The first continental Red List of Ecosystems assessment completed for the Americas
According to the first continental ecosystem risk assessment of temperate and tropical forests of the Americas, more than 80% of these forest ecosystems in the Americas are threatened.
Photo: IUCN Jim Thorsell
Co-authored by an international group of scientists the paper "An ecosystem risk assessment of temperate and tropical forests of the Americas with an outlook on future conservation strategies" reviews the need of countries to combine large forest protection measures with focused actions to help restore ecological functions, as they concluded that 80% of the forest types are potentially threatened.
“We believe our study is the first systematic ecosystem risk assessment that integrates multiple threatening processes at continental scale, and the first to couple risk assessment with a scenario analysis to identify cost-effective options for conservation action to reduce the risks”, says David Keith, Professor at University of New South Wales – Sydney and lead of the IUCN Red List of Ecosystems Thematic Group.
Using the IUCN Red List of Ecosystems criteria, the global standard for assessing the risk of ecosystem collapse, the paper showcases a continental assessment of 136 types of tropical and temperate forest ecosystems in the Americas region (from North to South America, including the Caribbean). Twelve forest types are considered Critically Endangered (CR), the highest category of risk. Six of these are located in biodiversity hotspots in Brazil, Colombia and Ecuador, with other forest types located in less diverse regions of the continent.
For this research, scientists considered six indicators that evaluate the spatial and functional symptoms of collapse, across three time frames (historical, present and future). Findings show that most forest types are threatened by declines in distribution (e.g. deforestation and land use change), but degradation and functional decline are equally or more relevant for 40% of them. Some American forest ecosystems are threatened by historical land uses that are no longer active, while a similar number are threatened by emerging changes in land use or climate. Others, including the Tropical Seasonally Dry Forests have a long and ongoing trajectory of decline driven by multiple threats.
“Based on our methodology, the risk of collapse of forest in the Americas is widespread and affects all regions of the continent. All countries are and will face important conservation challenges. Our approach provides the necessary tools for estimating optimal conservation strategies as a trade-off between potential benefits and costs” says Dr. José R. Ferrer-Paris main author of the study and member of the RLE Thematic Group (Associated Researcher at the Venezuelan Institute for Scientific Research and Provita NGO).
The study explores the effectiveness of different conservation and management strategies to save American forests, including forest protection, stronger policies to limit over-exploitation, diversification of forestry practices, restoration, climate change mitigation and more effective monitoring.
“Our analysis suggests cost-effective combinations of actions for each country, but this is only an initial input. National and regional strategies must be aligned with the broader social and natural context and consider the values of alternative actions”, says José R. Ferrer-Paris.
“This work will help guide policies for the next years on food and water security, human and ecosystem health as well as ecosystems services,” says Dr Carlos Zambrana-Torrelio, co-author and Associate Vice President of EcoHealth Alliance.
For more information on this topic, locate and download the article by Ferrer et al. (2019) in the published assessments section in our website.
Written by: José R. Ferrer-Paris