Last updated August 15, 2018 at 4:42 pm
Scientists call for action to avoid irrevocable diversity loss.
Tropical ecosystems are at risk as much from our lack of knowledge as a lack of interest, an international group of scientists has warned.
And they caution that failure to act decisively – and now – will greatly increase the risk of unprecedented and irrevocable biodiversity loss.
Writing in Nature, they note the recent “awakening of environmental consciousness” and decisive action in initiatives such as the Paris Agreement, the Sustainable Development Goals and voluntary Zero Deforestation Commitments.
However, they say we lack the necessary data to ensure tropical ecosystems get the attention they require.
Extinctions of tropical species
For all five vertebrate groups that have been assessed by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and for which spatial occurrence data are available, species classified as Vulnerable, Endangered or Critically Endangered are more likely to be found in the tropics than those classified as Least Concern.
In addition, 85 per cent of species extinctions from these vertebrate groups have been of species that use the tropics.
“Consequently, although extinctions of other groups are less well understood, we can assume that most of an estimated 130,000 modern invertebrate extinctions will also have been of tropical species,” the researchers write.
“Thus, not only are the tropics vastly more diverse than temperate regions, but this diversity is also at far greater risk from human actions.
“Moreover, given that the tropics have the highest proportion of species classified by the IUCN as Data Deficient and the lowest level of biodiversity-threat assessment, information shortfalls mean we are probably underestimating the vulnerability of the tropical biome.”
The paper was prepared by a group led by Jos Barlow from Lancaster University in the UK. It includes Shaun Wilson from the Oceans Institute, at the University of Western Australia.
They say tropical terrestrial, freshwater and marine ecosystems, which contain more than 78 per cent of the world’s species, including almost all shallow-water corals and over 90 per cent of terrestrial birds, are subject to pervasive and interacting stressors, such as deforestation, overfishing and climate change.
Countering these threats requires major improvements in local and global governance capacity and a step-change in how environmental objectives are integrated into broader development goals.
“…we need to act now to address the pressing environmental challenges facing the tropics. This means being adaptive, learning by doing and embracing innovation.
“The past decades have seen a boom in proposals, innovations and insights about the governance and management of tropical ecosystems, ranging from more technocentric proposals to facilitate the evolution of climate-tolerant corals; ecological engineering to recover lost trophic interactions by species re-introductions, ecological replacements and rewilding; to radical new legal frameworks such as France’s ‘Loi de vigilance’ that places an unprecedented due diligence obligation on major companies to assess social and environmental risks in their supply chains that extend beyond French borders.
“Though these innovations serve different purposes and are varyingly scalable, they illustrate the potential of solutions-based science and conservation. Of course, acting now does not mean ignoring the existing evidence base or making uninformed decisions. Rather, it is vital that researchers and decision makers are vigilant to opportunities and risks and are willing to learn lessons.”
The article is one of six in a series published in Nature looking at the diverse scientific and societal challenges posed by the tropics.