forests of the Amazon and the Andes and even in African cloud forests.

"Governments at the World Summit on Sustainable Development two years ago agreed to reduce the rate of loss of biodiversity," Toepfer said. "This new report makes it clear that conserving bamboo, for the sake of people and for the sake of wildlife, should have a high priority in this global effort."

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