Category Archives: Central America

11 of the World’s Most Jeopardized Forests

Imagine our world without up to 656,000 square miles of forest – an area than twice the size of Texas. Our world would look a lot different.

According to a World Wildlife Fund (WWF) report released in April, this could be the case by 2030. The report identified 11 regions around the world with the greatest expected loss of forest over the next 15 years.

These forests are home to countless animals, including rare and endangered species, and such habitat loss would be detrimental to them. And even worse, it could all happen in as little as 15 years from now unless we address major forest threats like mining, illegal logging, agriculture and road construction.

Here are the 11 forests identified in the WWF report:

1. Amazon

/ CC BY-SA 2.0
/ CC BY-SA 2.0
The Amazon jungle is the world’s largest forest, but it’s also projected to have the greatest habitat loss. Over a quarter of the forest will be gone if current trends persist, especially today’s cattle ranching and agriculture in the region.

 
2. Atlantic Forest/Gran Chaco

Photo by Alex Popovkin / CC BY 2.0
Photo by Alex Popovkin / CC BY 2.0
The Atlantic forest spans parts of Paraguay, Brazil and Argentina and is one of the richest rainforests in the world, with more biodiversity per acre than the Amazon. But 75% of the Brazilian population lives there, causing deforestation in both the Atlantic forest and the neighboring dry forest Gran Chaco.

 
3. Borneo

 Photo by Col Ford and Natasha de Vere / CC BY 2.0

Photo by Col Ford and Natasha de Vere / CC BY 2.0
In 2030, there could be as little as 33% of the lowland Borneo rainforest left. Weak government and instability only exacerbate deforestation as more and more people create palm oil plantations in the region.

 
4. Cerrado

Photo by A. Duarte / CC BY-SA 2.0
Photo by A. Duarte / CC BY-SA 2.0
The Cerrado is a high plateau region in Brazil that isn’t as well-known as the Amazon but is just as threatened. Cattle ranching and converting forest to soy plantations are the major causes of deforestation.

 
5. Choco-Darien

Photo by Tio Tigre / <a href="https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/
Photo by Tio Tigre / <a href="https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/
Running along South America’s northwestern Pacific coast, these forests face deforestation from roads, power lines, mining and oil exploration. Most damage has occurred in the Ecuadorian Choco, but the regions in Panama and Colombia are also in jeopardy.

 
6. Congo Basin

Photo by Julien Harneis / CC BY-SA 2.0
Photo by Julien Harneis / CC BY-SA 2.0
The Congo Basin is one of the world’s most important wilderness regions, containing 20% of the planet’s tropical forests and the most biodiversity in Africa. These forests are especially threatened because the human population is expected to double by 2030.

 
7. Eastern Africa

Photo by CIAT / CC BY-SA 2.0
Photo by CIAT / CC BY-SA 2.0
This region has the miombo woodlands and coastal and mountain forests, all of which are threatened. The forests are illegally logged, over-harvested for timber and fuel wood or converted to livestock and cash crops. Sadly, the coastal forests of Tanzania and Kenya are already down to 10% of their original area.

 
8. Eastern Australia

Photo by Christoph Rupprecht / CC BY-SA 2.0OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Photo by Christoph Rupprecht / CC BY-SA 2.0OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Although there have been recent reductions in deforestation in the states of Queensland and New South Wales, weak legislation raises concerns about forest loss. Conversion of forest land to pastures for livestock is the main cause of deforestation, but key species are affected, including koalas, possums, gliders and birds.

 
9. Greater Mekong

Photo by Allie_Caulfield / <a href="https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/
Photo by Allie_Caulfield / <a href="https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/
Because of a booming economy, the region’s forest land is being converted for sugar, rice, rubber and biofuels. But as more and more of the forests are converted for economic development, the area’s animals become increasingly threatened and the Greater Mekong forests are rich in species. For instance, in 2011 alone, 126 new species were discovered there, including fish, snakes, frogs and bats.

