Nutrition Mexico , México, Wednesday, November 12 of 2014, 14:42

Latin America and the Caribbean lose their vertebrates

Researchers call attention to factors such as habitat destruction or climate change and the implications for one of the richest areas in biodiversity of the planet

José Pichel Andrés/SINC/DICYT Biodiversity recedes rapidly across the planet. The Living Planet Report 2014 of WWF indicates a decrease of 52% of vertebrate species between 1970 and 2010, that is, in four decades; the number of mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians and fish on Earth has remained less than a half. When analyzing the data by geographical areas, the worst trend is the Neotropic, an area that basically corresponds to Latin America and the Caribbean, where the decrease reaches 83%.

Scientists agree that the situation is serious, although some question whether these differences among continents are so dramatic. "We must be very cautious with figures provided by global comparative analyses", assure two experts in biological conservation, Eric Ameca Juarez and Ernesto Rodriguez Luna of the University of Veracruz in Mexico.

While it is true that the loss of biodiversity is very high in the Neotropic, this geographical area has a huge diversity that is widely studied. Therefore, researchers of Veracruz consider that other parts of the planet "may have similar numbers," but because they were not thoroughly investigated, they offer less shocking data than Latin America and the tropics in general.

In any case, in his opinion, the causes of biodiversity loss are similar in all major ecoregions and the most important ones are mentioned: "Habitat destruction, negative effects of invasive species, overexploitation of species and populations and climate change", in addition to the chain effect that can cause the extinction of a species over others.

A particular case that Eric Ameca Juarez has studied in depth is the howler monkey (Alouatta palliata mexicana), which is in danger of extinction "affected by extreme weather effects in combination with habitat degradation," says the researcher, which has published an article in the journal Trends in Ecology and Evolution about this species that serves as a reference for analyzing the vulnerability of terrestrial mammals. The combination of several factors, including natural events and human activity has increased their risk of extinction.

Invasive species

Invasive species also have a devastating effect. Argentine universities of Comahue and La Plata, with a Spanish team led by the biologist Salvador Peris, have been analyzing for years the introduction of various species in the Lanin National Park, located in Patagonia near the Chilean border: the salmon and the European wild boar or the North American mink wreak havoc.

For example, in lakes and ponds in the province of Neuquén where the presence of mink has been documented, geese and swans have disappeared almost completely in just 15 years.

The WWF report warns that climate change may further increase pressure on populations in the future. If the figures collected make reference to the immediate past, when changes in temperature or precipitations were just starting to show, the models of climate evolution indicate that, throughout the twenty-first century, ecosystems may be much more affected.

According to figures collected by the Biodiversity Information System (BIS) of the Humboldt Institute of Colombia, 47% of the area of Latin American and the Caribbean corresponds to forests and inside them much of the faunal and, of course, botanical richness of the region lies. In general, it is believed that more than half of animal and plant species make their home in the wooded areas.

The country of birds

In Colombia itself, the country with the highest diversity of birds, there are about 350 species of fauna with some degree of threat, according to the Red Books published until the present date. Only in the humid forests of the Andes and on the Pacific coast, there are 68 birds, 40 mammals, 55 amphibians and 25 reptiles threatened.
Most of them are classified as "vulnerable", but much species are considered "endangered" or "critically endangered", the following steps to the disappearance. Amphibians and reptiles are the worst of all located in the western mountains and forests.

However, Colombian scientists call attention to other less visible animals. It has been estimated that there are 300,000 species of invertebrates, which less than 20% are known. Under these conditions, it is difficult to keep what is not even known to exist in a country with a privileged location between the Caribbean, the Pacific and the Amazon.

One irreparable loss

Therefore, Latin American scientists agree on the serious consequences of biodiversity loss even before they get to know it. "It represents a real loss"; point out the Mexicans Ernesto Rodriguez Luna and Eric Ameca Juarez, for example, "food, medicine, fiber or building materials."

Declining species also result in environmental changes still difficult to evaluate: pollination, natural recycling of nutrients, altered biogeochemical cycles, climate regulation and many other essential aspects for the balance of ecosystems may be changed dramatically. In short, "the end of the way we live as we know it," they warn.


The development leaves its footprint 


To reverse the situation in the next decades seems an extremely difficult task, but in any case, it would be necessary a "change in consumption patterns," according to the experts. Currently, humans are using more resources than the Earth can supply and the economic development which is being experienced by Latin America has significantly increased its ecological footprint, the indicator that reflects the environmental impact of human activities over the available resources in relation to their ability to regenerate. In this sense, Brazil has already been cast among the top five countries with the largest ecological footprint, which now accounts for 3.7% of the world total.