Charles Darwin's 150+ Year Old Discovery May Help To Combat Climate Change

Jan 28, 2022by Olivia - F&F

Large-scale, monoculture tree plantations may be doing more harm to the climate than good — that’s why scientists and policymakers are investigating the ‘Darwin Effect’ and its role in helping the world achieve net-zero emissions!

Scientists & Experts Discuss The ‘Darwin Effect’

At the University of Birmingham in the UK, the world’s forestry experts have gathered for a two-day summit to discuss an obscure, little-researched phenomenon! The ‘Darwin Effect’ will be investigated by scientists and policymakers from all over the world. 

The ‘Darwin Effect’ was first established in Charles Darwin’s 1859 book, ‘On The Origin Of Species’, where he described a phenomenon occurring within forests. The English naturalist — best known for his theory of evolution based on natural selection — noticed that when planted together, a mix of plant species yield more than an area where singular species are planted individually. Experts believe this could store carbon more securely, increase biodiversity, prevent land degradation, and benefit the timber supply chain!

Green DesertsGreen Deserts

What Are ‘Green Deserts?’

Have you ever heard of ‘monoculture’ tree plantations? You’ve probably seen them out in the open, but essentially, they’re massive plantations consisting of one species of tree. From a distance, they look like dense forests — but, they’re called “green deserts”. 

Monoculture tree plantations are typically used for timber production. Over time, these plantations degrade the soil and its nutrients, destroy biodiversity, and end up becoming ecological dead zones. Monoculture tree plantations can actually emit more carbon than they absorb. Studies have shown that ​​old-growth forests store carbon for centuries, whereas monoculture tree plantations are actually net emitters of carbon. Therefore, large monoculture tree farms aren't considered a solution to climate change. 

Tree PlantingTree Planting

‘Right Tree, Right Place, Right Purpose’

We like to believe that every single tree planted on the Earth is helping to mitigate climate change, but it’s a little more complex than that. Lately, we’ve seen lots of governments and NGO’s across the world creating bold reforestation commitments: for example, China pledged to plant new forests the size of Belgium until 2025.

These ambitious reforestation pledges are fantastic, but according to lead conference organiser Professor Christine Foyer, “reforestation is a potent tool for climate crisis mitigation — but forests are like complex machines with millions of meshing parts. Poorly-informed tree planting can cause ecological havoc, particularly if there is no commitment to diversity”. This is why experts are calling for more focus on planting the right tree, in the right place, with the right purpose!

Mixed ForestMixed Forest

Planting Diverse Forests Is Essential To Reach Net-Zero Emissions!

In the modern age of greenwashing, it’s all too easy for tree-planting schemes to promise carbon offsets with each tree planted in the ground — but as we outlined previously, it needs to be the right tree, in the right place, with the right purpose to produce the ‘Darwin Effect’.

Currently, “there is no human technology that can compete with forests for take-up of atmospheric carbon dioxide,” said Professor Rob MacKenzie.

This is why planting genetically diverse, mixed and irregular forests could help to maximise the absorption and storage of carbon, which is essential to mitigate the climate crisis. The nutrients create big, luscious forests, more resilient to disease!

It’s clear that research into the ‘Darwin Effect’ is gaining traction! This little-researched phenomenon could help us understand how to plant ‘better’ forests that absorb and store more carbon, increase biodiversity, and prevent ecological dead zones. 

Research like this is essential to help the world reach net-zero emissions while restoring our precious biodiversity! For more interesting examples like this, head to the Eco News category and check out the blogs below.

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