Climate change may have pronounced effects for the globally-significant Mesoamerican Biological Corridor which protects 9% of earth's terrestrial species, says a recent study by the Water Center for the Humid Tropics of Latin America and the Caribbean (CATHALAC). Mesoamerica - the tiny strip of land connecting North and South America - is rich in natural resources which are already threatened by urban and agricultural expansion, and which are now in climate change's bull's eye.
While various studies have tried to determine just exactly how much temperature will rise or how rainfall patterns will change, this groundbreaking study by CATHALAC is the first such effort to interpret what exactly climate change will mean for Mesoamerica. The study, published in the scientific journal Biodiversity, was funded by a U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) Global Development Alliance project which included collaboration from NASA, the University of Alabama-Huntsville, Cable & Wireless-Panama, and ESRI. Using advanced modeling techniques, CATHALAC's researchers were able to identify areas with high biodiversity which are likely to be pushed out of their current climatic 'comfort zones' - ranges of temperature and rainfall which the region's species and ecosystems have adapted to over untold millions of years.
According to the results, should 'worse case scenarios' prevail, by the 2020s, forests and coastal areas on the Caribbean coasts of Costa Rica, Honduras, Nicaragua, Panama and the Dominican Republic will be significantly impacted by climate change. Forests there might begin to decline and with them the thousands of documented and undocumented plants and animals which call these areas home. People living on both the Caribbean and Pacific coasts of Mesoamerica - which will also be subject to sea-level rises of about a meter - may fare slightly better.
"When we think about climate change, we often picture huge temperature increases in the polar regions and melting ice caps," explains Eric Anderson, CATHALAC Research Scientist. "But only a very slight increase in temperature could put very a large stress on tropical species and ecosystems, simply because they are sensitive and not used to much change at all."
By the 2050s, the majority of the region's species and ecosystems could be affected by climate change, with major implications for one of Mesoamerica's most significant income earners - ecotourism. Climate change also threatens to significantly affect the region's other major income earner, agriculture, as well as affect overall quality of life for the region's people, through impacts on water quality, among other factors. All is not lost - the study also allows highlights for the region's policy-makers the importance of maintaining or expanding the Mesoamerican Biological Corridor's existing network of protected areas as a strategy to adapt to climate change. CATHALAC is following up the study to examine climate change's potential impacts on other sectors.
An electronic version of the study can be downloaded from:
Established in 1992, CATHALAC is an international organization that promotes sustainable development through applied research and development, education and technology transfer in integrated management of watersheds, climate change, environmental analysis and modeling, and risk management in Latin America and the Caribbean.