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Real Stories. Real Impact.
Real Stories. Real Impact.
New protected areas, beekeeping for conservation, and gender equity in reforestation are a few of the stories you’ll explore in our 2023 Spring Newsletter!
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The 6th Assessment Synthesis Report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) warns that despite progress in climate mitigation efforts, the current pace of action is insufficient to keep global temperatures below the threshold of 1.5°C. That is the threshold beyond which scientists say climate impacts increase significantly and damage becomes rapidly irreversible. Below is a summary of the report’s findings.
Action needs to happen now, this is the decisive decade
To ensure temperatures do not exceed the threshold of 1.5°C, global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions will need to peak within this decade, decline by 43% by 2030, and 60% by 2035. Adverse climate impacts are already far more extreme than initial reports anticipated. The current global surface temperature has already warmed 1.1°C above preindustrial levels. With this alone, there has been an increase in biodiversity loss, drought, extreme heat, and flooding, among other impacts. Despite a decrease in the cost of green energy, improved technologies, and national commitments to reduce GHG emissions. These measures have continued to increase and will fall short. Unsustainable energy use, land use, lifestyles and patterns of consumption and production all contribute to the GHG emissions. A rapid scaling of policy and increased funding to climate is needed to achieve climate stabilization.
Even small increases in overall temperature matter
The report defines the risks, adverse impacts, and related losses and damages from climate change at varying degrees of temperature rises. At each tier, the loss of biodiversity increases, access to clean water and food decreases, and sea levels rise. There is no question that any positive changes to keep global warming in check will help to avoid further loss of life and encourage ecosystem health. At a certain point, it is no longer reversible. As certain losses and damage occur, reversal and adaptation options are far less feasible, if even effective at all. It is important to take every action possible at this very moment. Hope lies in the prevention of further tipping the warming scales.
Biggest impacts threaten those who have historically contributed the least to climate change
According to the IPCC, nearly half of the global population lives in areas where their lives or livelihoods are under threat of climate change. It is said that between 3.3 billion and 3.6 billion people live in countries that are highly vulnerable to climate impacts, including those within Central and South America where Nature and Culture operates. In addition, many of these areas face extreme poverty, governance challenges, and limited access to financial resources or technical support. In this 6th Assessment Report, the IPCC also notes that climate adaptation challenges are often “exacerbated by inequity and marginalization linked to gender, ethnicity, low income or combinations thereof, especially for many Indigenous Peoples and local communities.”
Data on the global inequalities of CO2 emissions reveals that higher-earning countries as well as higher-earning individuals produce more of the world’s GHGs and yet it is those who are producing the least who are most heavily impacted. The highest income-earning households contribute around 45% of the world’s consumption-based CO2 emissions, while the bottom 50% account for only around 15%.
The threats of climate change weigh more heavily on regions that are not historically responsible for the production of GHGs; however, the world is looking to many of these areas for quick adaptation efforts or asking for limitation on development that could provide an immediate higher standard of living. That is why it is important to allow these most vulnerable groups or regions inclusive governance, and transparent and participatory decision-making for mitigation and adaptation efforts.
What is Nature and Culture’s role?
Protecting Earth’s remaining oceans, plants, animals, and soils is the most cost-effective climate adaptation option. The most potential exists in preventing deforestation in tropical regions. For Nature and Culture that means maintaining tropical forests in the Amazon and Andes. Long-term management of our protected areas supports biodiversity resilience in the region and supports ecosystem services at a global scale, including the sequestration of billions of tons of carbon. Beyond the protection and management of these threatened forests, reforestation and agroforestry (or sustainably cultivating native crops) also contribute to climate mitigation. All these efforts can positively affect local communities if they are done in coordination with the people who live in these areas. Reforestation can improve air quality, access to clean water and food, and agroforestry techniques include economic benefits that have potential to reduce poverty and improve local livelihoods.
Many climate adaptation solutions already exist and positively impact global well-being
According to the report, there are feasible, effective, low-cost, low-trade-off options already available, and many include wider societal benefits. A major conclusion of the synthesis is the need to prioritize equity, climate justice, social justice, and inclusion in the near-term actions to mitigate climate change.
