The threats to Colombia’s biodiversity

Colombia’s biodiversity is one of the most extraordinary in the world but constantly threatened by man.

I recently took part in an investigation that allowed us to produce a “Global Biodiversity Index,” in which Colombia ranked third.

The study also allowed me to identify what contributes to Colombia’s incredible range of plant and animal diversity, and what are the biggest threats to its rich ecosystems as the global climate undergoes dramatic changes.

Colombia’s world-famous biodiversity

The study we did compared the number of plant, mammal, reptile, fish, amphibian, and bird species and created a comprehensive index to determine which countries have the most and least biodiversity. Colombia is the third most biodiverse country in the world, only surpassed by Brazil and Indonesia in terms of total ecological diversity. Colombia came first for overall bird species, with an estimated 1,861 bird species.

One noteworthy point is that, while Indonesia and Brazil have higher total biodiversity, they are both substantially larger by land area than Colombia. Brazil is the world’s 5th largest country, Indonesia the 15th, and Colombia the 26th. This makes Colombia’s overall biodiversity much more impressive, as the study did not adjust for land area size.

Colombia is also one of the world’s Megadiverse Countries, a distinction is given to only seventeen nations. In addition to having the most bird species, Colombia famously has the Earth’s widest variety of orchids and butterflies. Colombia is an ecotourism mecca, with visitors arriving from all over the world to the Caribbean Coast, the famed Amazon Region, and the Pacific Coast, to name a few hot spots.

Colombia’s biodiversity compared to its neighbors

So, what makes Colombia such an exceptionally environmentally diverse country? The Andean region carries a crucial amount of biodiversity thanks to its ample forests, deserts, lakes, grasslands, and more. The Amazon region is likewise incredibly diverse. The abundant natural water resources are ideal for plant and animal species to thrive. The richly biodiverse coastlines and humid areas, including the Chocò region burst with natural beauty. The tropical mixture of warm and humid weather is perfect for a varied, healthy ecosystem.

Colombia’s neighboring countries ranked as follows:

  • Ecuador (9th)
  • Peru (7th)
  • Brazil (1st as previously mentioned)
  • Venezuela (11th)
  • Panama (25th)

Overall, Central and South America ranked remarkably highly in overall biodiversity, according to the study. Central and South America accounted for seven of the world’s 20 most biodiverse countries, largely thanks to the ample water, humidity, rainforest, and proximity to the equator, among other factors.

The biggest threats to biodiversity

Colombia’s natural resources are vast, but its biodiversity is being threatened by several largely man-made causes. Deforestation is one of Colombia’s biggest biodiversity threats and causes pronounced habitat loss. Overfishing, overharvesting, and urbanization also contribute to this loss of habitat and species. Oil, mineral, and metal industries have unfortunately done significant damage.

Pollution continues to be a striking problem for Colombia’s flora and fauna. Air and water pollution and the staggering use of pesticides have done untold damage to Colombia’s natural resources. Lax corporate policies, as well as government oversight, contribute to this problem. In fact, upwards of 8% of human deaths in Colombia are due to water and air pollution.

Climate change is going to cause further issues for Colombia’s important biodiversity. The temperature in Colombia has already risen by 1°C in the last 20 years and is set to rise by another 1°C to 2.5°C by the year 2100. Higher temperatures will likely have a devastating impact on Colombia’s wildlife and natural vegetation, as well as livestock and agriculture. Natural disasters are predicted to increase within Colombia, as well as reduced water availability and sea level rise, which will harm Colombia’s coastal cities the most.

Climate change is also expected to escalate human diseases and waterborne illnesses, dramatically impacting Colombia as much of the country is already dealing with conditions like malaria, West Nile Virus, and Yellow fever. Presently, 13 million people in Colombia live with a malaria risk, but this number will likely skyrocket 500% by 2070 to 64 million, according to the World Health Organization.

Colombia has signed the Paris Accord and is working towards reducing emissions, but there is some doubt about how much the Colombian government is working towards this goal. The Climate Action Tracker has given Colombia a “Highly Insufficient” rating regarding its efforts to reduce emissions. This score is due in large part to the aggressive deforestation happening in the country, as well as its heavy reliance on coal fuel with no announced plan to reduce coal consumption.

Author Matthew H. Nash is the lead researcher at The Swiftest, a data analytics and climate research firm based in San Francisco, California. His research uses proprietary risk analysis tools to help develop thought provoking studies shining light on pressing global issues such as climate change, animal rights, human rights, social media influence, and travel.

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