Globalization in a Biodiversity Hotspot
Published: Thursday, 19 Apr 2012
Previously thought extinct in Nicaragua, a small Baird’s Tapir population was recently found to be alive and well and living in the Caribbean Coast rainforest. Thanks to MSU researchers, together with Nicaraguan colleagues from the Universidad de las Regiones Autonomas de la Costa Caribe Nicaraguense (URACCAN), important data on these tapirs—large mammals similar in shape to a pig, but with a short prehensile snout like an elephant’s-- will be passed on to those scientists and managers who are trying to conserve rare species. Like the tapir the jaguar, puma, and the white-lipped peccary are rarely seen in Nicaragua or elsewhere in the Mesoamerica Biodiversity Hotspot. Their presence in this Nicaragua locale is a good sign, indicating that this area of the Neotropical rainforest has not yet been damaged beyond repair.
Funded by a $1 million National Science Foundation grant to study “Coupled Natural and Human Systems” (2008-2013), lead MSU researchers Daniel B. Kramer, associate professor at James Madison College and Fisheries & Wildlife (FW), and Gerald Urquhart, assistant professor at Lyman Briggs College and FW, focused their investigation of the environmental and economic impact of globalization on thirteen previously isolated indigenous, Afro-descendant and Hispanic communities near Pearl Lagoon, Nicaragua.
Communities in the area range from those currently experiencing high rates of globalization to those almost untouched by such forces. Data collection includes terrestrial wildlife monitoring with camera traps, marine resource monitoring with multiple methods, household surveys in each community, and remote sensing of forest cover and land use change. “Our initial findings show a highly intact mammalian community with highest diversity in areas only moderately connected to new markets,” notes Urquhart, “Once completed, this project will yield longitudinal data on terrestrial wildlife, marine resources, household economies, and land use that can be integrated to model the complex coupled natural and human systems of the region.”
This summer Urquhart, Kramer and colleagues began the process of sharing key research findings with local communities. Community members learned about local wildlife populations by viewing photos taken by project camera traps and they engaged in active discussion of fishing and forest cover, the results of household surveys, the impacts of road construction, the advancing agricultural frontier and other effects of globalization. A wildlife guidebook—including the mammals, birds, amphibians, reptiles and insects identified via the project—was authored by Fisheries & Wildlife graduate student Christopher Jordan and Urquhart, providing both educational benefit and ecotourist appeal.
MSU students can also be exposed to the project environment and associated activities through an intensive, week-long study abroad experience or they can deepen their involvement as undergraduate or graduate students through applying for a position as a project intern or graduate assistant. In addition to James Madison and Lyman Briggs Colleges the project collaborators include MSU faculty members and staff in the Colleges of Agriculture and Natural Resources and Social Science.
For more information, visit the project website at www.globalchange.msu.edu/nicaragua