Rapid, human-induced climate change is threatening to push species and ecosystems outside of habitable environmental conditions. In light of the growing need to consider climate change in policymaking, decision-makers need to understand possible impacts of climate change on biodiversity.
Mesoamerica and the Caribbean are two of the world’s twenty-five biodiversity hotspots, teeming with globally significant biodiversity. In Mesoamerica alone, nearly 8% of the world’s terrestrial species are found on less than 1% of earth’s landmass (Mauri 2002). Yet, along with other pressures, climate change poses a large threat to the region's species and ecosystems.
Over millennia, the warm, wet Mesoamerican and Caribbean climate has allowed diverse arrays of species and ecosystems to flourish, filling unique and complex systems of niches. Each has adapted to natural phenomena such as hurricanes, tropical storms, floods and droughts, and they have proven to be quite resilient; however, this rich tapestry of life is constantly threatened by human-induced drivers of environmental change.
The conversion of natural landscapes such as forests, grasslands, and wetlands, to agriculture, pastures or settlements is the primary culprit of habitat loss and the endangerment of species. Like land degradation, anthropogenic emission of greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide, methane, and nitrous oxides, puts the region’s biodiversity at risk.
Biodiversity comprises many ecosystem services—in the form of food and medicinal plant products vital to local and national economies, ecosystems that retain and provide fresh water, prevent erosion and filter out pollutants, as well as rare and endemic species that display a place’s unique beauty. Thus, it is especially important to monitor the possible impacts of climate change on biodiversity.