Smithsonian National Zoological Park l Friends of the National Zoo



World Forests: Biases in Forest Protection Across World Biomes

We are conducting an assessment of the world's forest decline and protection across three major biomes—tropical, boreal, and temperate. The protected areas of the world dataset (WCMC 1997), an estimate of original forest cover, current forest cover, frontier forest (Bryant et al. 1997) and Holdridge Life Zones (Leemans, 1990) were combined and analyzed in a Geographic Information System (GIS). Over the last 8,000 years forests in all biomes have severely declined. Temperate forests have declined the most (65%) followed by tropical forests (45%) then boreal forests (13%). Temperate forests are also the most rare forest type. Of the remaining frontier forests-large undisturbed forest areas-51% are in the tropical zone, 45% are in the boreal zone, and 4% occur in the temperate zone. Less than 5% of all remaining temperate forest is currently protected. Less than 4% of all boreal forest is protected, and more than 15% of tropical forests are currently protected.

Our research is being carried out to answer the following questions:

  1. Did deforestation in past centuries differ among major global biomes-the boreal, temperate, and tropics?
  2. How much forest is remaining in the boreal, temperate and tropics?
  3. What is the degree of protection in these biomes, relative to the degree of threat?