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Tropical fires add injury to biodiversity insult

07.02.2006


El-Niño events are both worse and more frequent than before, perhaps due to global warming. The major event in 1997-1998 burned an area in Borneo larger than Switzerland.



Besides causing massive air pollution throughout Southeast Asia, more than a hundred butterfly species were locally exterminated from the affected area. Writing in Ecology Letters, Dr. Daniel Cleary and Dutch, French, British and Canadian colleagues now present evidence for a new pattern that further dims the future of the tropical forest: the few species that managed to hang on or return have become genetically impoverished.

Because low genetic diversity decreases both the short and the long term health of populations, this means that even quick-rebounding species are now less well-equipped to withstand future onslaughts, including future El-Niño events.


If there is good news, it is the novel observation that species richness and genetic health seemed to recover in parallel after the insult, albeit slowly. So, if we can coax one type of biodiversity back from the brink, we may also restore the other type to health too.

Katherine Palmer | alfa
Further information:
http://www.blackwellpublishing.com

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