 
10. New Guinea

Photo by Danumurthi Mahendra / <a href="https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/
Photo by Danumurthi Mahendra / <a href="https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/
New Guinea and neighboring islands are home to the largest remaining regions of tropical forests in the Asia-Pacific area and home to more than 6% of the world’s species. But with agriculture on the rise, the forests and their inhabitants are in jeopardy.

 
11.Sumatra

Photo by Andrew H / CC BY-ND 2.0
Photo by Andrew H / CC BY-ND 2.0
Indonesia’s palm oil production is now centered in Sumatra, and particularly the Riau province, causing deforestation in the area. It even affects protected forests and national parks, threatening the region’s rhinos, tigers, orangutans, and other wildlife
 
 
What Can We Do?
WWF believes that stopping deforestation now is more strategic and cost-effective than dealing with the consequences later. Deforestation accounts for around 15% of global carbon emissions – more than the total emissions from every single the motor vehicles, airplanes and ships in the world. If we don’t address this issue and take action, we could lose over 600,000 square miles of our planet’s forests. With that, we would lose the benefits those forests provide, including jobs, clean water and wood, and we would lose precious habitat for much of the world’s wildlife and many endangered species.
 
 
Featured image by David Evers / CC BY 2.0

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Tropical Amphibians Face Extinction Within the Next Century

Over the next 100 years, our planet’s tropical amphibians may go extinct.

A new study found that in the last 30-40 years, 200 frog species have gone extinct around the world and that hundreds more may disappear in the next century. Habitat loss and destruction, climate change and deadly diseases are the factors that put these amphibians at risk.

John Alroy, associate professor in biological sciences at the Macquarie University in Australia authored the study. To estimate the number of extinct species, he looked at samples from museums of amphibians and reptiles in nine different regions and compared them to published observations.

Photo by Diana Robinson / CC BY-ND 2.0
Photo by Diana Robinson / CC BY-ND 2.0

Some of the worst rates of extinction were in Latin America, possibly due to the chytrid fungus. Alroy says:

“There’s pretty good agreement that the biggest threat for amphibians is the [chytrid] (Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis) fungus. However, I think habitat destruction might have a bigger role than people realize — and future climate change is going to have huge and unpredictable consequences.”

While tropical amphibians face high extinction rates, those in the Southeast United States do not. In addition, reptiles in all regions faced low extinction rates except in a few areas like Madagascar.

 
 
Featured image by Jan Hazevoet / CC BY 2.0

There’s a Dolphin Baby Bust in the Gulf of Mexico and It’s Concerning

The BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico is still having devastating effects, even six years later.

A new study found that dolphins in the Gulf aren’t able to have as many babies because of the 2010 BP oil spill, also known as the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. The study also found that this impact could last for generations.

Researchers examined bottlenose dolphins in a previously contaminated area and found that only 20% of them produced viable calves. These dolphins were from Louisiana’s Barataria Bay, while other dolphins from Florida’s Sarasota Bay were found to have a pregnancy success rate of 83%, according to another study.

Furthermore, the Barataria Bay dolphins experienced lower longevity, with a survival rate of just 87% versus 96% in a similar bottlenose population. Other dolphin populations in the Gulf are suffering similarly, including those in the Mississippi Sound.

Executive director of the National Marine Mammal Foundation and the study’s co-author Cynthia Smith told TakePart:

“We are very concerned about the high rate of reproductive failures among Barataria Bay dolphins, as recovery of the population depends on successful reproduction. Barataria Bay dolphins were more likely to be underweight, have moderate-severe lung disease, and have an impaired stress response. Any one of these conditions could put a pregnancy at risk, as well as make it difficult to care for a newborn.”

Photo by Jason Pratt / CC BY 2.0
Photo by Jason Pratt / CC BY 2.0

The BP oil spill was the worst marine oil spill in U.S. history with around 4.9 million barrels of oil spilling into the Gulf. Dolphins and other marine creatures were exposed to oil by ingestion, absorption through the skin and inhalation.

