Protected areas can stop people from cutting and burning trees in the Amazon, but they can’t keep rising temperatures out.
In a recent study, FIU biologist Kenneth Feeley found that in as little as 35 years at least 19 percent and as many as 67 percent of the Amazon’s protected areas will not have the same temperatures or climates found today. The actual changes will depend on the rate of warming. With changes in climate already being realized in the Amazon, plants are on the move, migrating to areas where temperatures are cooler and rainfall is greater. Unfortunately for these plants, many are migrating to areas that are not protected.
“These migrating species will have to move from park to park, often crossing through vast swaths of unprotected areas,” said Feeley, a researcher with the International Center for Tropical Botany (ICTB) at the Kampong, a collaboration between FIU and the National Tropical Botanical Garden. “As such, we should increase efforts not only to expand the system of protected areas but to increase connectivity.”
The study was recently published in the journal Diversity and Distributions.
According to a 2015 study by FIU botanist Christopher Baraloto, 36 to 57 percent of all trees in the Amazon are likely to be considered “globally threatened” per International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List criteria by 2050. Published in Science Advances, the study was authored by a team of international researchers, including Baraloto who serves as director of ICTB. They found effective parks and protected areas can go a long way towards mitigating threats to plants and animals. If no deforestation occurs in the Amazon’s protected areas, the number of globally threatened trees would drop.
According to Feeley, the 2015 finding reinforces the importance of parks as one of the most powerful tools against deforestation. But, fences cannot keep rising temperatures out and even the best-protected areas of the Amazon may be susceptible to the effects of rising temperatures. In the face of climate change, the biggest determining factor of a species’ risk for extinction is its ability to migrate through non-protected habitats.
“The fact that there is a wide range of possible results shows us there is the possibility for us to significantly influence what will happen in the Amazon,” Feeley said. “If we slow warming and increase park connectivity so that species can track their suitable climates, then many species may able to find refuges in the future. If we allow warming to continue business-as-usual and we allow Amazonian parks to become isolated islands of forest, then the vast majority of protected areas and species will have no place to go to.”