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Study: Singapore Forest Clearing Forcing Animals, Plants to Extinction - 2003-07-27

A new study in the current issue of Nature reports that forest clearing in Singapore has resulted in huge rates of near extinction of plants and animals. According to the authors, the trend threatens the delicate balance between humans and nature in the Asian country.

Singapore, like much of Asia, has a diverse population of plants and animals. Like many Asian countries, the tiny nation has undergone massive urban and farmland development. Over the past 183 years, deforestation has resulted in the elimination of 95 percent of Singapore's original vegetation. Australian and Japanese researchers wanted to learn the environmental impact of the forest clearing.

The Nature study is the first to investigate how deforestation has affected a broad cross-section of the tiny nation's plants and animals - including butterflies, fish, birds, mammals and other organisms.

The conclusion, according to lead author Barry Brook of Australia's Northern Territory University in Darwin, is that 30 to 80 percent of indigenous animal and plant species are going extinct because of forest clearing. He said the remaining species are packed into small woodland areas.

"And about 50 percent of all of Singapore's species are only found in those areas. And many of them are what ecologists call living dead. They're species that while they're still there, they don't have viable populations, they're not replacing themselves reproductively because they don't have enough habitat area to maintain large populations," Mr. Brook said.

The authors said a similar trend is underway thoughout most of Asia. If nothing is done, they predict up to one fifth of Asia's animal and plant population may be gone within 100 years. The prediction is based on a model of likely scenarios.

Professor Brook said that hardy invasive species will take the place of plants and animals that die off. And this could negatively impact humans. "These species live well with humans, so they tend to be good vectors [carriers] for disease. They tend to attack agricultural crops and so forth. Basically, they tend to make people's lives more of a misery," he said.

Since the study was confined to Singapore, the authors caution it's hard to determine the ultimate environmantal impact of migrating plants and animals from neighboring Malaysia.