Climate Change, Environment, Headlines, Latin America & the Caribbean, Tierramerica

New Scientific Network on Climate Change Adaptation

Milagros Salazar * - Tierramérica

TURRIALBA, Costa Rica, Aug 17 2011 (IPS) - In Central America the temperature is rising and forests are taking longer to grow, while farther south, the Amazon rainforests have yet to feel the effects of global warming. This is just one example of how climate change is manifested differently in different parts of the region.

Colorful fall foliage of lenga trees (Nothofagus pumilio) in Cerro Catedral, Argentina.  Credit: Fernando López-Anido - Creative Commons License

Colorful fall foliage of lenga trees (Nothofagus pumilio) in Cerro Catedral, Argentina. Credit: Fernando López-Anido - Creative Commons License

A newly established network of scientists aims to increase understanding of the diversity of scenarios being created by climate change throughout Latin America in order to develop effective adaptation strategies.

The network was founded at a meeting held Aug. 5 in the headquarters of the Tropical Agricultural Research and Higher Education Centre (CATIE) in Turrialba, Costa Rica, two hours by bus from the capital, San José.

Not all forest ecosystems in Latin America and the Caribbean are feeling or will feel the effects of global warming in the same way, according to the first findings of studies conducted by the participating scientists, before founding the network, as part of the Climate Change Mitigation and Adaptation in Sustainable Forestry Management in Ibero-America (MIA) Project.

These studies, conducted between 2008 and 2011, were supported by the Spanish National Institute for Agricultural and Food Research and Technology (INIA), the Centre for International Forestry Research (CIFOR), and CATIE. The findings were presented a few days before the first meeting of the new Network on Climate Change Adaption and Ecosystems as Adaptation Strategies (RACC).

A group of researchers from Chile and Argentina determined that due to the effects of climate change, forests of lenga trees (Nothofagus pumilio) in the southern Patagonian regions of both countries will grow and expand, while forests of other species of the Nothofagus genus, located further north, will decrease in size.

“In a climate change scenario, there are also forests that will benefit,” University of Chile researcher Sergio Donoso, president of the Association of Forestry Engineers for Native Forests, told Tierramérica.

Communities living near these forests, particularly in the northern part of the area studied, drink water provided by the forest ecosystem and also benefit from tourism. As a result, the decrease in forests will affect their lives.

In the meantime, in the Patagonian regions where forests of lenga – also known as lenga beech and South American beech – predominate, local communities harvest the trees, which represent an important source of income. These are two sides of the same coin which should be shared among the scientific community, the researchers believe.

The scientists who currently form part of the network are from governmental, academic and non-governmental institutions in six countries of Latin America and the Caribbean: Argentina, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Nicaragua and Panama.

“We want to contribute to the development of strategies for forest ecosystem management so that even under climate change conditions, they can continue to play their role in regulation of the water cycle and help reduce the risk of extreme climate events like droughts, floods and high winds,” Dutch forestry engineer Bastiaan Louman, coordinator of the CATIE climate change programme, told Tierramérica.

Louman is also coordinating RACC, and hopes that other scientists in the region will join in the network’s efforts.

As an initial step, researchers from Ecuador, Nicaragua and Peru were invited to attend the network’s founding meeting in Turrialba.

“This is the first time that a scientific network on climate change adaptation has been formed in the region. It is very important because it addresses an urgent problem that can have an impact on people’s means of survival,” stressed Louman.

The network will promote training of its members and facilitate the exchange of experiences and information among the different countries involved to foster joint actions and deepen understanding of the differentiated impacts of climate change in the region.

“We need to create synergy in the quality and quantity of research on adaptation, but also effectively disseminate and communicate the findings to society in general and decision makers,” added Donoso.

Through another MIA research project, Costa Rican researcher Carlos Navarro of CATIE reached the conclusion that mahogany trees (of the Meliaceae family) still have the capacity to adapt to global warming in some areas of Colombia, Panama and Costa Rica, despite the fact that they are currently endangered and their coveted wood sells for 1,700 dollars a cubic meter.

Navarro, who has devoted 25 years of his life to studying the mahogany tree, maintains that some species are more adaptable than others, which points to the need to collect and preserve their seeds, as well as to transplant specimens in areas where they are growing scarce.

This is why, he told Tierramérica, the second phase of the project will focus on researching how mahogany trees can adapt to new climate conditions when they are planted in areas far from where they originated.

The network’s research can contribute to the implementation of new adaptation policies by the region’s authorities, said Louman, who also coordinated the MIA projects.

One way of raising the awareness of the authorities in order to spur them to take action is by highlighting the potential threats. This was the approach taken by researchers Efraín Leguía, of the Peruvian branch of the World Agroforestry Centre, and Jorge Grijalva, who heads up the agroforestry programme at the National Agricultural Research Institute of Ecuador.

Using MaxEnt (short for Maximum Entropy) habitat modeling software to predict the future distribution of species of flora and fauna, the researchers determined that between 2020 and 2050, climate change effects will impact on tree species and agricultural crops that play an important role in terms of both consumption and trade for communities in the Aguaytía river basin, located in the Amazon region of Ucayali in central-eastern Peru, and the Chimborazo river basin, an Andean region in central Ecuador.

In the case of Peru, by 2050, areas suited to the growth of the bolaina (Guazuma crinita), a softwood tree used in house construction, will have diminished by eight percent, according to climate change projections. The researchers based their estimates on measurements of the areas covered by this tree species between 1950 and 2000.

In Ecuador, the research focused on potatoes, the main source of calories in the diets of peasant families. According to Grijalva’s findings, within 25 to 50 years, potato crop yields will drastically decrease and their contribution to the caloric intake of local populations will fall by 50 percent.

The network’s goal is to underscore the importance of these scientific findings by linking them with the potential social impacts, explained Louman.

* The writer is an IPS correspondent. This story was originally published by Latin American newspapers that are part of the Tierramérica network. Tierramérica is a specialised news service produced by IPS with the backing of the United Nations Development Programme, United Nations Environment Programme and the World Bank.

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