A substantial portion of the UK’s food and other agricultural products are grown abroad. Many of these crops are grown within tropical and sub-tropical environments and depend on the surrounding natural ecosystem to provide countless services, including animal pollination. Agricultural operations along with other threats like climate change has lead to decreasing wildlife populations, habitat loss and other threats to biodiversity. Recent studies have shown that plant and animal populations found within Mediterranean environments are especially vulnerable to these threats.
Threats to tropical environments
Research indicates that converting Mediterranean and tropical habitats into usable farmland can result in the loss of approximately one third of all native species. Examples of the regions and species that may be impacted include forestland within Madagascar that are home to the endangered mouse lemur as well as the yellow-billed magpies found in the woodlands of California. Similar levels of urban development and agricultural expansion within areas like European and North American pose less of a threat to the surrounding ecosystem and are associated with reduced loss of biodiversity.
While temperate environments may experience significant changes in rainfall and temperatures from one season to the next, tropical climates experience far fewer seasonal fluctuations. The plant and animal species found within these regions have evolved to cope with more consistent temperatures and fewer extremes to seasonal weather change. As a result, these species are far less able to cope with changes that may impact their regional climate or natural environment.
Species found within tropical environments typically reproduce at a slower rate with reduced offspring and longer generations when compared to to similar species from other environments. Slower reproduction means that these species struggle to replenish their numbers and will be far more vulnerable to habit loss or other threats that may lead to falling population levels.
Climate change and urban encroachment
Tropical environments typically experience high temperatures and many species suffer limitations in terms of their ability to cope with unexpected weather events or more extreme heat. The continued warming associated with climate change is a major threat to biodiversity, one that is expected to push many species beyond their limits. On a regional level, farms, ranching operations and other developed areas tend to be both drier and warmer than natural environments which further contributes to habit loss, more widespread instances of extinction and declining levels of overall biodiversity.
Historically, human population density within the tropics has occurred at far lower levels than those found in other regions like North America or Europe. Additionally, human-driven environmental changes that occurred prior to the Industrial Revolution took place at a much slower pace with loss of forests and wetland areas due to human encroachment taking place over centuries or even millennia. Both the wide-scale environmental development currently being seen in tropical areas as well as the far more abrupt rate of change poses a serious risk to wildlife and the natural environment. Many tropical species are simply unable to cope with either the rate or scope of changes that are currently impacting their habitat.
Loss of biodiversity
Ecosystems require a robust and diverse range of species in order to survive. Even commercially-grown crops like coffee, cocoa beans, avocados and nuts depend on warm temperatures and animal pollination. Loss of biodiversity and a changing climate are issues that threaten agriculture as well as the natural environment.
Studies indicate that agricultural products that are grown in tropical regions inflict a higher toll on surrounding biodiversity and native wildlife. Consumers who choose to purchase products that were grown using sustainable methods can help to offset some of this damage. Consuming meat and dairy products in moderation can also make a difference. Taking steps to reduce carbon emissions and to combat global warming is also essential when it comes to protecting the environment and maintaining healthy levels of biodiversity.