The indigenous people and wildlife of the Peruvian Amazon could be severely impacted if the current severe climatic events continue, a leading Earthwatch scientist and Amazon expert warns.
Current conditions have resulted in fewer observations of pink river dolphins.
Dr. Richard Bodmer of the Durrell Institute of Conservation and Ecology (University of Kent) and the Wildlife Conservation Society says deforestation, over-hunting, over-fishing, contamination from the oil industry and now climate change are all contributing to the demise of the greatest rainforest on Earth.
Dr. Bodmer's research in the Amazon has been supported by Earthwatch for the past five years. Research results from 2010 are revealing the consequences of the severe drought and extremely low water levels that are occurring in the Amazon. Dr. Bodmer and his teams of Earthwatch volunteers, researchers and students are studying river dolphins, monkeys, fish, caimans, macaws, deer, peccaries, tapirs, jaguars and giant river otters to understand how increasing climatic changes are impacting their ecology, behaviour and populations. The research is being carried out in the Pacaya Samiria National Reserve in the Peruvian Amazon - an area spanning more than 20,000km2 (the size of Wales).
Dr. Bodmer says: "The pink and grey river dolphins are an important part of the aquatic ecosystem in the Samiria River as they are an indicator species for the health of the riverine ecosystem." The researchers' findings indicate that the extreme low water levels of the Samiria River in 2010 are reducing habitat extent for many species and have a negative impact on the river dolphin population structure overall.
"The conditions have resulted in fewer dolphins observed throughout the Samiria River. Overall, pink river dolphin numbers have decreased by 47 per cent and the grey river dolphin by 49 per cent compared with previous years' population estimates. The dolphins have been forced to leave their habitats in the Samiria River and find refuge in the larger channels of the Amazon."
Earthwatch volunteers on the Amazon Riverboat Exploration expedition.
The decrease in dolphin numbers is directly related to fish populations, as fish are also being impacted by the extremely low water levels of the Samiria River in 2010. The low water level also appears to have impacted other animals such as the spectacled caiman and the smaller macaw species, particularly the chestnut-fronted macaw.
Dr. Bodmer says the local Cocama Indians have also had to adjust their livelihoods to the current conditions.
"Fortunately, there are still enough fish and wildlife in the Samiria because of the conservation actions by the local people and the Peruvian government over the past decade. However, if the extreme climatic events continue, both the wildlife and the local people will be severely impacted."
The research conducted by Dr. Bodmer and Pablo Puertas of the Wildlife Conservation Society and their teams will continue to improve understanding of the impacts of climate change on the region, and the research team will work with local communities to find solutions that will maintain healthy fisheries and populations of species they rely on for survival.
"The efforts of the local indigenous people and their determination not to lose the forests that they depend on for their livelihoods might be the last resort to save the Amazon forests," concludes Dr. Bodmer.