The Tropics refers to the equatorial region of Earth that extends across five continents including parts of Central and South America, Africa, Asia, and Australia and includes marine ecosystems between the Tropics of Cancer and Capricorn. Tropical ecosystems are synonymous with biodiversity. Nearly two-thirds of all known species inhabit these dense rain forests, tropical savannas, coastal mangroves, and rich coral reefs.
Tim Tear, Ph.D.
The health of tropical ecosystems is being impacted by multiple stressors ranging from deforestation and the degradation of habitats to climate change. The conservation of these ecosystems is one of the greatest ecological challenges the global community will face in the coming decades. BRI and the Tropical Program contribute to this effort through participation in collaborative research and conservation initiatives designed to identify new and emerging stressors and to inform stakeholders and policymakers about our science.
Learn more about our past and ongoing research below.
Fish consumption is the primary pathway through which humans become exposed to mercury. Many national and international health organizations recognize the risks associated with a diet high in fish and international guidelines for the maximum amount of Hg in fish have been established. BRI's Tropical Program works with local researchers in multiple countries to identify 'hotspots' of mercury accumulation where mercury concentrations represent a risk to human and ecosystem health. Below are representative research projects with a focus on fish and human health:
Artisanal and small-scale gold mining (ASGM) is responsible for an estimated 727 tonnes per year of mercury emissions to the atmosphere with an additional 800 tonnes per year of mercury releases to land and water, making it the largest anthropogenic source of mercury. The ASGM sector employs an estimated 10-15 million people in more than 70 countries worldwide. BRI's Tropical Program is working with international development organizations, mining engineers, and conservation organizations to develop strategies for reducing the use of mercury by small-scale miners. Learn more below:
BRI's Tropical Program is expanding its footprint in Africa. One of the key projects is our collaboration with the Biodiversity for Life (B4Life) Facility of the European Commission (EC) to revise their Strategic Approach for Africa, a project called Larger than Elephants. This is the first revision of the EC’s series of strategic approaches that includes Asia (Larger than Tigers) as well as Latin America and the Caribbean (Larger than Jaguars).
Bats represent a significant component of mammalian diversity in the tropics, with approximately 1,200 species currently known. Our research with tropical bats incorporates traditional ecological approaches for understanding population and community composition as well as ecotoxicology and exploring the utility of bats as bioindicators of heavy metal contamination in tropical ecosystems. BRI currently coordinates a network of Neotropical researchers who focus on collecting and analyzing tissue samples for mercury concentrations to better understand the risks of exposure in a variety of species across multiple ecosystems. Below are representative projects with a focus on bats and ecosystem health:
BRI’s Tropical Program is involved in a wide variety of research and conservation initiatives intended to improve our understanding of how environmental contaminants impact ecosystem health in the tropics. Many of these initiatives are interdisciplinary in nature and include collaborators from national agencies within tropical countries as well as local and international conservation organizations. Examples of these projects include:
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