Monkey Forest Tales: Importance of biodiversity studies in highly fragmented landscapes

Figura 1 Xyomara Carretero-Pinzón. Decision Point

Today’s post we are going back to not so personal story, although it still shows some of my personal views in terms of what I think is important to focus. We are going to talk about the importance of biodiversity studies in highly fragmented landscapes. Highly fragmented landscapes are large portions of land (several hundreds of hectares) characterized by a diverse matrix with human activities in which natural habitat remnants persist. These systems usually have multiple human activities around and inside of the natural habitat remnants, which vary depending on the specific region and/or country. However, there are some similar patterns.

In rural areas of Asia, Africa and Latin America landscapes in which natural habitat and human activities interact are extensive. The increase of the human population since the industrial revolution had increased the pressure on natural resources, increasing the interactions between humans and wildlife. Therefore, an increase in the conflict between our activities and the persistence of natural habitats continues growing. That is a fact and something that we as scientists need to accept. Part of our work now is to focus on methods and tools that help us understand how we can improve the lives and habitat of the species that live on those habitat remnants.

Although a large extension of natural habitat is important to conserve and protect, there are a lot of species (plants and animals) that only live in areas with human activities. Those are the only habitat that is left to them. Some of those species are not present in National Park or large tracks of natural habitat with less human pressure. Therefore, we need to understand how those species persist in close proximity to human activities and how we can maintain those populations.

The persistence of those species in highly fragmented landscapes depends on how well we manage the natural remnant in which they live as well as how we mitigate the human activities surrounding them. Every action we humans make in the environment had an impact on those habitat remnants at different scales, from the impact on the site where the activity is done to several kilometers around that area. It depends on how conscious we are about all the activities we make. For example, a watermelon crop established close to forest fragments surrounding a small stream. Every agricultural decision we made about that watermelon crop such as the type of water we are using, how often we fumigate the crop and with which products, where we dispose the residuals from those fumigations, all affect not only the crop but also the forest fragment and the water in it. We also affect the soil in which it grows and all the fauna in it and depending on that soil.

Watermelon crops are one of the many human activities in the study area, over the years I had observed the many practices that they use in their crops. Although it is not always easy to talk with people working on those crops, from time to time I found someone who listens. One of the main concerns for me is the use of pesticides and the management of their empty packages. Many times, when I was doing census or following monkeys, I had found empty packages from pesticides near to the stream or in the forest. There is no management of this waste and no education about how dangerous it is for the environment and humans. And we don’t know what the effects of pesticide residuals on primates’ health are.

Other activities present other types of impacts and challenges that we need to address to find ways in which the fauna inhabiting habitat remnants immersed in highly fragmented landscapes can survive and thrive. Although some human activities are more impactful than others, they all have an impact and they all affect the native animals and plants. It is our responsibility to find ways to mitigate that impact and as a society to ask those impacts to be mitigated by the people/ companies to make the impact.

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