In February, a government-funded study showed that since 2010, 1,305 dolphins were discovered stranded on Gulf shores and 94% of them were found dead – this represents the longest marine mammal Gulf die-off ever.

The study’s authors wrote:

“Whether the observed reproductive failures are directly related to oil exposure or indirectly related to the oil through a cascade of other health impacts to the adult females, cannot currently be determined. However, given the documented poor health of Barataria Bay dolphins…it is unsurprising to find impacts on reproduction as well.”

If history is any indication of what’s to come, the long-term effects of the BP spill could be disastrous. We could see drastic declines in the populations of dolphins – and other species too – without recovery for decades.

 
 
Featured image by sheilapic76 / CC BY 2.0

Caiman in Costa Rica

Photo by Ben Haeringer / CC BY-ND 2.0

Caiman in Costa Rica

Macaws Being Released in Mexico Continue to Fuel Their Comeback

29 scarlet macaws were released in the state of Veracruz in Mexico in late August, increasing the wild population by 36%.

The species was almost wiped out 50 years ago from habitat loss and poaching for the pet trade, as the population was reduced from thousands to just 250. Defenders of Wildlife supports the Mexican National University’s Institute of Biology to reintroduce captive-bred macaws into the wild.

All reintroduced macaws are identified by marks on their bills, tags on their wings and transponders they carry that receive radio signals. Some birds also have radio transmitters so that the biologists can track them to see where they go and what locations might be best for future releases. Each of the identifiers and devices also helps prevent poaching of the birds.

Photo by jgreenberg / CC BY-SA 2.0
Photo by jgreenberg / CC BY-SA 2.0

The plan is to continue releasing macaws every three or four months for the next five years to build a stable population of 300-500 birds. Once these numbers have been achieved, Veracruz will be home to the largest wild population of scarlet macaws in Mexico.

Releases are just one part of recovery efforts, though, as there is also an intense reforestation program to slowly bring back lost habitat. In addition, there are quick bird identification guides to promote bird watching that will provide tourist income to local communities and prevent poaching.

Defenders of Wildlife has also created educational materials – including posters, children’s coloring books, and comic books for youths and adults – to teach the local communities about the importance of these birds and restoring the species to the wild.

 
 
Featured image by Jaime Olmo / CC BY-SA 2.0

What Marine Ecosystem is Most Threatened By Human Impact?

What marine ecosystem is most at risk of extinction from human impact? An international team of scientists used 23 million years of fossil records to conclude that the tropics are most at risk of extinction today.

In a paper published in the journal Science, researchers found that the predictors of extinction vulnerability, geographic range and the type of organisms have remained consistent over the past 23 million years.

Study co-author and professor at the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies, University of Queensland John Pandolfi states:

“We used these estimates to map natural extinction risk in modern oceans, and compare it with recent human pressures on the ocean such as fishing, and climate change to identify the areas most at risk. These regions are disproportionately in the tropics, raising the possibility that these ecosystems may be particularly vulnerable to future extinctions.”

Coral Reef, Santo, Vanuatu
Image credit: Roderick Eime / CC BY 2.0

With these records, the scientists were able to assess a baseline extinction risk for tropical ecosystems and marine animals like sharks, whales, dolphins, snails, clams, corals and more. They then mapped the regions where those species with high risk were most impacted by humans and climate change.

By identifying these regions, humans can now target the tropics and the species that dwell there in conservation efforts and policies. From Simon Fraser University, British Columbia, co-author Dr. Sean Anderson says:

“It’s very difficult to detect extinctions in the modern oceans but fossils can help fill in the gaps. Our findings can help prioritize areas and species that might be at greater risk of extinction and that might require extra attention, conservation or management – protecting vulnerable species in vulnerable places.”

Pulau Rawa, Rawa Island, Malaysia
Image credit: Phalinn Ooi / CC BY 2.0

Featured Image: Greg McFall, NOAA’s National Ocean Service / CC BY 2.0