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Journal Article

Current state of knowledge regarding South America wetlands and their future under global climate change

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Junk, W. J. (2013). Current state of knowledge regarding South America wetlands and their future under global climate change. Aquatic Sciences, 75(1), 113-131. doi:10.1007/s00027-012-0253-8.

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The exact size of the wetland area of South America is not known but may comprise as much as 20% of the sub-continent, with river floodplains and intermittent interfluvial wetlands as the most prominent types. A few wetland areas have been well studied, whereas little is known about others, including some that are very large. Despite the fact that most South American countries have signed the Ramsar convention, efforts to elaborate basic data have been insufficient, thereby hindering the formulation of a wetland-friendly policy allowing the sustainable management of these areas. Until now, the low population density in many wetland areas has provided a high level of protection; however, the pressure on wetland integrity is increasing, mainly as a result of land reclamation for agriculture and animal ranching, infrastructure building, pollution, mining activities, and the construction of hydroelectric power plants. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has predicted increasing temperatures, accelerated melting of the glaciers in Patagonia and the Andes, a rise in sea level of 20–60 cm, and an increase in extreme multiannual and short-term climate events (El Nin˜o and La Nin˜a, heavy rains and droughts, heat waves). Precipitation may decrease slightly near the Caribbean coast as well as over large parts of Brazil, Chile, and Patagonia, but increase in Colombia, Ecuador, and Peru, around the equator, and in southeastern South America. Of even greater impact may be a change in rainfall distribution, with precipitation increasing during the rainy season and decreasing during the dry season. There is no doubt that the predicted changes in global climate will strongly affect South American wetlands, mainly those with a low hydrologic buffer capacity. However, for the coming decades, wetland destruction by wetland-unfriendly development planning will by far outweigh the negative impacts of global climate change. South American governments must bear in mind that there are many benefits that wetlands bring about for the landscape and biodiversity as well as for humans. While water availability will be the key problem for the continent’s cities and agroindustries, intact wetlands can play a major role in storing water, buffering river and stream discharges, and recharging subterranean aquifers.