Focusing on societal enhancements like education, hunger, poverty, gender, and energy access can support regions and people with the highest climate change vulnerabilities. It not only supports overall societal well-being, but it can also scaffold climate adaptation development programs. Recognition of the inherent rights of Indigenous Peoples is also crucial to successful adaptation across forests and other ecosystems, according to the report. This has always been a cornerstone of Nature and Culture’s work, prioritizing the needs of the local communities we work with.
Looking to communities, governments and businesses for leadership
Cooperative climate mitigation is essential. This means including climate adaptation practices that are informed by Indigenous Peoples and local communities. Truly effective climate action will involve coordination among many stakeholders. A prime example of this in action is in our work on the Amazonian Platform, This is a agreement between 7 Indigenous nationalities and local governments to manage 11 million acres of the Amazon rainforest. Nature and Culture supports projects that require buy-in from varying levels of government and marketplaces and include frameworks that hear a multitude of voices, including Indigenous Peoples and local communities.
The climate adaptation measures we implement are done in close collaboration with Indigenous Peoples and local communities and in partnership with local government. These types of projects put people at the heart of the outcome and provide access to finance and technology that would otherwise be unavailable. They often also provide other economic benefits, such as food and water security and improve the overall health of the human populations while safeguarding biodiversity and promoting carbon sequestration.
Please join us in safeguarding our climate future by making a donation today!
As a supporter of Nature and Culture, take a moment to review our impact in 2022!
Our 2022 Annual Impact Report is a testament to our commitment to community-based conservation. As trailblazers in this field, the well-being of local communities is as important as protecting and conserving natural resources. For us, those go hand in hand.
Our work is organized into 5 key strategy areas: wild places, climate, water, people, and species. As you read through this report, you’ll see how our team approaches our projects through these lenses, ensuring the long term overall health of the areas we protect.
Please remember that none of this would be possible without the generous support we’ve received from so many of you!
“La abuela”, a female jaguar that had not been seen for almost 10 years, made a hopeful appearance on the outskirts of Ejido of Munihuaza, in Sonora, Mexico.
The inhabitants of Ejido of Munihuaza had not seen jaguars on their land for a long time. The increase of livestock and open-range grazing in the area had significantly reduced jaguar habitat due to continuous conflict between the animal and ranchers who take action out of fear that the cat would hunt their livestock.
“There is a lack of community awareness,” says Gilberto Díaz, a Nature and Culture technician in Mexico, “there is a lack of knowledge about the importance of caring for the jaguar’s habitat since its survival is closely tied to the integrity of the ecosystem,” he points out.
Ejido de Munihuaza is in the protected area of Sierra de Álamos-Río Cuchujaqui, in northwest Mexico. There, the thorny scrub, pine and oak forests, and riparian vegetation intermingle, creating an excellent biodiversity corridor that is home to hundreds of species of flora and fauna, among them the jaguar and other felines such as the puma, and the ocelot.
Thus, in an effort to protect the northernmost corridor of jaguar habitat, Nature and Culture joined the “Borderlands Linkages Initiative”, a project led by the Wildlands Network involving eight organizations from Mexico and the United States. This initiative includes monitoring the activities of the jaguar as well as assessing the restoration needs in the Sonora region.
Nature and Culture chose to monitor the cat in Ejido de Munihuaza because it is adjacent to the Monte Mojino Reserve, a private reserve of the organization, and because it provided an opportunity to collaborate with locals on community projects with an environmental focus. “For us, it was essential that community members of Ejido participate in the activities,” says Gilberto. This is how he, Anselmo Palomares, Alejo Palomares, and José Bojórquez formed the monitoring team and worked together from August 2021 to April 2022 in the training, installation, and maintenance of camera traps to make the mythical jaguar visible.
In total, they installed 22 camera traps that covered 90% of Ejido. For the location of the monitoring stations, the team surveyed the area, cleaned it, and placed each camera strategically to avoid “junk images”, that is, photos activated by the wind, leaves, etc. Díaz highlights that, although it was the first time that José, Anselmo, and Alejo carried out wildlife monitoring, they took to the task quickly. “They were coming up with ways to make sure the camera traps worked, like walking like a jaguar,” he says.
The installation work was arduous, not only because of the irregular topography of the region that goes from sea level to almost 4,000 feet above sea level but also because of the summer season. “We worked from 5 in the morning to noon and from 3 in the afternoon to 6 in the afternoon, avoiding the hottest hours,” says Díaz. They also helped themselves with mules to be able to travel long distances and reach the objectives of the day. Gilberto warmly remembers that the families of the community made him feel at home, offering him lodging and food when the days did not allow him to return home.
