Climate change caused forest cover in India to decrease dramatically from 2001-2018, shows a recent study from researchers at the University of Reading.
With tropical and subtropical forests comprising over 20 percent of its land cover, India is among the top 10 countries for forested areas. It is also houses eight percent of global biodiversity including 47,000 plants and 89,000 animals. Thus, understanding why Indian forests are rapidly shrinking is an urgent concern.
“The rapid changes to the climate we identified suggests India’s forest loss in the coming decades could be far worse than feared, as deforestation is only one part of the problem. The high levels of reduction seen are also concerning for biodiversity, as India relies on connected forests for wildlife preservation.”, says lead author Alice Haughan.
In the first ever national-scale study of its kind, scientists discovered that rainfall and temperature contributed to the loss of forests during the 17-year period. This runs counter to official reports suggesting that forests are declining at a lower rate than this study found.
The researchers used a new metric for measuring shifts associated with climate change that takes variation over different time and spatial scales into account. These “climate velocities” helped them identify that the Northeast region of India has suffered the most forest loss. Additionally, they found that climate change-related forest loss in most regions was attributed to either rainfall or temperature, but rarely both.
Despite this findings, climate change is only the secondary driver of forest loss in India; humans converting landscapes for their own purposes is still the main cause.
According to Haughan, “India has seen dramatic forest loss in recent decades, with land use changes to accommodate crops, livestock and a growing population cited as causes. While the contribution of land use change to forest loss has been studied extensively, little attention has been given to the role of climate change in recent decrease.”