Deforestation triggered mass extinction of endemic animal species in Haiti

October 29, 2018

The loss of more than 99 percent of primary, virgin forests in Haiti is triggering an ongoing mass extinction of reptiles, amphibians, and other species. This deforestation is the main threat to species globally, more than disease, climate change or invasive species.

That is the conclusion of a research collaboration that includes Temple University biologist S. Blair Hedges, director of the Center for Biodiversity and Laura H. Carnell Professor of Biodiversity. Among their findings: 42 of the country's 50 largest mountains have already lost all of their primary forests.

"Haiti is one of the first countries in the world to have lost almost all of its original forests," says Hedges. "A lot of the mountains each have their own endemic species, so when the primary forest is gone, the inference is that many species--including some that have never been identified--are most likely also gone."

The findings--published Monday, October 29 in the prestigious Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences--suggest that in less than two decades Haiti will lose all of its remaining primary forest cover and, as a result, most of its endemic species will disappear. Endemic species are those that occur in only one area and nowhere else in the world.

Hedges, the study's lead author, as well as collaborators Warren Cohen of the Oregon State University College of Forestry and Joel Timyan of the Audubon Society of Haiti, have all studied forests and biodiversity in Haiti since the 1980s. Zhiqiang Yang, now with the U.S. Forest Service but an OSU College of Forestry research associate during this study, was the fourth co-author.

Haiti is a densely populated nation of nearly 11 million people where most of the domestic energy production comes from wood charcoal. Haitians are cutting their forests primarily for charcoal and agriculture.

The researchers' analysis of aerial photography and Landsat images showed that between 1988 and 2016 the portion of Haiti's land covered by primary forests shrunk from 4.4 percent to just 0.32 percent. Moreover, mountaintop surveys of vertebrates showed that species are disappearing along with the trees.

Most reports of forest cover and deforestation in tropical nations fail to make a distinction between primary forest and previously cut ones. Instead, they use the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization's definition of "total forest" which can have as much as 90% of the trees missing. The researchers concluded that the reporting of primary forest, not total forest, should be the standard worldwide, for understanding the human impact on biodiversity.

"Expanded detection and monitoring of primary forest globally will also improve the efficiency of conservation measures inside and outside of protected areas," says Cohen.
The National Science Foundation and the Critical Ecosystems Partnership Fund supported the research.

The Center for Biodiversity is one of 12 interdisciplinary research centers within Temple University's College of Science and Technology.

Temple University College of Science and Technology

Related Climate Change Articles from Brightsurf:

Are climate scientists being too cautious when linking extreme weather to climate change?
Climate science has focused on avoiding false alarms when linking extreme events to climate change.

Mysterious climate change
New research findings underline the crucial role that sea ice throughout the Southern Ocean played for atmospheric CO2 in times of rapid climate change in the past.

Mapping the path of climate change
Predicting a major transition, such as climate change, is extremely difficult, but the probabilistic framework developed by the authors is the first step in identifying the path between a shift in two environmental states.

Small change for climate change: Time to increase research funding to save the world
A new study shows that there is a huge disproportion in the level of funding for social science research into the greatest challenge in combating global warming -- how to get individuals and societies to overcome ingrained human habits to make the changes necessary to mitigate climate change.

Sub-national 'climate clubs' could offer key to combating climate change
'Climate clubs' offering membership for sub-national states, in addition to just countries, could speed up progress towards a globally harmonized climate change policy, which in turn offers a way to achieve stronger climate policies in all countries.

Review of Chinese atmospheric science research over the past 70 years: Climate and climate change
Over the past 70 years since the foundation of the People's Republic of China, Chinese scientists have made great contributions to various fields in the research of atmospheric sciences, which attracted worldwide attention.

A CERN for climate change
In a Perspective article appearing in this week's Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Tim Palmer (Oxford University), and Bjorn Stevens (Max Planck Society), critically reflect on the present state of Earth system modelling.

Fairy-wrens change breeding habits to cope with climate change
Warmer temperatures linked to climate change are having a big impact on the breeding habits of one of Australia's most recognisable bird species, according to researchers at The Australian National University (ANU).

Believing in climate change doesn't mean you are preparing for climate change, study finds
Notre Dame researchers found that although coastal homeowners may perceive a worsening of climate change-related hazards, these attitudes are largely unrelated to a homeowner's expectations of actual home damage.

Older forests resist change -- climate change, that is
Older forests in eastern North America are less vulnerable to climate change than younger forests, particularly for carbon storage, timber production, and biodiversity, new research finds.

Read More: Climate Change News and Climate Change Current Events is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to