Now all that was left to do was wait. The park rangers had to periodically monitor each of the monitoring stations, review the photographic record of the cameras, download the data, and delete it before reinstalling the cameras. Each of the rangers received economic compensation for this activity contributing to improving their home life. “The support is noticeable at the table,” said one of them, “this support allows us to buy gas,” added another.
Months passed and the jaguar did not appear in the image. They saw, among other species, deer, pumas, squirrels, and many cows, but the characteristic black spots of the feline did not appear on the recordings. Every day of monitoring, the team looked for the jaguar enthusiastically, but as the project’s closing approached, it still had not appeared. It was not until the last shift that they saw her, in one of the cameras located in the best-preserved area of Ejido.
With the recordings, the Northern Jaguar Reserve confirmed that it was not only a jaguar but that it was the second oldest female recorded in the region, an individual that had not been seen in the area since 2013. “Seeing a jaguar is very important since it is an indicator of a healthy ecosystem. But seeing a female jaguar brings hope since it means that reproduction is possible”, explains Gilberto. The people of Ejido were filled with emotion upon hearing the news and collectively agreed to name her “la abuela” or grandmother, as a symbol of wisdom and hope for the community.
Thanks to the monitoring of the species, the community of Ejido de Munihuaza understood the importance of protecting the habitat of species such as the jaguar. But the effort must continue, as Díaz mentions, “It is essential to strengthen monitoring strategies and disseminate information so that the people of the communities take ownership and take care of what is theirs”, because “conservation is not only about protecting habitat, it is also the social environment”, he concludes.
Climate change adaptation, species discovery, and newly declared protected areas in Nature and Culture’s latest round-up of news from 2022.
Our strength as an organization lies within the passion of people around the globe who share our same dream. As part of the Nature and Culture community, you help us achieve so much — diverse vibrant cultures; wild places alive with plants and animals, and clean water and other ecosystem services for communities throughout Latin America. Thank you!
The best defenders of nature, Indigenous nationalities live sustainably within the most biodiverse places on the planet.
That is why Nature and Culture prioritizes people in our conservation efforts. We provide extensive technical and legal support for communities to define and achieve their own conservation goals. From land protection and sustainable use of the land to the documentation of Indigenous culture, our conservation process examines all components of a potential project.
New protected areas, bioeconomy projects, environmental education, and some of our largest conservation efforts to date in Nature and Culture’s first round of highlights from 2022.
Nature and Culture International’s strength is in people who share the same dreams: of diverse vibrant cultures; of forests and savannas alive with plants and animals; of clean water and air and a livable climate.
The importance of biodiversity and the threats it faces
Biodiversity describes the “biological diversity” of life, whether that be throughout the entire planet or for an individual ecosystem.
It encompasses everything from variations in genetics to all the species in that area, including plants, animals, fungi, and even bacteria. The biodiversity that we know today is the result of billions of years of evolution and it dictates how life interacts with its environment.
Why is biodiversity so important?
We are much more reliant on the ecosystem services that biodiversity provides than it may appear. Biodiversity provides us with many services including clean air and freshwater. Biodiversity also acts as a barrier between us and zoonotic diseases and can also provide us with valuable medicines. There is also a great deal of evidence to show that there’s a positive link between increased biodiversity and our mental health. This makes maintaining biodiversity incredibly important for our survival, as well as all life on the planet.
Global biodiversity is so rich that we haven’t come close to discovering the number of species there currently is across our planet. There is so much we still don’t know about how these unknown species contribute to their ecosystem. We may lose essential parts of our world before it has even been discovered.
This is particularly true for forests, which contain the largest amount of biodiversity on the planet. According to the UN Environmental Program (UNEP) more than 80% of terrestrial animals, plants and fungi species are found in tropical forests. Nature and Culture emphasizes the importance of saving large areas of rainforest to protect these valuable ecosystems. We partner with Indigenous and local communities who live in the areas we work to protect and are best equipped to manage their territory. This leads to more successful biodiversity conservation.
What is threatening biodiversity?
