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Mongabay.com news articles on central america in blog format. Updated regularly.









American cougars on the decline: 'We’re running against the clock,' says big cat expert

(01/17/2011) It holds the Guinness World Record for having the most names of any animal on the planet, with 40 in English alone. It's also the widest-ranging native land animal in the Americas, yet is declining throughout much of its range. Mongabay talks with big cat expert Dr. Howard Quigley about the status and research implications of the elusive, enigmatic, and unique cougar.


Harpy eagles nest in Belize for the first time in over 60 years (pictures)

(01/06/2011) Scientists have confirmed the presence of a harpy eagle nest in the Maya Mountains of Belize. The discovery represents the most northerly breeding pair in the Americas, and signals a comeback for a species which has become locally extinct in much of Central America due to human activity.


Good stewards of forests at home outsource deforestation abroad

(11/24/2010) As more nations adopt better laws and policies to save and restore forests at home, they may, in fact, be outsourcing deforestation to other parts of the world, according to a new study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS). Looking at six developing nations where forests are recovering—instead of receding—the study found only one of them did not outsource deforestation to meet local demand for wood-products and food, a process known as 'leakage'.


Pictures: Belize Zoo devastated by hurricane

(11/15/2010) The world famous Belize Zoo is closed until further notice after suffering a direct hit from Hurricane Richard, which leveled trees and inflicted heavy damage on wire fences. The zoo has send out an urgent plea for building materials and funds to help with recovery. None of the facility's animals or staff were injured.


Belize lost 10,000 ha of forest per year since 1980

(11/07/2010) Forests in Belize have been cleared at a rate of nearly 10,000 hectares per year for the past 30 years, a recent study shows. In 1980, forests covered 79.5% of the land surface of Belize but as of February 2010 it had decreased to 62.7%. The area covered by forests in the country thus went from about 6500 square miles 30 years ago to around 5300 square miles today, losing an area the size of Rhode Island.


How the overlooked peccary engineers the Amazon, an interview with Harald Beck

(09/20/2010) When people think of the Amazon rainforest, they likely think of roaring jaguars, jumping monkeys, marching ants, and squeezing anacondas. The humble peccary would hardly be among the first animals to cross their mind, if they even know such pig-like animals exists! Yet new research on the peccary is proving just how vital these species are to the world's greatest rainforest. As seed dispersers and seed destroyers, engineers of freshwater habitats and forest gaps, peccaries play an immense, long overlooked, role in the rainforest. "Peccaries have the highest density and biomass of any Neotropical mammal species. Obviously these fellows have quite an appetite for almost anything, but primarily they consume fruits and seeds. Their specialized jaws allow them to crush very hard seeds. The cracking sounds can be heard through the thick vegetation long before we could see them. As peccary herds bulldoze through the leaf litter in search for insects, frogs, seeds, and fruits, they destroy (i.e. snap and trample) many seedlings and saplings, sometimes leaving only the bare ground behind," Harald Beck, assistant professor at Towson University in Maryland, told mongabay.com in an interview.


30 frog species, including 5 unknown to science, killed off by amphibian plague in Panama

(07/19/2010) With advanced genetic techniques, researchers have drawn a picture of just how devastating the currently extinction crisis for the world's amphibians has become in a new study published in the Proceedings of the Nation Academy of Sciences (PNAS). Studying frog populations using DNA barcoding in Panama's Omar Torrijos National Park located in El Copé researchers found that 25 known species and 5 unknown species have vanished since 1998. None have returned.


With 'psychological cunning' wild cat lures monkeys by mimicking their babies' calls

(07/08/2010) It sounds like something out of a fairy-tale: the big bad predator lures its gullible prey by mimicking a loved one: 'why grandma, what big teeth you have!' But in this case it's the shocking strategy of one little-known jungle feline. In 2005 researchers with the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) were watching a group of eight pied tamarins ( Saguinus bicolor), squirrel-sized monkeys, feeding on a ficus tree in the Reserva Florestal Adolpho Ducke in Brazil. They then heard the sound of tamarin babies, but were surprised to see that the sound was not coming from young tamarins, but a hungry margay (Leopardus wiedii), a small cat native to Central and South America, which was hidden from the tamarins.


