New Study to Examine Effects and Threats of Climate Change on Plants and Animals in Andes

Plant scientists from the Missouri Botanical Garden will join the Inter-American Institute for Global Change Research (IAI) and other partners to study the impacts of climate change on biodiversity in the tropical Andes. The project seeks to provide the four tropical Andean countries of Bolivia, Colombia, Ecuador and Peru with standard methodology for estimating local climate change risks, which can advise future decision making, adaptation measures and conservation planning. The IAI initiative has been awarded a three-year grant from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation.

Climate and biodiversity scientists from the Missouri Botanical Garden, the International Research Centre on El Niño in Ecuador, Asociación Armonía – BirdLife International in Bolivia and the International Research Institute for Climate and Society will examine two biodiversity hotspots in the Andes mountain range – the Pacific slope of the Northern Andes between Colombia and Ecuador, and the Amazonian slope of the Central Andes between Bolivia and Peru. Both areas are renowned for their exceptional species richness: The Colombia-Ecuador study area has one of the world’s widest ranges of endemic species of plants, birds, reptiles, amphibians and butterflies, and the Bolivia-Peru study area has one of the highest levels of bird endemism in the tropical Andes. In the Bolivian region alone, Madidi National Park is home to just under 900 species (or about nine percent) of the world’s birds, and about 7,000 documented plant species (one-third of all species known to occur in the country).

The project focuses on three main components – climate, land use and biodiversity. Changes in climatic conditions in the study areas will be assessed, inferred and projected by using dendochronology (tree ring records) to reconstruct short-term climate variability from the past 100 to 200 years; examining historical data from climate stations; collecting data on climatic conditions during the next two years; and computer modeling of short- and medium-term (10- to 20-year) climate scenarios. Land use types and patterns will be examined using high-resolution Landsat satellite imagery. Birds, dung beetles and more than a dozen taxonomic groups of plants will serve as project proxies, or representative study samples, for terrestrial ecosystem diversity and vulnerability to climate change. The species chosen for this study are all of ecological importance and have bioindicator properties, meaning they change physiologically, behaviorally or chemically in response to alterations or pollutants in the environment. Participants estimate that their research will cover 500 to 1,000 plant species in each study area, between 500 and 1,000 bird species, and up to 300 to 400 dung beetles.

Local community members will also be consulted regarding the ecosystem goods and services most valuable to them, to determine the ecosystems on which they most depend. All study information will then be integrated into a geographic information system (GIS) tool made available as an interactive web portal.

“This analysis of biodiversity’s climate vulnerability can be considered a multidisciplinary pilot project, where we aim at providing methods that later can be used on a broader scale, both geographically and taxonomically,” said Dr. Peter Jørgensen, associate curator, Missouri Botanical Garden. “It is the first such project in the Andes, a biological hot spot where thousands of species are already in danger of extinction, and as such also an important contribution toward developing strategies for adapting to climate change in the two studied regions.”

[Source: Missouri Botanical Garden press release]