September 26, 2011
"In the last five decades [less than 20 percent] of the articles on tropical forest have addressed seasonally dry tropical forests, most of them from a limited number of sites [...] Moreover, elevated economic appeal, limited knowledge and reduced conservation effort have driven many dry forests to become extremely threatened," the authors of the paper note, pointing out that only one percent of seasonally dry tropical forests are under protection in Central and South America.
Comprising around 10 percent of Brazil's land, the Caatinga is threatened by industrial and agricultural development as well as widespread desertification linked to climate change. Still the Caatinga ecosystem, made up of shrubs and forest, supports a large variety of life.
The authors point out that Caatinga contains "over 1,000 vascular plant species in addition to 187 bees, 240 fish species, 167 reptiles and amphibians, 516 birds, and 148 mammal species, with endemism levels varying from 9 percent in birds to 57 percent in fishes." The region is especially known for birdlife, including the Lear's Macaw (Anodorhynchus leari), listed as Endangered by the IUCN Red List, and Spix's Macaw (Cyanopsitta spixii), Extinct in the Wild.
Comparing insect-knowledge between Caatinga and other ecosystems in Brazil, the study finds that Caatinga has been left behind.
"From 1945 to 2008, 3,472 insect-related papers from our targeted ecosystems were recorded in the ISI Web of Knowledge, but only 32 (less than 1 percent) referred to Caatinga specifically. It is worth mentioning that just a single paper addressed Lepidoptera [butterflies and moths] in the Caatinga, an insect group considered as bio-indicator across tropical ecosystems. Even Coleoptera [beetles], the most speciose group of insects have been poorly examined, with only 2 studies published up to 2008," the authors write.
The lack of knowledge about the Caatinga came out in the 1990s when the Brazilian government sought information on biodiversity in order to establish new protected areas, but "it was revealed that 50 percent of the entire Caatinga territory has been neglected by biodiversity surveys, and estimates of total species richness for many taxonomic groups remain missing," the authors write, despite the fact that Caatinga was Brazil's first ecosystem to see large-scale development.
Not surprisingly, the study also found that the Caatinga has received a dearth of funding compared to other ecosystems.
"Between 1985 and 1996, Caatinga captured only 7.2 percent of millions of U.S. dollars made available for Brazilian environmental agencies, the worst score across Brazilian ecosystems  and less than what Caatinga represents in terms of national territory," the authors note.
Arguing that the Caatinga suffers from an 'information gap', they scientists say that baseline research on species and ecology is needed to set-up conservation plans.
CITATION: Santos, J. C., Leal, I. R., Almeida-Cortez, J. S., Fernandes, G. W. and Tabarelli, M. 2011. Caatinga: the scientific negligence experienced by a dry tropical forest. Tropical Conservation Science Vol. 4(3):276-286.
Satellite evidence of deforestation in uncontacted tribe's territory sparks legal action
(04/12/2011) The destruction of 3,600 hectares (8,900 acres) of the Gran Chaco forest in Paraguay by large Brazilian cattle ranching companies has led to a legal complaint filed by a local indigenous-rights organization, since the land in question was one of the last refuges of a group of uncontacted indigenous people in the Ayoreo-Totobiegosode tribe. The loss of the forest was revealed in part by satellite images of the remote area.
Chaco biodiversity expedition suspended
(11/15/2010) A joint expedition by the Natural History Museum (NHM), London and the Natural History Museum, Asuncion to the dwindling dry forest of the Gran Chaco in Paraguay to record biodiversity, and hopefully uncover 'hundreds' of new species, has been suspended by the Paraguayan government. The suspension comes after a local organization voiced concern that the expedition would threaten uncontacted member of the Ayoreo tribe in the forest.
Chaco expedition working to "minimize the risk" of running into uncontacted natives
(11/11/2010) A joint expedition by the Natural History Museum (NHM), London and the Natural History Museum, Asuncion to study the biodiversity of the dwindling dry forests of Chaco in Paraguay have responded to recent concerns that they risk encountering uncontacted natives, which could potentially threaten the natives' lives as well as their own.