Inga alley cropping: a sustainable alternative to slash and burn agriculture

(06/14/2010) It has been estimated that as many as 300 million farmers in tropical countries may take part in slash and burn agriculture. A practice that is environmentally destructive and ultimately unstable. However, research funded by the EEC and carried out in Costa Rica in the late 1980s and early 1990s by Mike Hands offers hope that it is possible to farm more successfully and sustainably in these tropical regions.


Two new frogs discovered in Panama amidst amphibian plague

(06/06/2010) Researchers working to save Panama's frogs from a fatal disease have stumbled on two species unknown to science. In Omar Torrijos National Park they found a bigger version of a common species, which is now known to be a unique species, and near the Colombian border they discovered a new frog that has been named after Spanish for DNA. Both frogs were discovered while researchers searched for frog populations in chytridiomycosis-infected areas. The highly contagious disease chytridiomycosis has devastated frog species worldwide and is believe to be at least in part responsible for some 100 extinctions of amphibians.


How an agricultural revolution could save the world's biodiversity, an interview with Ivette Perfecto

(05/04/2010) Most people who are trying to change the world stick to one area, for example they might either work to preserve biodiversity in rainforests or do social justice with poor farmers. But Dr. Ivette Perfecto was never satisfied with having to choose between helping people or preserving nature. Professor of Ecology and Natural Resources at the University of Michigan and co-author of the recent book Nature’s Matrix: The Link between Agriculture, Conservation and Food Sovereignty, Perfecto has, as she says, "combined her passions" to understand how agriculture can benefit both farmers and biodiversity—if done right.


Diverse habitats needed for survival of small mammals in Mexico

(03/29/2010) A new study in Tropical Conservation Science shows that small tropical mammals in Mexico—bats and rodents—require a variety of habitats to thrive. Surveying mammal populations in the Isthmus of Tehuantepec, Oaxaca, Mexico, researchers found that sites comprising the greatest habitat diversity carried also the greatest diversity of rodents. In turn bats lived in all variety of habitats and moved easily from one to another.


Forgotten Species: the marooned pygmy three-toed sloth

(03/16/2010) Many people consider tropical islands mini-paradises: sanctuaries cut-off from the rest of the world. Some species flourish on islands for the same reason. With few predators and a largely consistent environment, once a species has comfortably adapted to its habitat there's little to do but thrive. That is until something changes: like humans showing up. Changes in confined island ecosystems often have large and rapid impacts, too fast and too big for marooned species to survive.


How tree communities respond to distance to edges and canopy openness

(12/06/2009) Tropical forests frequently experience the opening and closing of canopy gaps as part of their natural dynamics. When an edge is created, and the area outside the boundary is a disturbed or unnatural system, forests can be seriously affected even at some distance from the fragmented edge, since sunlight and wind penetrate to a much greater extent. This increases tree mortality and, consequently, canopy openness close to the edge. Thus, canopy openness can be both part of a natural gap-dynamics cycle and the direct manifestation of human edge effects.


Costa Rica proposes to downgrade Las Baulas National Park, threatening leatherback sea turtles

(11/11/2009) Costa Rica is considered by many to be a shining example of environmental stewardship, preserving both its terrestrial and marine biodiversity while benefiting from being a popular tourist location. However, a new move by the Costa Rican government has placed their reputation in question. In May of this year the President of Costa Rica, Oscar Arias, presented a law to the legislature that would downgrade Las Baulas from a National Park to a 'mixed property wildlife refuge'. The downgrading would authorize a number of development projects that conservationists say would threaten the park's starring resident: the leatherback turtle.


Developer uses cover of national holiday to clear rainforest near Colon, Panama

(11/06/2009) On Tuesday, November 3rd, while Panamanians celebrated Independence Day Holidays, heavy machinery unexpectedly entered and began cutting down tropical forest and mangroves near Galeta outside of Colon, Panama, report local sources. mongabay.com confirmed that the latest clearing has been carried out "almost in secret during national holidays so there would be no reaction from the public or the media." The clearing, conducted by a transportation cooperative called Serafin Niño, from Colon, is occurring in the buffer zone of the Galeta Protected Landscape and near Galeta Point Marine Laboratory, a facility of the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute. The land will likely be used to store transportation equipment that moves cargo to and from the ports of Colon and the Free Zone.


