Why the Tropical Andes Should Get Way More Conservation Attention

The Tropical Andes don't get a lot of attention, despite being an important biodiversity hot spot. Covering a swath of land from Venezuela down to Bolivia, the region is filled with mossy cloud forests, grasslands, and valleys between snowcapped mountains. The area is home to numerous plants and animals found nowhere else in the world, yet it is under the rising threat of a growing human population. In response, the MacArthur Foundation (see MacArthur Foundation: Grants for Conservation) has announced a series of grants to support conservation and sustainable development in the Tropical Andes.

The Tropical Andes deserve their biodiversity hot-spot status. Nearly 7% of the world's plant species can be found only in the Tropical Andes. The region also is home to the largest variety of amphibians in the world, with 664 distinct species. Numerous birds, mammals, and reptiles are endemic to the area. Yet climate change and rampant habitat destruction are having a major effect on the ecology of the region.

Growing cities and increased human populations have led to deforestation as the demand for agriculture, new mines, new roads, and dams has increased. Global climate change has also taken its toll on a region that holds 90% of the world's tropical glaciers. Some estimates say that no more than 25% of the original vegetation in the area remains.

To protect this important area, the MacArthur Foundation funded 15 different grants in 2013, totaling more than $4.2 million. Many of these grants focused on building capacity among indigenous peoples. The Wildlife Conservation Society, Servicios Ecosistemicos Peru, EarthRights International, and the Field Museum of Natural History all received grants in the $150,000 to $350,000 range to promote governance, environmental stewardship, and legal defense work among indigenous peoples. Additional grants went toward fisheries management, regulatory compliance, and research on economic investments in the area. (Read Program Director Jorgen Thomsen's IP profile.)

The MacArthur grants will be focused in Peru and Boliva for 2013 and represent part of a larger 10-year commitment to conservation and sustainable development throughout the world. In 2011, the foundation committed $176 million to its conservation program. Hopefully, funding will continue to go toward the Tropical Andes in the future.