Populations of pink and grey river
dolphins, caiman, fish, and chestnut-fronted macaws have taken a dive in the
Peruvian Amazon. The problem? The region’s rivers are running shallow, with the
lowest water levels on record in more than a century.
Linked to climate change, the altered
water flow through the Amazon basin is affecting its many denizens, from fish
to fishermen. Wildlife distribution is closely intertwined with the flooding
and receding rivers of the Amazon basin. Local people, dependent on bushmeat
and fish, time their hunting activities accordingly.
As part of their research,
WCS scientists have been working with some of these communities to learn how the
extended drought has influenced their livelihoods.
“This ongoing research adds to a
growing scientific consensus that no ecosystem is immune from the effects of
climate change, whether in the high Arctic or Amazon basin,” said Steve
Sanderson, WCS president and CEO. “Understanding how climate change affects the
Amazon will allow conservationists to implement interventions to protect both
people and wildlife.”
As waterlines fall in the Samiria
River, so do its oxygen levels, forcing fish to flee to the deeper Amazon
River. With less fish to snap up, black caiman are turning to their less
aggressive cousins, spectacled caiman, for their meals. The river’s pink
dolphins are also leaving for the Amazon. There they must compete with other
dolphins for food and resources. Compared with last year, about half as many of
these endangered dolphins now swim in the Samiria.
Chestnut-fronted macaws, too, may
be going hungry. The scientists found that dry conditions within the
7,700-square-mile Pacaya Samiria National Reserve leave these green parrots
with less fruit to forage.
WCS has been working in the Amazon
since the 1970s. In 2005, partnering with Earthwatch Institute, Operation
Wallacea, and the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation, WCS began focusing on the
impacts of climate change to the region.
This spring, some of the
researchers’ findings from the Amazon’s flooded forests will appear in the new
Conservation Hall exhibit at WCS’s New York Aquarium.