The faster, fiercer, and always surprising sloth, an interview with Bryson Voirin

(10/25/2009) Sloths sleep all day; they are always slow; and they are gentle animals. These are just some of the popular misconceptions that sloth-scientist and expert tree-climber, Bryson Voirin, is overturning. After growing up among the wild creatures of Florida, spending his high school years in Germany, and earning a Bachelors degree in biology and environment at the New College of Florida, Voirin found his calling. At the New College of Florida, Voirin "met Meg Lowman, the famous canopy pioneer who invented many of the tree climbing techniques everyone uses today."


Guatemala latest country to declare food crisis: nearly half a million families face food shortages

(09/10/2009) The President of Guatemala, Alvaro Colom, has announced a "state of public calamity" to tackle food shortages throughout the Central American nation. The failure of bean and corn crops from drought, which cut the yields of these staple crops in half, has brought the crisis to a head. In addition, prime agricultural land in Guatemala is often used to grow export crops like coffee and sugar rather than staples.


Concerns over deforestation may drive new approach to cattle ranching in the Amazon

(09/08/2009) While you're browsing the mall for running shoes, the Amazon rainforest is probably the farthest thing from your mind. Perhaps it shouldn't be. The globalization of commodity supply chains has created links between consumer products and distant ecosystems like the Amazon. Shoes sold in downtown Manhattan may have been assembled in Vietnam using leather supplied from a Brazilian processor that subcontracted to a rancher in the Amazon. But while demand for these products is currently driving environmental degradation, this connection may also hold the key to slowing the destruction of Earth's largest rainforest.


Largely unexplored rainforest slated to be leveled for gold mining in Colombia

(08/13/2009) Serrania de San Luca is a rainforest-covered massif rising to 2,300 meters (7,500 feet) in northern Colombia. Despite being little-explored and containing several endangered species, the forest is threatened by industrial gold mining operations, according to the local conservation group ProAves. Already the forest has been reduced to 10 percent of its original 2.5 million acres due to agriculture, small-scale mining, and other human impacts. Now, the Colombian government has granted large concessions to AngloGold Ashanti, a gold mining company out of South Africa which has been criticized by the Human Rights Watch for allegedly aligning itself with locally armed gangs in the Democratic Republic of Congo.


Tropical plant expert Stephen P. Hubbell wins this year's Eminent Ecologist Award

(08/13/2009) Stephen P. Hubbell has won the 2009 Eminent Ecologist Award. Hubbell is a staff scientist at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute (STRI) and professor of ecology and evolutionary biology at UCLA.


Protection of land crabs critical to the conservation of coastal tropical forests

(07/13/2009) The impact of land crabs on the near-ocean forests in which they live has long been overlooked, with emphasis placed instead on water levels, salinity, and other abiotic influences. However, a new research synthesis published in Biological Reviews shows that land crab influence is among the most important factors affecting tropical forest growth along coasts, on islands, and in mangroves.


Saving one of the last tropical dry forests, an interview with Edwina von Gal

(06/29/2009) Often we hear about endangered species—animals or plants on the edge of extinction—however we rarely hear about endangered environments—entire ecosystems that may disappear from Earth due to humankind’s growing footprint. Tropical dry forests are just such an ecosystem: with only 2 percent of the world’s tropical dry forest remaining it is one of the world’s most endangered ecosystems. A newly established organization, the Azuero Earth Project, is working not only to preserve some of the world’s last tropical dry forest on the Azuero peninsula in Panama, but also to begin restoration projects hoping to aid both the forest’s viability and the local people. Edwina von Gal, a landscape designer, is one of the founders of the Azuero Earth Project, as well as president of the organization.


Conservation through commerce in Costa Rica

(05/25/2009) While Costa Rica is lauded for its conservation ethic, environmental concerns remain in the country. Overdevelopment is tied to many issues, including pollution, degradation of ecosystems, deforestation, and soil erosion, while unsustainable fishing plagues coastal waters. Costa Rica's wildlife is also directly affected by hunting as crop and livestock pests, predation and displacement by introduced species, and the illegal pet trade.


First-ever photo of jaguar on Barro Colorado Island

(05/04/2009) Researchers have captured the first-ever photo of a jaguar on Barro Colorado Island, a key tropical forest research site in Panama, reports the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute (STRI). The picture was snapped by a camera trap set up by Montclair State University zoologist Jackie Willis and her husband Greg. The pair have been using the traps — which use infrared to detect and photograph passing wildlife — for animal surveys on Barro Colorado since 1994.


