Today, the world faces many challenges, many of which are occurring on a scale like never before, and particularly so in the tropics. Not only are we seeing an acceleration in the loss of biodiversity in the tropics, but also an alarming increase in extinction, deforestation, bushmeat hunting, and rising forest temperatures.
Currently, extinction rates are approximately 1000 times higher than background rates observed in the fossil record. Recent estimates suggest that 11,000–58,000 species are lost annually, and that extant vertebrate species have declined in abundance by approximately 25% since 1970.
The majority of this loss is occurring in the tropics, and the world is beginning to recognize this fact, and demand that this loss must stop.
The driving factors perpetuating the decline in biodiversity are interacting on a global scale. Timber and bushmeat extracted from the tropics are sold throughout markets in Europe, USA, and Canada, and changes to our climate are triggered by actions everywhere. The Covid pandemic that arose through bushmeat hunting clearly illustrates how interconnected the world is today.
Between 2000 and 2012, it was estimated that 2.3 million km2 of forest was lost globally, and in the tropics, forest loss increased each year. To put this in perspective, this is an area larger than the islands of New Guinea, Borneo, and Madagascar combined. This forest loss is driven by increasing human populations, high local and global consumption rates, and corporate and individual greed. As the world’s population is expected to rise from 7.7 billion to 9.8 billion by 2050, the situation is likely to get worse, unless proactive preventive measures are undertaken.
The extent of wildlife over-exploitation is generally under-estimated. However, each year from the Congo basin alone it the weight of bushmeat extracted is approximately equivalent to the weight of 4.5 million cows—in the whole of Canada, there are 6.5 million cattle.
With respect to climate change, temperature increase is projected to exceed 1.5°C by 2010. With this warming, 75% of all tropical forests present in 2000 will experience higher temperatures than those that currently support closed canopy forests.
With these sorts of statistics, people are eager to see change. In fact, most Canadians (57% for all Canadians and 70% of millennials) think the country should be doing more to address climate change. And there is great potential to slow climate change by taking actions in the tropics. For instance, deforestation in the tropics release 861,000,000 metric tonnes of carbon into the atmosphere a year, which is approximately 6 times the amount released by all of the cars and trucks on Canadian roads in a year.
I am trying to make a difference and to do so, my post-docs, students, colleagues, friends, and I are engaged in the following projects:
Conducting solid scientific research so that it can be used to construct informed conservation plans
Training the next generation of conservation scientists in Uganda and China
Promoting conservation by making a union between health and conservation through a mobile clinic, a bricks and mortar clinic, and a health and conservation education programs