<![CDATA[GECKONSULTING - The \"EOT\" Blog]]>Mon, 08 Jul 2024 13:56:41 -0500Weebly<![CDATA[conservation biology]]>Tue, 30 Jan 2024 03:47:07 GMThttp://geckonsulting.com/blog/conservation-biology
Shaping a natural conservation area within a global climate frontier: an expedition to the Maracaibo Dry Forests ecoregion


In January 2016, during recess week from my master studies in ecology at the Federal University of Ouro Preto, Brazil, I traveled about 4600 miles to visit my sister in Washington DC, USA. This would become one of our most memorable family trips, driving from the District of Columbia to Key West, Florida.
We drove South as we left behind one of the biggest blizzards on record in North America, saw the magnificent view of the Appalachian Mountains during part of the journey, and even were chased by a herd of squirrels while stopping at the southernmost part of Georgia. But what seemed to me the most impressive moment about this trip was finding a small piece of the enormous mosaic of once-wider tropical dry coastal forests of the Caribbean, in a small but well-preserved natural coastal area of a historical estate in Miami city, in Southern Florida.

While walking through these forests, I saw so many familiar plants that I just felt transported to that very place of my childhood among some of the natural landscapes that I treasure most in my memory. Yet, I had never been to that part of the world before! Many genera of plant trees present at that natural land such as Bourreria, Bursera, Caesalpinia, Capparis, Cordia, Guaiacum, Jacquinia, Pithecellobium, Talisia, Senna and Vachellia were also part of my homeland native Dry Forests in Maracaibo, Venezuela. 

Back in my city and after some research, I discovered in the work of Stalter et al. (1999) that in fact, I was not hallucinating, and that there is a certain phytogeographic affinity between the dry forests of that coastal region of southern Florida and those on the Maracaibo plain.

But how does such a vast region of thousands of kilometers of coastal land across the Caribbean region share so many tree species and genera between places as distant as Maracaibo and southern Florida?

And why are there almost no traces left of such continuum between these tropical dry forest remnants?

And from here on, our puzzle starts… 

Why a tropical dry forest?

Tropical dry forests are present across Mesoamerican, Central and South America, and they have been the preferred zones for agriculture and human settlement, specially in the Caribbean Basin (Murphy & Lugo 1995) and are among the most heavily utilized, perturbed, and least conserved of the large tropical ecosystems (Quesada & Stoner 2004) being considered some of the most endangered ecosystems in the lowland tropics (Janzen 1988, Gillespie et al. 2000).

In simple terms, they may be defined as forests occurring in tropical regions characterized by pronounced seasonality in rainfall distribution, resulting in several months of drought. The forests that develop under such climatic conditions share a broadly similar structure and physiognomy; many also occur on mesotrophic soils (Mooney et al. 1995, Miles et al. 2006).

Tropical Dry Forests are intimately related to a wide variety of ecosystem services, including climate regulation, carbon storage, erosion control, soil fertility, water supply, disease prevention, medicine, diversity of fauna (specially pollinators!) and scenic beauty (Albuquerque et al. 2012, Quijas et al. 2019). 

Despite their vast ecological and socio-economic significances, Tropical Dry Forests remain poorly known and this, while disappearing at alarming rates under exceptionally high rates of change in land use and climate, and even earlier studies reported that only less than 10% of mature dry forests are left in many areas (Murphy and Lugo 1995; Siyum 2020). According to Strassburg et al. (2020) 96% of the Caribbean converted lands are in the top 10% of global priorities for biodiversity with the smallest extent of areas potentially available for restoration. 

Dinerstein et al. (1995) defined the Maracaibo Dry Forest an ecoregion within the Northern Andes Bioregion of Venezuela with an original forest extent of 31.471 km2 (567.9 mi2) over the colluvial- alluvial lowlands surrounding the lake of Maracaibo. By conservative estimations from a decade ago (Portillo-Quintero et al. 2012) only 3522 km2 (1359.8 mi2) of these endangered forests remained after more than 60 years of human intervention. 