New protections for coral reefs and dwindling fish species in Belize

(04/27/2009) Coral reefs in Belize, considered to be some of the most pristine in the west, have secured additional protections. Rene Montero, the Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries, signed a set of new laws this month to protect Belize’s coral reefs and the fish that inhabit them. The additional laws protect increasingly overfished species, ban spearfishing in marine reserves, and create no-take zones, according to a press release from the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS).


Plant communities changing across the globe, says scientist Sasha Wright

(03/29/2009) Having studied plant communities across three continent and within widely varied ecosystems—lowland tropics, deciduous forests, grasslands, and enclosed ecosystems on hill-tops—graduate student Sasha Wright has gained a unique understanding of shifts in plant communities worldwide as they respond to pressures from land use and global climate change. “Plant communities are certainly changing,” Wright told Mongabay.com in a March 2009 interview. “These changes are undoubtedly affected by an increased occurrence of extreme weather events, temperature fluctuations, atmospheric CO2 concentrations, human land use, and in some cases urbanization of populations.”


Territorial disputes and conservation

(03/23/2009) Political drivers such as those related to territorial disputes between tropical countries can result in direct and indirect ramifications negatively impacting conservation of native ecosystems report Arlenie Perez, Chuang Chin-Ta and Farok Afero in the March issue of the open access journal Tropical Conservation Science.


Climate change could devastate lizards in the tropics

(03/04/2009) With help from data collected thirty years ago, scientists have discovered that tropical lizards may be particularly sensitive to a warming world. Researchers found that lizards in the tropics are more sensitive to higher temperatures than their relatives in cooler, yet more variable climates. "The least heat-tolerant lizards in the world are found at the lowest latitudes, in the tropical forests. I find that amazing," said Raymond Huey, lead author of a paper appearing in the March 4 Proceedings of the Royal Society B.


Salamander populations collapse in Central America

(02/09/2009) Salamanders in Central America — like frogs, toads, and other amphibians at sites around the world — are rapidly and mysteriously declining, report researchers writing in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Disturbingly, salamanders are disappearing from protected areas and otherwise pristine habitats.


Chocolate has been a delicacy north of Mexico for a thousand years

(02/02/2009) Chocolate, produced from cacao beans, has been a part of American culture for a thousand years according to new paper published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Analyzing chemical residue from jars of native peoples in New Mexico, researchers Patricia Crown and Jeffrey Hurst discovered theobromine, a chemical signature of cacao. The jars have been dated from 1000 to 1125 AD, well over three hundred years before Columbus and the earliest recorded discovery of cacao north of Mexico. The cacao jars are from Pueblo Bonito, an archaeological site in Chaco Canyon, which is located in northwestern New Mexico. Chaco Canyon, once home to 2,000-5,000 inhabitants, was composed of a dense group of pueblos, of which Bonito was the largest. Incorporating 800 rooms, Pueblo Bonito was the center of a number of towns and villages in Chaco Canyon.


Shade-grown coffee preserves native tree diversity

(12/23/2008) A new study finds that shade-grown coffee protects the biodiversity of tree species, as well as those of birds and bats. Published in Current Biology, the study found that native trees in shade-grown coffee plantations aid the overall species’ gene flow and can become a focal point for reforestation.


Manatees become conservation symbol for communities in Mexico

(12/01/2008) Local conservation efforts are helping protect endangered manatees in Chiapas, Mexico, report researchers writing in the December issue of Tropical Conservation Science.


Coral reefs and mangroves worth $395-559 M per year in Belize

(11/14/2008) Services provided by coral reefs and mangroves in Belize are worth US$395 million to US$559 million per year, or 30 to 45 percent of the Central American country's GDP — according to a new report released by the World Resources Institute and the World Wildlife Fund (WWF).


Costa Rica protects green macaw by banning logging of mountain almond tree

(10/27/2008) Costa Rica's high court has prohibited the cutting of a certain species of tree, in part because a highly endangered type of parrot uses the tree almost exclusively for nesting.


Mass amphibian die-offs affect ecosystems

(10/19/2008) Large-scale die-offs of amphibians due to the outbreak of a killer fungal disease is impacting the forest ecosystem in which they live, reports a new study published in the journal Ecosystems.


