Sanchez-Azofeifa is the director of the newly formed TROPI-DRY, a research network on tropical dry forests housed in the Faculty of Science. The Inter American Institute for Global Change Research has just funded the network to the tune of US$2.7 million for the U of A and all the contributing Latin American partners. The U of A will receive $1.1 million of the grant. TROPI-DRY members come from the United States, Cuba, Venezuela, Costa Rica, Panama, Brazil, Mexico, and Canada.
"There is this romanticized view of rainforests, yet the tropical dry forest is being forgotten even though the most fertile soils are there," said Sanchez-Azofeifa, who hails from Costa Rica. "It's a mystery to me why, when both ecosystems are in danger one is ignored over the other."
Tropical dry forests once made up 42 per cent of all forests in the tropics yet less than one per cent is protected. The most diverse tropical dry forests exist in southern Mexico and the Bolivian lowlands and the level of endemism--species unique to that area--is higher than in rainforests. Half of Costa Rica's dry forests have already been cut down and others face a similar threat, taking with it such resources as its native mahogany and rosewood trees, which are in danger of going extinct, says Sanchez-Azofeifa.
In Mexico, the main threat is deforestation by local communities but the dry forest is also targeted for its natural beauty. Hotel resorts and golf courses are being built on the once-pristine land.
TROPI-DRY's goal is to try to help translate research into tools countries can use as policies to save the dry forests. The solution lies in private conservation, say
Contact: Phoebe Dey
University of Alberta