Human activity is having an extremely negative impact on biodiversity. WWF’s 2018 Living Planet Report estimated that there has been a 60% reduction in global populations of mammals, fish, birds, reptiles and amphibians in last 50 years. When this report was published, it was a major shock to the world and highlighted our fears of how critical the situation is. This loss of life has put many species on the brink of extinction and whole ecosystems are suffering.
Major threats to biodiversity and individual species include habitat degradation, climate change, invasive species, over-exploitation and increased pollution, most of which are a direct result of human activities. In the Amazon rainforest, deforestation is occurring at an unprecedented rate for agriculture (e.g. soy bean and palm oil plantations and cattle ranching), mining, unsustainable logging and development (e.g. roads and infrastructure). This degradation is also exacerbating climate change since the Amazon retains a large proportion of the world’s carbon, which would otherwise be in the atmosphere.
To make matters worse, fires have been increasing across major forested habitat. Even though fires naturally occur in many areas, degraded forests are particularly susceptible. By reshaping the biodiversity in an area, we are restructuring the whole ecosystem and making them less resilient to natural disasters.
Other risks to biodiversity include the wildlife trade, which pulls large numbers of animals from their natural environment for pets, bushmeat or traditional medicines. These include keystone species that are critically important to the structure of the ecosystem. This trade has dragged animals such as pangolins, multiple primate species, elephants and rhinos to the brink of extinction. Causing the elimination of one species is a tragedy on its own, but it also threatens the biodiversity of the area.
What can you do to help to conserve it?
It may seem as if we are on an unavoidable slope toward disaster, but there is still plenty that you can do to help reduce biodiversity loss. Making more sustainable choices is key since most deforestation, over-exploitation, and other destructive activities are driven by demand. Switching to local and in-season foods or checking for sustainable materials on packaging is a first step in helping to reduce the demand for unsustainable goods.
You can also help by supporting efforts to return land to Indigenous peoples. It is becoming increasingly apparent that Indigenous communities are better stewards of their land and protect vital ecosystems. Donating to organizations like Nature and Culture will increase resources to help with this transition. By supporting our work, and the work of similar organizations, you can be part of the change to protect our remaining crucial biodiversity, and hence, securing our future.
Our Mosaic Model is part of our conservation strategy to connect protected areas.
Although protecting each individual ecosystem is important, whether it be the habitat of an endangered species or an ecosystem that stores large quantities of carbon, our Mosaic Model emphasizes connecting and protecting larger eco-regions which we call “mosaics.” This strategy considers the connectivity and dynamic processes across ecosystems and large landscapes. Helping to improve ecological flows and species movement in more dynamic conserved areas makes long-term protection more likely.
So, what exactly are mosaics?
In what is traditionally considered an “art mosaic,” an individual tile may be beautiful on its own, but when integrated with other tiles, working with varying colors, shapes and patterns a striking image emerges.
In the field of conservation ecology, “landscape mosaics” work similarly in that they combine varying ecosystems, or patches of land, ultimately coming together to form a networking, functioning landscape. While incredibly wonderful on its own, each ecosystem still relies on surrounding ecosystems to maintain full health.
Why are mosaics important? And what do they have to do with connectivity?
By combining ecosystems together in these landscape mosaics, networks of wildlife movement are formed. This helps maintain whole species’ survival. The movement of individuals is important for genetic flow, which allows for more adaptation to a changing climate and building resistance to degrading ecosystems. Some wildlife travel long distances to migrate seasonally, others need to disperse away from their natal groups to find new home ranges to prevent inbreeding and competition. For many animals, their movement across landscapes also pollinates or disperses seeds, which increases biodiversity.
Unfortunately, deforestation, development, and other extractive activities, are causing ecosystems or small areas of land to be isolated from surrounding ecosystems, thus making it harder for wildlife to roam. These ecological islands isolate wildlife, reducing landscape biodiversity and species’ genetic pools. Overall, the disruption of connectivity stifles ecological processes essential to the well-being of our planet – including clean air and water, nutrient cycling, food security, and climate regulation.
It is therefore vital to keep ecosystems interconnected and interacting, rather than just protecting individual ecosystems or small isolated habitats.
Our Mosaic Model
Our approach is unique in that we not only consider the dynamic web of nature across ecosystems but also work alongside communities and Indigenous groups, as well as national and subnational governments, to define and achieve conservation goals.
