A perfect storm of climate change, extreme weather and pressure from human activity is threatening to collapse Earth’s most biodiverse ecosystems, according to a new study.
The study published this week mapped more than 100 locations where hurricanes, floods, heatwaves, droughts and fires have impacted tropical forests and coral reefs, which host a large share of global biodiversity and provide ecosystem functions used by millions of people.
Researchers said ongoing climate change is leading to an increase in frequency and magnitude of extreme climatic events in the tropics, which is leading to unprecedented negative ecological consequences.
“Tropical forests and coral reefs are very important for global biodiversity, so it is extremely worrying that they are increasingly affected by both climate disturbances and human activities,” lead researcher from the Embrapa Amazônia Oriental in Brazil and Lancaster University Filipe França said in a statement.
Researchers found climate change is causing more frequent and stronger storms, marine heatwaves, hurricanes, cyclones and typhoons in Central America, the Caribbean, East Africa, most of Asia, Australia and the Pacific islands.
“A range of post-hurricane ecological consequences have been recorded in tropical forests: the destruction of plants by these weather extremes affects the animals, birds and insects that rely on them for food and shelter,” Guadalupe Peralta, from Canterbury University in New Zealand, said in a statement.
Researchers said in some regions, such as the Caribbean Islands, extreme weather events have decimated wildlife, reducing numbers by more than half, and high temperatures with longer and more severe dry seasons have led to the spread of unprecedented and large-scale wildfires in tropical forests.
The study’s authors emphasized the need for urgent action to curb the impacts on tropical forests and coral reefs and argue only international action to decrease CO2 emissions can reverse this trend
“Conserving the hyperdiverse biota of tropical forests and coral reefs for future generations will require much greater cooperation between nations and the involvement of a broader range of stakeholders in the development of solutions,” researchers wrote.