Among the projects selected in the 4th BBVA Foundation Call for Research Proposals we can single out a scientific study into the impact of climate change on populations of shorebirds (birds living mainly in coastal or wetland areas on marshes, mudflats or beaches). Many shorebird species migrate long distances and can cover thousand of kilometers in each annual cycle between their breeding and their wintering areas. This makes them highly vulnerable to changing climatic conditions in different zones: with 48% of the world’s known populations suffering decline. And there are reasons to fear that the trend will accelerate, with most climate change analysts auguring a rise in sea level in the shorebirds’ habitats that will send populations into continuous decline until the end of the 21st century.
The goal of this research project is to analyze the quality of some of the main coastal ecosystems in South America and identify the short- and medium-term effects of climate change and other potential threats facing these species and their habitats. The team conducting the research includes scientists from Spain, Argentina and Chile.
THE WORLD’S MOST PRIMITIVE MARSUPIAL
The BBVA Foundation Research Grants Program in Ecology and Conservation Biology will also be lending its support to a two-year study into the conservation status of the world’s oldest known marsupial species, the “monito del monte” (literally little mountain monkey) inhabiting the temperate forests of Southern Chile. The fact the species has survived thus far owes to the exceptional combination of ecological and evolutionary circumstances that characterize these forests, which have conserved their ancestral botanical and ecological legacy through major climate changes and tectonic shifts.
EFFECTS OF NOISE POLLUTION ON TROPICAL BIRDS
It has recently been shown that birds living in urban environments and exposed to high levels of acoustic pollution alter the tone and length of their calls so they can overcome background noise and communicate effectively. This adaptation has been found in several species of European birds, whose songs are varied in pattern and learned by imitation.
The goals of the study on the “Vulnerability to noise pollution of neotropical avifauna” are to analyze how acoustic pollution is affecting a large group of topical species – the suboscines – who are less able to adapt to high noise levels because their songs are innate rather than acquired. This limitation could impair the biological adaptation of these birds – making up 30% of all neotropical avifauna – in areas and centers exposed to noise pollution.
ASSESSMENT OF THE ENVIRONMENTAL IMPACT OF MERCURY IN AREAS OF HIGH ECOLOGICAL VALUEThe last few decades have witnessed a growing concern about the environmental problems associated with mercury. Its long residence time and long-range atmospheric transport mean the element inevitably finds its way into food chains, and thus becomes a global threat to health and the environment.
The BBVA Foundation will fund a project whose aim is to design an integral method for assessing the environmental impact of mercury in biodiversity hotspots. As such, study areas have been selected for their high ecological value and potential exposure to mercury contamination, among them the Mato Grosso Pantanal in Brazil, declared a Biosphere Reserve and World Heritage Site. The project will also be looking at possible strategies for remedying mercury pollution in zones where its levels exceed the limits laid down by governments and environmental agencies. The priority of this remedial effort will be to eliminate the risk to exposed populations, with an evaluation of the associated economic cost.
CREATION OF PROTECTED MARINE AREAS
The selected projects include a study on marine conservation and management and another on the conservation of cyprinids – a family of freshwater fish – in arid and semiarid zones of the Iberian Peninsula and North America. Others have flora as their subject matter, among them a study into the interactions between plants and the functioning of extreme ecosystems exposed to global change; a research project exploring the relations between indigenous rural populations and rainforest conservation; and a study into the ecological causes and genetic processes of plant invasions.
Javier Fernández | alfa
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