Rainforest biodiversity at risk from global warming

(10/09/2008) Climbing temperatures may doom many tropical species to extinction if they are unable to migrate to higher elevations or cooler latitudes, report researchers writing in Science.


Carbon market may fund dam in Panama that threatens natural reserve

(09/01/2008) The UN's Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) — a scheme that provides funds to projects that reduce emissions in developing nations — may be used to finance a hydroelectric dam in Panama which, according to environmentalists, threatens a biologically rich World Heritage site and an indigenous tribe, the Ngobe.


STRI goes carbon neutral as Panama indigenous community to see carbon payments from forest conservation

(08/21/2008) The Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute (STRI), the Panama-based branch of the Smithsonian Institution, will offset its carbon dioxide emissions by working with an indigenous community to conserve forests and reforest degraded lands with native tree species. The agreement was announced Sunday, August 17, 2008.


Biologists attacked in Costa Rica

(08/12/2008) Two ornithologists were attacked by a machete-weilding group while surveying birds in Costa Rica, reports National Geographic.


7 steps to solve the global biodiversity crisis

(08/11/2008) Many biologists believe Earth is entering a sixth mass extinction event, one that has is the direct of human activities, including over-exploitation, habitat destruction and introduction of alien species and pathogens. Climate change — largely driven by anthropogenic forces — is expected to soon increase pressure on Earth's biodiversity. With population and per-capita consumption expected to grow significantly by the mid 21st century, there seems little hope that species loss can be slowed. Nevertheless, writing in the journal PNAS, Stanford biologists Paul R. Ehrlich and Robert M. Pringle suggest seven steps to help improve the outlook for the multitude of species that share our planet.


New Costa Rica guide offers insight on responsible tourism

(08/04/2008) Costa Rica is the world's most popular destination for rainforest tourism thanks to its spectacular biodiversity, relative ease-of-access and safety, and many natural attractions. In 2007 nearly 2 million tourists visited the country, generating almost 2 billion in revenue -- more than the combined income from bananas and coffee.


Researchers discover "artistic" moth in Panama

(07/29/2008) Researchers have discovered a new species of Bagworm Moth that wraps its eggs individually in "beautiful cases" fashioned from its golden abdominal hairs, according to a new paper published in the Annals of the Entomology Society of America. The behavior is unique among insects.


Climate change will increase the erosion of coral reefs

(07/28/2008) Coral reefs are particularly susceptible to climate change. Warming waters have been shown to bleach coral, killing off symbiotic algae that provide them with sustenance, and often leading to the death of the coral itself. Much attention has been placed on bleaching coral, but now scientists have discovered an additional danger to coral reefs in a warming world: erosion.


Mangroves are key to healthy fisheries, finds study

(07/21/2008) Mangroves serve as a critical nursery for young marine life and therefore play an important role in the health of fisheries and the economic well-being of fishermen, report researchers writing in the early online edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.


Mexican canyon serves as key refuge for endangered spider monkeys

(06/09/2008) A picturesque canyon in Chiapas, Mexico is serving as an important refuge for the northernmost population of Spider monkeys, reports a study published in the June issue of Tropical conservation Science.


Defaunation, like deforestation, threatens global biodiversity

(05/20/2008) Loss of wildlife is a subtle but growing threat to tropical forests, says a leading plant ecologist from Stanford University. Speaking in an interview with mongabay.com, Dr. Rodolfo Dirzo says that the disappearance of wildlife due to overexploitation, fragmentation, and habitat degradation is causing ecological changes in some of the world's most biodiverse tropical forests. He ranks defaunation — as he terms the ongoing biological impoverishment of forests — as one of the world's most significant global changes, on par with environmental changes like global warming, deforestation, and shifts in the nitrogen cycle.


Frog chooses whether to lay eggs on land or in water

(05/19/2008) Researchers in Panama have discovered a frog that can choose whether it lays its eggs on land or in water. It is the first time such "reproductive flexibility" has been found in a vertebrate.


New research shows wild sloths sleep less than captive sloths

(05/14/2008) Wild sloths are considerably more active than their counterparts in captivity, reports the first electrophysiological study of sleep in a wild animal.


Rainforest recovery after deforestation can be enhanced by artificial bat houses

(04/23/2008) "Bat boxes" could help in the recovery of tropical rainforest after deforestation, reports research described in New Scientist Magazine.



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