Elephant extinction in the Congo basin could accelerate climate change by allowing 7% more greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, according to a study published in Nature Geoscience.
This would mean an extra 3 billion tons of harmful carbon entering the atmosphere, lead researcher Fabio Berzaghi told The Independent.
Study scientists found that elephants graze on small trees, decreasing the total number of trees while increasing the resources for larger, hardwood trees. The hardwood trees have a high carbon content, meaning they absorb more carbon than the smaller trees would. By consuming the smaller trees, African elephants give hardwood trees the opportunity to thrive and provide natural carbon storing services.
However, African elephants face increasing extinction pressures from the demand for ivory and habitat destruction, meaning that fewer elephants are around to consume the smaller trees and eliminate competition for larger ones.
Scientists claim that conserving the elephant population could help reverse the trend of increasing greenhouse gas emissions, providing a service worth $43 billion by storing carbon.