London, April 20:
Spiralling demand for natural rubber fuelled by the tyre industry is threatening rich flora and fauna in Southeast Asia, says a new study.
“The tyre industry consumes 70 per cent of all natural rubber grown and rising demand for vehicle and aeroplane tyres is behind the recent expansion of plantations.
“But the impact of this is a loss of tropical biodiversity,” said lead researcher Eleanor Warren-Thomas from University of East Anglia, England.
The study predicted that between 4.3 and 8.5 million hectares of new plantations will be required to meet projected demand by 2024.
But expansion on this scale will have catastrophic biodiversity impacts, with globally threatened unique species and ecosystems all put under threat.
“There has been growing concern that switching land use to rubber cultivation can negatively impact the soil, water availability, biodiversity, and even peple’s livelihoods,” Warren-Thomas said.
The study focuses on four biodiversity hotspots in which rubber plantations are expanding — Sundaland (Malay Peninsula, Borneo, Sumatra, Java, Bali), Indo-Burma (Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam, Myanmar and Thailand), Wallacea (Indonesian islands east of Bali and Borneo) and the Philippines.
“Rubber can thrive across a wide range of climate and soil conditions across Southeast Asia and could replace a whole range of forest types containing large numbers of globally threatened and unique species.
“Protected areas have already been lost to rubber plantations. For example, more than 70 per cent of the 75,000 hectare Snoul Wildlife Sanctuary in Cambodia was cleared for rubber between 2009 and 2013,” Warren-Thomas noted.
Macaques and gibbons are known to disappear completely from forests which have been converted to rubber.
Conversion to rubber monoculture also has a knock on effect for freshwater species because fertilisers and pesticides run off into rivers and streams.
“In Laos, local people have reported dramatic declines in fish, crabs, shrimps, shellfish, turtles and stream bank vegetation.
“These findings show that rubber expansion could substantially exacerbate the extinction crisis in Southeast Asia,” the researchers warned.
They urged the manufacturers such as Goodyear and Michelin to support sustainability initiatives and drive change in the industry.
The findings appeared in the journal Conservation Letters. (IANS)