The Maracaibo Dry Forest has close phytogeographic affinities with the dry forests of Colombia and Central America (DRYFLOR 2016) but also shares a significant number of tree genera and even species with the Antilles, part of the Caribbean Basin and relict coastal tropical dry forest of southern Florida (USA), as the (preface) author witnessed at Biscayne Bay in 2016.

In recent years, concern has grown among the scientific community about the state of conservation of the Maracaibo Dry Forest ecoregion (Dinerstein et al. 1995, Portillo-Quintero et al. 2012, Rivera et al. 2022).

The opportunity to delimiting an area of interest for the conservation of these forests also means the opportunity to retain and preserve a natural bank of seeds of endangered keystone species of the Tropical Dry Forest in the Neotropics, with prospects on the ecological recovery of the dry forest of those severely degraded regions of the Caribbean Basin.

The Lake Maracaibo basin still preserves part of these forests; almost unexplored from a scientific point of view (Rivera et al. 2022), although disappearing at an alarming rate and while there is an urgent need of immediate action with the support of the scientific, conservationist community and informed citizens. For this reason, we propose a scientific delimitation for the development of a conservation area of the Maracaibo Tropical Dry Forest: within a global climate frontier.

Why within a global climate frontier?

Located over Latitude 10° North and 71° West of Greenwich, in the northernmost continental region of South America, the city of Maracaibo lies on the western shore of the strait that connects Lake Maracaibo, one of the most ancient lakes in the world (Hampton et al. 2018) with the Gulf of Venezuela, through a navigation channel to the Caribbean Sea. 

A former global oil industry hub (Brinkmann, R. & R. Brinkmann, 2020), the city grew over the Maracaibo plain, which is a geomorphological landscape originated in alluvial sediments of fluvial-lacustrine origin (OEA, 1975; Noguera et al. 1995). Maracaibo has over 500 square miles of extension and about two thirds of the city are heavily impermeabilized by asphalt and concrete, turning it into a large heat island (Kim 1992, González et al. 2002, Miranda et al. 2023). 

This heavily urbanized tropical dry region receives an average annual temperature of nearly 30° C (86° Fahrenheit), which more than doubles the global average temperature of 14° C (57.2° F) recorded between 1951 and 1980, annual precipitations around 580 mm and over 3200 annual hours of solar exposure (NASA Earth Observatory 2023; INAMEH 2024). Maracaibo Dry Forests have to cope with highly stressful conditions given the combination of environmental features such as low moisture availability, long dry seasons, decadal cycles of pronounced drought, wind exposure and salt spray in littoral locations (Nature Server Explorer 2024).

According to a study of land cover and deforestation patterns in the Venezuelan Northern Andes (Portillo-Quintero et al. 2012) after decades of intensive deforestation, only 12% of the Maracaibo Dry Forest ecoregion remains over the coastal plains.

Why now and why a conservation area?

One of science's major challenges is knowing and helping preserve ecosystems before they go extinct (Sánchez‐Azofeifa et al. 2005). Tropical Dry Forest ecosystems are known to harbor diverse and multifunctional landscapes and are inextricably linked to the lives of millions of people across the globe, being particularly vital for supporting vulnerable households at times of hardships, which is also true for thousands of people inhabiting the Maracaibo region (Siyum 2020). They also play a vital role in carbon sequestration and climate change mitigation and because their native range occupies about 40 percent of the tropical forest landmass, consequently their effect on the interactions between the tropical land surface and the atmosphere may be substantial (Miles et al. 2006, Canadell, J. & Raupach 2008, Meir, P. & T. Pennington 2011, Alkama et al. 2022).

A recent scientific report from the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) indicates that there is a 66% probability that the average annual temperature in the world will increase by more than 1.5 °Celsius between 2023 and 2027; a pressuring scenario for cities to prepare to mitigate the effects of this critical increase in global temperature to prevent increasingly possible environmental catastrophes (Change 2018). 

As relevant information at local and regional-level increases, the tropical forest conservation community will continue moving towards raising awareness on the importance of implementing conservation programs or making efforts to change land-use policies in Tropical Dry Forest areas legally bound to be cleared for agricultural or urban development (Portillo-Quintero et al. 2015).