This model allows us to approach each new protected area with a number of factors in mind, including: connectivity, intact forest, jurisdictional boundaries, shared cultural values, and/or economic similarities, just to name a few.
Partnering with local communities, Indigenous nationalities and local governments for long-term management of our protected areas.
Gaining protection for these areas is just half the battle; our work is ongoing, and we must continue to ensure these areas maintain their protected status.In our 22 years, our strategy of partnering and building relationships with Indigenous communities and local governments has paid off, as we have not had a single protected area reversed.By working with Indigenous communities directly, we have a better chance of conserving these important landscapes for the long term. By protecting ancestral culture and the land they live on we are also helping mitigate climate change since millions of tons of carbon is stored in these ecosystems.
Monitoring our Mosaics by examining “Vital Signs”
Nature and Culture has developed long-term strategies for the continued protection of our landscape mosaics. After an area is officially protected, it requires continuous monitoring and evaluation. In order to maintain healthy mosaics, we provide ongoing supervision, planning, and funding. We assess all our mosaics for “Vital Signs,” in the same way a doctor would for her patient. If the Vital Signs are in good health, we can protect the mosaic for the long haul.
To demonstrate that the mosaic is healthy, the Vital Signs it must have are:
An official recognition of the mosaic by a state entity or international body.
A clear and recognized legal status of conservation areasby the corresponding state, through its different levels of government.
A governance mechanism and natural resource plansensures that there is an entity responsible for the management of the conservation areas, those entities could be public, community, Indigenous and /or private.
A multi-year action planaimed at guaranteeing conservation of the mosaic’s reserve areas.
A financial mechanism, such as conservation funds or water funds, that guarantees economic resources for the conservation and management of its protected areas.
A monitoring and control mechanismtracks the conservation status of natural ecosystems and assesses the effectiveness of the conservation measures that are implemented.
By evaluating these Vital Signs, we can make sure that the work we do has maximum impact and that your donations go to the most valuable causes, to protect important landscapes and the communities that rely on them. You can assist with our ongoing work and help our continued protection of these extraordinary landscape mosaics by giving now using the link below.
Nature and Culture’s 13 Large-Scale, Eco-Regional Mosaics
Nature and Culture International understands the importance of protecting these large landscape mosaics and we work hard to protect combinations of ecosystems to conserve the world’s most amazing wildlife and safeguard the communities that rely on them.
We currently concentrate our efforts on 13 large-scale eco-regional landscape mosaics, encompassing about 30 million acres across Ecuador, Peru, Mexico, Columbia, and Bolivia. We work to protect these amazing landscape mosaics for the long term, making sure that the policies put in place to protect them are enforced, which is why your support for our ongoing work in these areas is so important. Below are some highlights from the 13 mosaics that we currently protect across Latin America.
The eastern end of the mosaic is very rich in plant diversity. Forty percent of its plant species are only found in this region.
It is home to Indigenous populations, principally the Shuar and Saraguro nationalities, who help protect the landscape.
Dry Forest Mosaic
This mosaic encompasses part of Ecuador’s remaining tropical dry forest.
It is home to 59 endemic bird species (found nowhere else on the planet), and almost 20% of plant species found in this region are also endemic.
Corredor Sangay – Podocarpus Mosaic
This mosaic is the country’s first connectivity corridor.
Extending 1.4 million acres, this mosaic is home to 101 mammal species, 580 bird species, 182 amphibian species, 45 reptile species, and 31 fish species, with new species still being discovered.
Contains important water resources for populations and contributes to climate change mitigation by storing 125 million tons of carbon.
Morona Santiago Mosaic
Contains the UNESCO World Heritage Site, Sangay National Park, and contains everything from tropical forests to glaciers.
Encompasses more than 30 ecosystems, including tropical lowland evergreen forest, which stores large amounts of carbon.
Holds cultural significance and resources that indigenous populations rely on.
Spans nearly 5 million acres including parts of the Amazon rainforest.
Considered one of the most biodiverse areas on Earth, and is home to multiple Indigenous nationalities, including Achuar, Shuar, and Andwa.
Captures 946 million tons of carbon, so assists in mitigating climate change.
North Andes Mosaic
Encompasses some of the most diverse, fragile, and complex cloud forests on Earth. Connectivity between its ecosystems is important for species, such as the mountain tapir and the spectacled bear.
An important water source for 2 million people and over 1.2 million acres of agricultural land.
