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African forest elephants fight climate change

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African forest elephants play a very important role in shaping forests that absorb carbon dioxide intensively, scientists write in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

If African forest elephants become extinct and the species is already critically endangered, forests in central and western Africa will lose 6-9 percent of their carbon dioxide (CO2) capacity. An article on this topic appeared in the scientific journal “Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences” at the end of January this year.

Climate change and its consequences in the world PAP/Adam Ziemienowicz, Maciej Zieliński

African forest elephants play a vital role in shaping forests

The rainforests of central and western Africa are the second largest forested area on Earth. They therefore play a huge role in the absorption of atmospheric carbon dioxide, one of the greenhouse gases. It turns out that African forest elephants play a significant role in shaping these forest ecosystems. Thanks to the feeding habits of these animals, forests are dominated by trees with a greater potential to absorb CO2. Some tree species in rainforests grow quickly, so they have a lower density of wood and therefore absorb less CO2. Their dynamic growth means that trees with a higher density of wood do worse, growing slower, but absorbing more CO2. Elephants feed on shoots of the former, limiting their numbers, which means that species that absorb more CO2 have a better chance of growth.

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African elephants in danger of extinctionShutterstock

Endangered species

A few centuries ago, Africa was inhabited by about 10 million forest elephants, today there are about 500,000 of them, and they live in unrelated enclaves. ‘Humans have hunted elephants for millennia. As a result, African forest elephants are now critically endangered,’ describes Stephen Blake of Saint Louis University (USA). He adds that indications of the useful role of elephants in the forest ecosystem, and at the same time in the context of climate change, may be an important argument in increasing efforts to protect them. “Elephants are the gardeners of the forests,” concludes Blake.

Main photo source: Shutterstock

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