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Endemic species and ecosystems of the Andes at risk
(January 27, 2012) New complementary protected areas are needed to safeguard endemic species and irreplaceable ecosystems in the Andes-Amazon basin of Peru and Bolivia, say the authors of a study published today in the journal BMC Ecology.
The multinational team—which includes several current and former staff from the NatureServe network—has for the first time identified biodiversity hotspots for endemic plants and animals and specific areas of high irreplaceability. Worryingly, the study also finds that many of these unique species and ecosystems lack vital national level protection. Previous continental-scale efforts have provided only rough indications of the conservation needs and challenges facing the region, one of the most biologically rich and rapidly changing areas of the world.
The authors found that a total of 226 endemic plants and animals—nearly 30% of those reviewed in the study—occur completely outside of protected areas. Ecological systems are equally at risk: almost half of the 91 ecological systems have 10% or less of their range protected. Irreplaceable areas and those with high numbers of endemic species both have only 20% of their ranges protected.
The study utilizes large data sets of 91 ecological systems and 782 terrestrial and aquatic species that occur only in this region and reveals patterns of biological diversity important to both conservation practice and scientific studies of the origin of biodiversity. The diverse inputs include detailed species information collected over the last 100 years by nearly 1,500 explorers along with satellite imagery that highlights the location of ecosystems, The results demonstrate that, even in poorly known areas, the combination of emerging technology and existing biological survey data can help improve conservation decision-making.
Endemic species are restricted to a specific area and occur nowhere else. Such species are especially vulnerable to climate and environmental changes because they require unique climates and soil conditions. As a result, they serve as ideal indicators for measuring biodiversity.
Detailed analysis of the maps highlight the highest concentration of endemic birds and mammals along a narrow band of the Andes between 2,500 and 3,000 m above sea level. The richest areas for endemic amphibian species peaked at an elevation of 1,000 to 1,500 m, particularly in southern Peru and northern Bolivia. The Cordillera de Vilcabamba in Peru, an unprotected region surrounding the World Heritage Site of Machu Picchu, stands out in the study as the area with the highest levels of irreplaceability for plant and highest number of species for birds and mammals.
The study mapped a wide range of ecosystems in Bolivia and Peru, from the wetlands of Beni savanna and the Iquitos várzea, to the bone-dry habitats of inter-Andean valleys, to the cool and humid montane forests along much of the eastern Andean slope. Over 7,000 individual records of endemic species locations for 115 birds, 55 mammals, 177 amphibians and 435 plants were combined with climatic, topographic, and vegetation data, resulting in detailed maps of species distributions.
“Many species and ecosystems are in need of protection, despite the tremendous efforts that have gone into conservation over the last 50 years,” said Dr Jennifer Swenson of Duke University’s Nicholas School of the Environment, who led the study, “This study shows that much work remains to protect the biodiversity of the tropical Andes.”
“This study demonstrates the critical role that natural history museums play in conservation,” remarked Dr Bruce Young, NatureServe’s director of species science and co-author of the study. “The specimen records they safeguard provide fundamental insight into how we can best allocate our scarce conservation dollars.”
“This work is important because it represents the first high-resolution mapping of endemic species in the Andes-Amazon region of Peru and Bolivia,” said Dr Antonio Tovar of the Centro de Datos para la Conservacíon at the Universidad Nacional Agraria La Molina, NatureServe’s member program in Peru. “It also represents a major advance in mapping ecological systmes of the wet tropical forests of the southwestern Amazon and the Yungas.”
—Antonio Tovar, Natural Areas Manager, Centro de Datos para la Conservacíon—La Universidad Nacional Agraria La Molina
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