Much is unexplored so additional expeditions for research, which NCI aims to support, are planned.
Carpish – Rio Abiseo Mosaic
Spanning 3.6 million acres, and encompassing forest and paramo ecosystems, this mosaic is one of the most biodiverse places on Earth.
Contains a vast array of endemic bird species, including black-bellied tanager and endangered golden-backed mountain tanager.
Creates atmospheric moisture and rainfall and stores carbon, which helps with climate change mitigation.
Local communities rely on this area for freshwater and plants for medicinal purposes.
Dry Forest of the Marañon Mosaic
About one million acres of dry forest, savannah grassland, and montane forest located along the Marañon River between the Andean peaks.
Contains the most biodiverse area within the Tropical Andes Hotspot, known as the Grand Canyon of South America.
Home to hundreds of threatened and endemic species due to its unique microclimate and landscape.
Nanay – Tigre Mosaic
Comprises of large forest areas with 1.2 billion tons of Carbon stored and contains incredible biological and ethnic diversity.
Located in Loreto, which has the second-highest deforestation rate in Peru.
Habitat to endangered species, such as the Giant River Otter and the Harpy Eagle.
NCI is assisting indigenous people with creating a sustainable fruit harvesting business, which increases the value of standing forest.
Southern Sonora Mosaic
Spans 1.7 million acres and contains a unique combination of arid and tropical ecosystems, including one of the last remaining Pitayal forests.
Creates a wildlife corridor that is used by a variety of endangered species, such as the jaguar.
Provides important water stores for several communities, cities, and agricultural land.
Southern Chocó Mosaic
Includes the world’s wettest rainforest, mangroves, rocky cliffs, and coastal plains.
One of the most biologically rich areas in the world. Many species here cannot be found anywhere else on Earth, such as the golden poison frog from the Chocó rainforests.
This 18-million-acre mosaic encompasses the Chaco dry forest, Pantanal forest, and Andean Yungas forest, which the Guaraní people rely on for resources.
80% of the mosaic is forest, storing large amounts of Carbon, and is important for species like jaguars (potentially 1000!), peccaries, and lowland tapirs.
Under the constant threat of deforestation from agriculture and cattle ranching.
Iñao – Tariquia Water Corridor Mosaic
An important biodiversity corridor for species, such as the military macaw, ocelot and spectacled bear.
Secures water for nearly half a million people, protected under the Reciprocal Agreements for Water.
Contains endemic plant species found nowhere else on Earth, such as the cactus Cleistocactus candelilla and the Guabiyu fruit tree.
Defining wildlife and ecosystems and how they’re linked
The term, “Wildlife” refers to alllife in the wild. It encompasses all living things, including mammals, fish, reptiles, and birds, collectively known as fauna, and sometimes includes plants or flora.These are the components of habitat and play animportantrole within them.
In contrast, ecosystems are more like a network that includes all wildlife and living parts of the system (biotic factors), but also non-living parts of the environment (abiotic factors), including weather and landscape. Everything in this network is interlinked and is interacting with one another. Ecosystems can be either very small, such as a singular tide pool, or very large, such as a forest. The world is made up of many interlinking ecosystems and, in a few cases, the world itself is referred to as a singular ecosystem.
Why is wildlife so important to its ecosystem?
So far, we’ve established that wildlife lives within an ecosystem, but why is it so important to the ecosystem, and why is there a push to protect individual species when whole ecosystems are threatened?
Imagine a simple food chain. In Picture 1, we have a fox as the predator, the rabbits as the prey, and the grass as the rabbits’ food source, also known as the primary producer. Each of these levels (more scientifically known as trophic levels) have a role to play in the chain. The grazing of the rabbits on the grass prevents too much vegetation growth, but the rabbit population is kept in check by the foxes who predate upon them.
Now, if we take one of these levels out, you end up with an interruption, which ripples through the rest of the food chain. For example, in Picture 2a, the grass has been removed. This could happen as a result of drought, or potentially habitat loss through human development. The result of this is that the rabbits do not have enough food and so many may die. This of course will pass on further up the chain and cause issues for the foxes since their food source is low, and it may result in the foxes dying.
