Earth's most biodiverse ecosystems face 'collapse,' new study claims

Earth's ecosystems are under unprecedented threat from a combination of climate change, extreme weather and human activity, a new study shows.

A study published on Monday mapped more than 100 locations where tropical forests and coral reefs have been impacted by climate extremes like hurricanes, floods and heatwaves, as well as droughts and fires. The research gives an overview of how these diverse ecosystems are facing enormous pressure from weather extremes, climate change and human activity.

"Tropical forests and coral reefs are very important for global biodiversity, so it is extremely worrying that they are increasingly affected by both climate disturbances and human activities," lead researcher Filipe França, from the Embrapa Amazônia Oriental in Brazil and Lancaster University, said in a statement.

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Fish and diver are seen on a reef. Earth's ecosystems are facing enormous pressure.

Fish and diver are seen on a reef. Earth's ecosystems are facing enormous pressure. (Nick Graham)

According to the study's abstract, climate change is causing more frequent and stronger cyclonic storms -- hurricanes, cyclones, typhoons -- in regions already impacted by this kind of weather, including Central America, the Caribbean, East Africa, most of Asia, Australia and the Pacific islands.

"A range of post-hurricane ecological consequences have been recorded in tropical forests: the destruction of plants by these weather extremes affects the animals, birds and insects that rely on them for food and shelter," Guadalupe Peralta, from Canterbury University in New Zealand, explained in a statement.

The scientists urge a range of climate-adaptation actions to prevent further losses at the ecosystem level.

"Conserving the hyperdiverse biota of tropical forests and coral reefs for future generations will require much greater cooperation between nations and the involvement of a broader range of stakeholders in the development of solutions," the researchers write in the study's conclusion.

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Joice Ferreira, of Embrapa Amazônia Oriental, said: "To achieve successful climate-mitigation strategies, we need 'action-research' approaches that engage local people and institutions and respect the local needs and diverse socio-ecological conditions in the tropics."