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Tourism threatening Arthur Conan Doyle's lost world

The Guiana mountain tops -- an wide area of tabular highlands and high cliffs with tepuis -- are threatened by the impact of human activity, specially tourism, according to the warnings of the researchers Valentí Rull, from the Institute of Earth Sciences Jaume Almera of the Spanish Scientific Research Council (ICTJA-CSIC), and Teresa Vegas-Vilarrúbia and Elisabet Safont, from the Department of Evolutionary Biology, Ecology and Environmental Sciences of the University of Barcelona (UB) in an article published in the journal Diversity and Distributions.

Tourism threatening Arthur Conan Doyle's lost world
These biomes were considered few of the unaltered ecosystems on Earth 
[Credit: Yuribia Vivas]
These biomes of the great geologic shield of South America, which goes from Venezuela, Guiana, to Brazil, were considered few of the unaltered ecosystems on Earth. The geologic environment, with big reliefs and cliffs difficult to have access to, enabled the isolation of the natural communities and were the inspiration for The Lost World (1912) by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, set in the famous Roraima tepui in Guiana. Nowadays, these highlands are natural laboratories to study the origins and evolution of biota and neo-tropical ecosystem.

Invasive plants and intestine bacteria in Roraima tepui Mount

The scientific team warns about the presence of invasive plants and polluted waters due to human faecal bacteria in the mountain top of Roraima tepui -one of the places that still allow tourists to visit- in the frontiers between Venezuela, Guiana and Brazil. In the research study, the experts propose finding the best solutions and implementing a specific regulation towards what they consider to be the first signs of impact of human activity on the ecosystems in Roraima tepui mountain.

In previous studies, according to the authors, there had been up to 13 exotic plants identified as being introduced by people on top of Roraima, among which there are two plant species with a big invasive capacity: the Polypogon elongatus and Poa annua. The authors say that "until now, Polypogon elongatus population was small and localized, but the species start to show behavior and growth patterns to be considered an invasive species."

"The seeds can be moved by wind, water or animals, so the colonizing risk in other tepuis is high. The consequences could be dramatic for the flora and plants of these mountains" warn the researchers.

There have been different bacteria detected in the waters of the Roraima mountain: for instance, the Helicobacter pylori, a present bacteria in the human intestinal system which is related to several pathologies such as gastritis, ulcers and some kinds of cancer. The authors say the presence of these bacteria is due to the tourism in tepui, since the samples of polluted water were collected in the area of the camps of the mountain visitors. The authors warn that "these bacteria can follow the course of the rivers up to lower lands. Therefore, Roraima would be a pollution point in an area where Helicobacter pylori prevalence is still low, only 11%."

Protecting ecological richness in exceptional ecosystems

To protect the Guiana biodiversity, the research team proposes an international initiative that ensures the preservation of the area and suggest using the infrastructure given by the Guiana Shield Facility, an entity that represents Brazil, Colombia, French Guiana, Guiana, Surinam and Venezuela.

The authors say that the "tepuis area is already defined by the very GSF as a high preservation priority area. Now it is necessary to act and take accurate measures in order to preserve its biodiversity." They also think that "GSF is a valid tool because it can bring necessary funds to apply the current regulations on preservation in an area where, without the right resources, would be impossible to be looked after to fulfill the regulations."

Valentí Rull, first author of the article, says that "we can still change the situation, but it is urgent. Otherwise, the threats that are coming up now would be impossible to control. If that happens, we risk losing one of the few virgin biomes on the planet."

Source: Universidad de Barcelona [September 06, 2016]

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