Another example, in Picture 2b, is from the top-down, whereby the foxes may be removed or reduced from the chain. This is often seen in the wild when predators are hunted to near extinction or a fatal disease passes through the species. For this example, the rabbits have less predatory pressure and so their numbers increase dramatically. This may be good for the rabbits in the short-term, but if left to their own devices they could overgraze the area. Over time the grass would suffer since it would not be able to regenerate quick enough. Once the rabbits have overgrazed their food source, they then would not have enough food, would compete with one another, and many would be at risk of starvation.
The ecosystem network: Yellowstone National Park and the reintroduction of gray wolves
The food chain example is incredibly simple and does not consider the vast array of other wildlife and non-living parts of the ecosystem that could be affected by the loss of a single species like the fox. To truly understand how an ecosystem works, and why wildlife is so important to it, we need to expand further.
The most notorious case of how an entire ecosystem was altered by a singular species is the reintroduction of gray wolves into Yellowstone National Park. In the 1930s, the wolves in this world-renowned location were eliminated from the park through over-hunting, mostly due to the fear of them attacking people or killing livestock. Once wolves were gone, the elk, which had been important prey for the wolves, were able to thrive. With the elk under much less predatory pressure, their numbers increased dramatically and the changes in the ecosystem began.
In Picture 3, you can see a simple idea of what the Yellowstone National Park ecosystem looked like, with the elk at the center of the network. The elks’ increase in number caused a series of indirect consequences for the ecosystem (otherwise known as a trophic cascade) because they were over-grazing and over-browsing the land, including many of the berries that also fed the songbirds and grizzly bears. The elk’s browsing on young plant shoots prevented the growth of shrubs resulting in prey species, such as rabbits, having fewer areas to hide from their own predators. If you think back to the example of the food chain with the fox and rabbit, you should now understand how that would affect all the levels.
The elk were not afraid of staying for long periods at the riverbanks, where previously they could have been attacked by the wolves. They overgrazed young vegetation along the rivers, which weakened the banks and caused riverbank erosion, resulting in the rivers widening. The water also became warmer since the lack of trees and vegetation at the bank meant that there were fewer shaded areas cooling the water down. These changes to the river caused a biodiversity shift in the fish populations. Beavers were also suffering because willow trees on the riverbanks could not grow past shoots. Willows provide beavers with food as well as being the resource that beavers use to create their dams. Without larger willow trees, the beavers were unable to survive winters and so in Yellowstone the population reduced to just one beaver colony.
In 1995, wolves were reintroduced to Yellowstone National Park. As expected, the wolves started to predate on the elk, which kept the elk on the move and so reduced the pressure the elk were putting on riverbanks and other young plants. Suddenly, things began to change and there were berries for the birds and bears, and shrubs for the rabbits and other prey species. Riverbanks were stronger as they held more vegetation, this prevented bank erosion and created more shaded areas, which provided cooler water for fish. However, by far the most remarkable change was due to the growth of willows allowing beavers to use them to create dams to survive the winter. The beavers began to return to Yellowstone and the dams they built raised the water table, so water was available more consistently throughout the year to surrounding vegetation. Since 1995, beaver colonies have been increasing and their dams have changed the course of rivers in Yellowstone National Park.
The whole ecosystem has benefitted from the reintroduction of wolves to Yellowstone because the wolves are what is known as a keystone species, which is an important species, without which, can cause the collapse of their ecosystem. Without the wolves, the elk were not controlled, and the network was falling apart. Now with the wolves returned to the park, the course of the rivers has been altered.
Protecting wildlife at Nature and Culture International
At Nature and Culture International, we believe in protecting wildlife and ecosystems. We are currently working on multiple conservation projects to protect endangered species, such as the spectacled bear in Peru and the Jaguar in Bolivia. Like the gray wolf in Yellowstone, these species are important to their ecosystems so, who’s to say what the consequences of their loss to the habitat would be? You can check out more of our ongoing work here.
All wildlife is vital to keep the scales of life balanced. The IUCN estimates approximately 40,000 species globally are threatened with extinction: including mammals, amphibians, sharks and rays, birds, and plants. Our global biodiversity is declining so we all need to come together to prevent our ecosystems from collapsing by protecting every last species.
Indigenous communities are the best defenders of carbon rich ancestral territories in the face of extractive activities such as mining and deforestation.
