Protecting the Guardians of Biodiversity

Deforestation, wildfires, and climate change are some of the main factors threatening the health of forests in today's world. Through monitoring systems, specialists from CONICET study their dynamics and evolution with the aim of preserving them for the future.  

Bosque de Yungas, Baritú, Salta

Forests are more than mere collections of trees. One-third of the Earth's land surface remains covered by these ecosystems, where 80% of registered animal and plant species live, from the smallest to the most imposing, contributing to maintaining the natural balance that supports biodiversity. They are extremely valuable because they have a direct impact on climate regulation and are an inexhaustible source of natural resources.

In different regions of Argentina, they play a key role in sustainable development. They are vital for water supply and oxygen generation, as well as for controlling erosion, and soil conservation and recovery. However, these natural assets are currently facing unprecedented challenges. The advance of deforestation, wildfires, habitat fragmentation, pollution, vulnerability to climate change, as well as invasions of exotic species are processes that compromise their integrity and capacity to meet various societal demands.

this is why researchers from CONICET at the Institute of Regional Ecology (IER, CONICET-UNT) study the dynamics of these complex ecosystems as well as the changes they undergo. They use long-term monitoring systems, aiming to contribute actions that favor the preservation of these environments. These valuable contributions stronlgly highlight the importance of the generation of scientific knowledge in the field of ecology.

Environmental sustainability requires social commitment

Understanding the state and evolution they undergo is imperative if we aim to conserve forests. Through traditional field methods - such as establishing study plots - and data automation technologies - such as remote sensing; using drones, camera traps, and sound recorders - teams from the IER analyze multiple aspects of forest ecology, such as carbon storage capacity, their role in biodiversity, how different social actors use and benefit from resources, and the negative effects of climate change.

For example, the network of permanent plots in the subtropical Andean forest known as the Austral Yungas forests involves decades of research that helped understand the dynamics of these ecosystems over the years and assess the degree of impact due to climate change and human intervention. "We determined that the Yungas can store between 80 and 100 tons of carbon per hectare in mature forests, and they have the capacity to store between 2 and 4 tons of carbon per hectare within a year," reveals Ignacio Gasparri, the institute's director. Another significant discovery by the team indicates that excluding livestock encourages the recruitment of understory plant species, promoting denser forest configurations with greater coverage and a tendency to increased carbon storage.

These studies from the IER are ground-breaking for the region because they help understand that the deforestation phenomena in the Chaco region, directly impacting forest loss, are closely linked to technological changes and as a result of climate transition and socio-economic processes associated with agricultural production. "In our institute, we try to understand how different actors and social sectors use and benefit from forests, as their expectations are not always compatible with each other," notes Gasparri. The forest means different things to the rural population of the Chaco region - a source of forage for livestock consumption, wood for fuel, and food from hunting - compared to an urban citizen who views them as a valuable environment for biodiversity conservation and a carbon reservoir contributing to climate change mitigation. Similarly, it means different things for a company with agricultural or logging purposes, or with extractive objectives.

Beyond all the contributions that are promoted by science, for the specialists from the IER, it is essential for the society as a whole to adopt new sustainable consumption practices and that they support reforestation initiatives and the protection of these ecosystems. However, they must be actively involved in the demand and implementation of solid environmental policies: "Our actions can make a difference," affirms Gasparri. CONICET NOASUR

The scientific team at the IER is part of national and international collaboration networks researching Argentina's subtropical forests, including dry forests in the arid Andean valleys, mountainous and cloud forests in mountainous areas known as Yungas, the forest in the Chaco plain and Misiones, among others. These joint efforts aim to develop long-term monitoring systems to understand the dynamics of these ecosystems, their current state, and their capacity to continue providing vital ecosystem services for human health and environmental sustainability.