Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A 2018 Nov 29;115(46):11850-11855. Epub 2018 Oct 29.
Department of Forest Ecosystem and Society, Oregon State University, Corvallis, OR 97331.
Tropical forests hold most of Earth's biodiversity. Their continued loss through deforestation and agriculture is the main threat to species globally, more than disease, invasive species, and climate change. However, not all tropical forests have the same ability to sustain biodiversity. Those that have been disturbed by humans, including forests previously cleared and regrown (secondary growth), have lower levels of species richness compared with undisturbed (primary) forests. The difference is even greater considering extinctions that will later emanate from the disturbance (extinction debt). Here, we find that Haiti has less than 1% of its original primary forest and is therefore among the most deforested countries. Primary forest has declined over three decades inside national parks, and 42 of the 50 highest and largest mountains have lost all primary forest. Our surveys of vertebrate diversity (especially amphibians and reptiles) on mountaintops indicates that endemic species have been lost along with the loss of forest. At the current rate, Haiti will lose essentially all of its primary forest during the next two decades and is already undergoing a mass extinction of its biodiversity because of deforestation. These findings point to the need, in general, for better reporting of forest cover data of relevance to biodiversity, instead of "total forest" as defined by the United Nation's Food and Agricultural Organization. Expanded detection and monitoring of primary forest globally will improve the efficiency of conservation measures, inside and outside of protected areas.