Conservation areas safeguard biodiversity for present and future generations by reducing stresses from human activities (ECCC 2020). Given this being the case we are presenting, and in the face of the current global climate urgency that we propose the delimitation of a natural conservation area for the Maracaibo Dry Forest ecoregion and the reason why we count on your much needed support in this enterprise.

Literature cited

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<![CDATA[NOTES FROM THE EDITOR]]>Mon, 13 Nov 2017 22:33:12 GMThttp://geckonsulting.com/blog/en-esta-transicion-a-una-vida-inteligente-no-olvides-el-entorno-de-las-cosas
While transitioning to an intelligent life, don't forget to take a look at the natural environment of things

Life habits have been decisive in molding our ability to think, affecting how we perceive and manipulate our surroundings. Over the last ten thousand years of adaptive history, we went from nomadic hunter-gatherers to populate dense agricultural, industrial and urban settlements while driving noticeable changes over the earth’s surface in this process [1,2].

The development and refinement of tools during this process has been fundamental both to achieve some of the most challenging tasks as to acquire new life habits, enabling new needs and new ways of thinking [3]. Industrial development has allowed us to move from a predominantly agricultural way of life (≈ year 1840) to agglomerate more than 54% of a population over 7,000 million inhabitants in urban areas [4].

The world's growing urban population has pushed its surroundings towards a fragile environmental, economic and public health scenario. There is an increasing awareness of the economy's dependence on sustainable processes with special concern on energy and water availability, climatic stability and predictability of the biogeochemical cycles. It is increasingly common to associate 'quality of life' to access to sustainable energy, resilient infrastructure and cleaner transportation means [5].

Although scientific, political and social debate has been surrounding global climate change during several decades, global decision makers are now playing their cards on the fourth industrial revolution, driven by the advent of the artificial intelligence (IA). Life will change with intelligent automation surrounding us, simplifying tasks in our workplaces, in our homes and even in places historically 'disconnected' from the rest of the civilization.

From task automation to decision-making automation, these changes may deeply affect the way we communicate, perceive and interact with our surrounding environment [6].

There is an increasingly common use of devices with the ability to track and share personal data through remote networks. Third parties can access this data, not without the risk of invading privacy, cause individual vulnerability and even increasing authoritarianism in some political contexts [7]. This phenomenon could drive deep changes on our behavior patterns.

Today many of us may be questioning to what extent should we delegate the power of decision-making to recent developments like artificial intelligence. 

But, that might not be the only challenge we're facing during this process... Let's stop and reflect about this for a moment:

Will we retain our ability to interact with our natural surroundings?

While we transition to 'digital consciousness', let's not forget to take a look at the natural environment of things.

Ripple, W. J., Wolf, C., Newsome, T. M., Galetti, M, Alamgir, M., Crist, E., Mahmoud, M. I., Laurance, W. F., 15,364 scientist signatories from 184 countries; 2017. World Scientists’ Warning to Humanity: A Second Notice, BioScience, bix125, https://doi.org/10.1093/biosci/bix125

[2] Vitousek, P. M., Mooney, H. A., Lubchenco, J., & Melillo, J. M. 1997. Human domination of Earth's ecosystems. Science, 277(5325), 494-499.

[3] Diamond, J. M., & Ordunio, D. 2011. Guns, germs, and steel. Books on Tape. Orwell, G. 1949. 1984. New York: New American Library.

[4] United Nations, 2014. Concise Report on the World Population Situation in 2014. UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs Population Division. ST/ESA/SER.A/354. 30 pp. Link: 

[5] Bartlett, A. A. 1994. Reflections on sustainability, population growth, and the environment. Population & Environment, 16(1): 5-35.

[6] Murphy, W. 2016. Transitioning to the Intelligent Automation Age.

[7] Laszlo, E. 1984. Cybernetics in an evolving social system. Kybernetes, 13(3), 141-145.  Link: 

About the author - Juan C. Arias Jimenez

I am passionate about sustainable transformations. Collaboratively and through scientific research, consultancy, education and fundraising for environmental networks, I envision contributing my best to achieve a sustainable society.