Botanists are scouring the US-Mexico border to document a forgotten ecosystem divided by a giant wall – Science News (Trending Perfect)


JACOME, Mexico (AP) — Near the towering border wall flanked by a U.S. Border Patrol vehicle, botanist Sola Vanderplank heard a quail squawk “chi-ca-go,” a sound birds use to signal separation from quail. A colleague or group.

A quail responded on the Mexican side, blaring a back-and-forth sound clip that was both fitting and heartbreaking in an ecosystem divided by an artificial barrier.

Vanderplank was among several botanists and citizen scientists participating in the Border Bioblitz near the Mexican community of Jacome, about 60 miles (100 kilometers) east of Tijuana.

Nearly 1,000 volunteers armed with iNaturalist application On their smartphones, they document as many species as they can along the U.S.-Mexico border in May. Uploading photos to the app helps in identifying plants and animals and recording location coordinates.

The hope is that the information will lead to greater protection of the region's natural resources, which are often overshadowed by news of drug trafficking and migrant smuggling.

One day, Bioblitz volunteers examined the bright yellow, flowery carpet of common goldfields, a sharp contrast to the imposing steel columns of the border wall covered in coils of barbed wire. Some navigated their way around piles of empty water jugs, gray sweaters and empty tuna cans left under the branches of native plants like the Tecate cypress.

“There is a tremendous amount of biodiversity here that has traditionally been overlooked,” said Vanderplank, of the Baja Rare Binational Programme.

“When construction of the border wall began, we realized how little data we had, especially when it comes to plants and small organisms,” Vanderplank said. “We don't know what we have to lose.”

Since then, there has been a significant wave of initiatives to document the flora and fauna of the border region Climate change Besides habitat loss, pollution and development have harmed the world's biodiversity. One estimate in 2019 warned that one million species of plants and animals are at risk of extinction within decades, a rate of loss 1,000 times greater than expected.

The United Nations is expected to hold a high-level meeting in Colombia for signatories to the agreement CBD in October with the goal of protecting 30% of the lands, freshwaters and oceans considered important for biodiversity by 2030, known as 30 by 30. Representatives from nearly 200 countries are expected to present plans on how to meet agreed conservation targets in 2022.

Currently, 17% of terrestrial areas and 10% of marine areas are protected.

The Baja California Peninsula, which borders the state of California and is home to Tijuana with one Highest homicide rates in MexicoIt has more than 4000 species of plants. A quarter of them are endemic, and at least 400 plants are considered rare with little or no protection.

Plants and animals that are extinct or at risk of extinction in the United States, such as the California red-legged frog, thrive south of the border, producing specimens used for repopulation.

But the crime witnessed in the region deters many American scientists from crossing the border. Mexico also restricts permits for botanists and does not allow seed collection, further curtailing the work, scientists say.

Bioblitz organizers work with local communities and say they only take people to areas deemed safe.

“You have to be really careful because of the violence,” said John Rebman, curator of botany at the Natural History Museum in San Diego, who has named 33 new plants for science from the Southern California and Baja California region.

“It's scary from that point of view, but these are the areas where we really need more information because there is hardly any protected area on the south side,” he said.

Using the museum's collection, Rebman has compiled a list of 15 plant species endemic to Baja California that have not been seen since they were collected nearly a century ago. He creates a duo team to find them. So far they have been able to locate 11.

Rebman also discovered two plants new to science in 2021 in a valley off the Tijuana Highway: the new species, Astragalus tijuanensis, and a new variety of Astragalus brauntonii called lativexillum.

“I was worried they would become extinct even before we got their names,” Rebman said. “That tells you what type of area we are working in.”

She hopes the state will intervene, while also trying to rally support by taking Tijuana residents and Baja officials on hikes.

“People are amazed that these things exist in Tijuana, and I hope to show more and more people so they can see the beauty, because we need that,” Fernandez said. “It's important not to be held back by barriers created by humans.”

As border security increases, the number of displaced people increases due to natural disasters, violence and wars Record levels worldwide, more migrants are heading to areas such as the extension near Jacome. The small community of about 100 families includes members of the Kumeyaay tribe and is located across the border from a sparsely populated desert near the town of Jacumba Hot Springs, California. Population: about 1000 people.

The region has witnessed thousands of Asylum seekers They wait for a chance to cross, usually in the cloak of darkness, and then camp out again on the US side after surrendering themselves to US Border Patrol agents.

Fernandez was among the botanists who helped the Beublitz volunteers on the Mexican side near a dilapidated 1920s transit station.

“I never thought there would be so much biodiversity on the border,” said Jocelyn Reyes, Fernandez's student at the Autonomous University of Baja California, who stopped every few feet to hover over a plant and capture its details. “It's interesting and makes you realize there's a lot worth saving.”

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