atin America is perhaps the most ecologically diverse
region on Earth. Here the combination of urgent threats, limited resources,
and incomplete knowledge of the region's vast array of species presents
a difficult conservation challenge.
An effective response to this challenge is to focus
conservation at the ecosystem level. NatureServe's ground-breaking classification
of the ecological systems of Latin America analyzes the landscape in detail
based on both the dominant vegetation and the ecological processessuch
as fire or flooding-that shape these systems. By identifying and understanding
the repeating patterns found on the landscape, we can describe the mosaic
of habitat types that should be targets for conservationat a scale
that is practical for local conservation action.
Ecologist Carmen Josse, a native of Quito, first got
to know some of these habitats as a student while doing field research
on the flora of Ecuador's montane forests. She now leads a NatureServe
team analyzing Latin America's complex array of ecological systems. Working
with experts from 11 countries, over the last few years Josse and her
team have identified about 700 distinct habitat types from northern Mexico
to southern Chile, with a few important regions remaining to be studied.
The findings are being used to set conservation priorities, map critical
habitats, monitor ecosystem health, and understand how Latin America's
habitats are changing over time.
The ecological systems newly defined by Josse and her
colleagues are already in use by partners such as The Nature Conservancy
for conservation planning efforts on the eastern slope of the Andes in
Ecuador and in the Chaco ecoregion of Bolivia, Paraguay, and Argentina.