Indigenous people remain in small numbers all over the world. According to the FAO, although indigenous groups only make up 5% of the world’s population, their territories contain more than 80% of the world’s biodiversity. Understanding that indigenous territories encompass such a large amount of the earth’s remaining biodiversity, is the first step to realizing how these frontline communities can be a part of the management plan for the earth.
What is climate change?
Climate change has been a topic of interest for several decades, but at the end of October 2021, the COP26 (Conference of the Parties) in Glasgow propelled this issue back to center stage. Climate change is the result of Greenhouse Gases emitted into the atmosphere, most notably Carbon Dioxide (CO2) and Methane (CH4). These gases are produced when burning fossil fuels, through large-scale livestock farming, and other big industrial processes. When these gases remain in the atmosphere, they prevent heat from escaping the earth and so cause a “Greenhouse effect,” causing the planet to warm. This increase may only be a few degrees, but these changes have disastrous consequences for the earth as weather patterns become unstable and wildlife struggles to keep up with rapid changes to their environment.
It would be easy to believe that significant climate change mitigation can only come from behavioral and policy change from large industries and national governments. However, including indigenous people in the decision-making is crucial.
Indigenous Peoples and climate change
So, how does such a small population have such a dramatic impact on climate change? It’s actually really simple. Much of indigenous territory, especially the Amazon rainforest, is considered a major carbon sink. This means that these areas absorb carbon and reduce the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere, hence reducing the warming of the planet.
Indigenous cultures and traditions are built around sharing nature’s resources rather than exploiting them. These communities depend on their natural environment, and protect their territories to secure their own survival. Indigenous Peoples work to maintain a symbiotic relationship by only taking what they need. This allows the ecosystem to replenish itself, and resources remain secure. Therefore, these vital territories are much more likely to be protected from extractive activities, such as deforestation and mining.
We have a lot to learn from Indigenous Peoples and we will need to, if we are to have a chance at combatting climate change. In the Amazon rainforest, an area the size of a football-pitch is destroyed every minute, meaning less CO2 will be stored and removed from the atmosphere. By protecting forests and other ecosystems, indigenous communities are also protecting the world. This is the reason why having the unique and valuable insight of indigenous community leaders in the decision-making process is so important to secure the earth’s future.
Outcomes of COP26
COP26 was the 26th United Nations Climate Change Conference, which aimed to address and to produce answers to slow, and even reverse climate change. Key outcomes from the COP26 for mitigating climate change included:
These were steps forward, but the conference was attended by many hoping for immediate action for a better future, and they left dissatisfied. A major criticism of the COP26 was the lack of presence from indigenous community leaders at the conference, who arguably know a lot more about the natural areas many countries are pledging to protect.
Why are Indigenous Leaders a focus of COP26?
Indigenous communities continue to fight for full ownership of ancestral territories, and policies that protect their rights. These rights have proven to decrease destructive practices such as deforestation. Indigenous Peoples can protect their land more effectively than anyone else, however, most funding goes to parks or conventional protected areas. Conflicting laws and policies still allow indigenous territories to be exploited.
Indigenous Peoples will need a lot more support if they are going to be able to conserve the earth’s most valuable territories. By sending indigenous leaders to COP26, there was hope that finally indigenous voices would be heard, and they could help protect their critical land and, in turn, the planet.
The President of the COP26, Alok Sharma, encouraged indigenous leaders to attend the conference and be included in discussions, raising hopes that this conference would be more productive than previous ones. Indigenous leaders who were able to attend COP26 were, for the first time, in the zones where discussions took place instead of the general public areas. This meant they could talk to world leaders and be part of the conversation about climate change rather than watch from the sidelines. Leaders from the Arctic, the Americas and Caribbean were more represented than other groups, however, this was still not enough. Many indigenous leaders were not able to participate due to COVID-19 restrictions, visa complications and lack of funding to travel to the conference, meaning it was not a fully representative event.
For the future of our planet, much more needs to be done to ensure that indigenous communities have their place at the table. There is so much ancestral knowledge and insight yet to be learned. If we can open opportunities for this small percentage of the population to show us how they have thrived for thousands of years, our planet may just have a chance.
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Nature and Culture International’s strength is in people who share the same dreams: of diverse vibrant cultures; of forests and savannas alive with birds, plants, and frogs; of clean water and air and a livable climate. Our strength is in 66 local staff and the 275 rural and indigenous communities we collaborate with in Latin America.
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