Thursday, March 27, 2008

Haiti's Desperate Wildlife

I temporarily break my self-imposed silence (which I am extending to April 10th, when my thesis final draft is due, by the way) to share some conservation stories relating to my honor's thesis. I am working on the phylogeography of endemic Hispaniolan birds, in part to identify unique evolutionary populations to support critical conservation work on the island. I gave a brief overview of my work in a five-part series here.

The conservation situation on the Haitian side of Hispaniola is so desperate, writing my thesis has been very depressing. Haiti's forest cover has been reduced to approximately 1%. The only remaining primary habitat is restricted to two forest reserves, which suffer from illegal logging, squatting, and farming. To illustrate the extant of deforestation in Haiti, one needs only look at this image of the border between Haiti and the Dominican Republic. I don't think you need me to draw in the border:

(Source: NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center, used here)

There are over 30 endemic species of birds on Hispaniola, and many endemic subspecies. The numbers with other taxa I am not familiar with, but Hispaniola is definitely a center of endemism for just about everything from frogs to butterflies to orchids and just about everything else. The above image I found in this Seed article, In defense of development. The title may seem off-putting, but the author makes the very important point that the root of this environmental destruction is a direct result of Haiti being the poorest, most densely populated and politically unstable country in the western Hemisphere. No conservation efforts can succeed without addressing the social issues plaguing Haiti as well.

One of the main areas remaining in Haiti is the Macaya Biosphere Reserve, protecting highland habitat in the Massif de la Hotte at the end of the southwestern peninsula in Haiti. This is a center of endemism within Hispaniola, likely due to its isolation from the mainland by high seas in the past several million years, and includes one of the species I work on, the Gray-crowned Palm-Tanager. In my research for my thesis I uncovered some blog posts on another Hispaniola endemic in the Macaya Reserve, an incredibly unique mammal called the Solenodon. You can read about a group called EDGE (Evolutionarily Distinct, Globally Endangered) as they examine the current status and conservation of the Solenodon in Haiti.

Finally, please give these three first-hand accounts from my own team a read. First, a shorter article from my advisor Andrea Townsend on her expedition to the Massif de la Hotte. What happens at the reserve after she left is eye-opening. Second, Jason Townsend's illustrated account of our group's work in The Living Bird. And third, a report from Chris Rimmer. I haven't been to Hispaniola myself, but the overwhelming feeling from these reports is that time is simply running out for Hispaniolan endemics. We need to act now save them.

Sunday, March 2, 2008

22 Days

The first rough draft of my Honor's Thesis is due in 22 days. I need to buckle down and focus on nothing else until then, except for the fact that I need to approximately double the number of hours I work at my paid job each week to start making ends meet, and its time to organize my third season of Rough-winged Swallow research. I can't screw this season of Swallow work up, it is my last and I desperately need to get it right this time. I can't screw up my honors thesis up, and I would like to eat, too. So, nothing else can take priority for the next 22 days. I will cease posting at least until then. Even though I have so much to write about I could post every day until May, it's too much of a distraction.

Adios, folks. Have a good March.

~ Nick