Wed | Jun 16, 2021

Earth Today | Researcher suggests comprehensive response to biodiversity threat

Published:Thursday | June 10, 2021 | 12:08 AM

WITH THE risk of extinction associated with small increases in global temperatures a clear and present danger for diverse species in the Caribbean, ecology expert Dr Shobha Maharaj has suggested the implementation of whole-island conservation strategies, among other response measures.

“Islands are composed of interconnected and highly interactive ecosystems, hence insular conservation would greatly benefit from the elimination of conservation silos. Instead, strategies where protected areas are established across transects from high altitudes to marine protected areas, including terrestrial, freshwater and marine ecosystems, are likely to achieve greater benefits of not just conservation, but also resilience against changing climate,” she told The Gleaner from Germany where she is currently based.

Her recommendation follows the publication of work looking at climate risk projections for some 273 areas of exceptional biodiversity, including terrestrial and marine environments in different scenarios, notably 1.5, two and three degrees Celsius of warming.

She and the 14 other researchers found that some two per cent of endemic species are at risk of extinction if global warming is limited to 1.5 degrees Celsius and four per cent at two degrees Celsius. That risk reported grows to 20 per cent within biodiversity hotspots on land and 32 per cent within marine hotspots. In comparison, at three degrees Celsius, introduced invasive species, which are known to outcompete endemic and other native species for food and habitat, are expected to see “neutral to positive impacts from such warming”.

Their findings, titled ‘Endemism increases species’ climate change risk in areas of global biodiversity importance’ was recently published in the journal Biological Conservation.

Conservation policy and planning

It is against this background that Maharaj has also recommended the infusion of climate change into conservation policy and planning – some of which is already taking place in islands such as Jamaica, with the work of the Climate Change Division and other stakeholders.

“This requires information from robust impacts projections on the effect that climate change will have on biodiversity conservation within these islands. Conservation planning should begin to actively include changing climate as a key variable within current and future strategies. However, to do this, some critical data deficiencies should be addressed as soon as possible,” Maharaj explained.

“First, as hinted in recent regional reports on climate, there is a lack of adequately downscaled climate data. These data are needed to facilitate robust terrestrial conservation planning across the region. Supporting regional modelling communities towards the generation of such downscaled data is critical. Second, there are very few islands within the region which have completed baseline data on existing flora and fauna. While there are instances of bits and pieces of such data scattered across some islands, and particularly information lodged in non-regional institutions, most islands have not put these pieces together and augmented any existing gaps. How can we effectively conserve when we do not have a full picture of what exists – and where? This cannot be accomplished sans a regional sharing of resources and other forms of cooperation,” she noted.

There is, too, a need to enhance efforts to manage or otherwise eliminate invasive alien species; as well as for the “planning of and where possible, the augmenting of protected areas networks with climate change in mind”.