According to new research from Temple University scientist Blair Hedges, the Caribbean island nation of Haiti is undergoing a mass extinction event, and the country is close to losing its rich biodiversity. Hedges — who has spent decades in Haiti’s rain forests — says that the results of his latest study are shocking.

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In a paper recently published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Hedges and his co-authors revealed that Haiti, which was once full of lush trees and teeming with wildlife, has now lost almost all of its virgin forests because of deforestation, and is at risk of loosing more than half of its species by 2035.

“Up until this analysis, nobody had any idea it was that bad,” Hedges said. “Haiti is in the middle of a mass extinction, and it’s already lost a large number of species because entire areas where unique species exist are no longer present.”

Hedges and his colleagues used NASA satellite imagery to analyze Haiti’s current landscape and found that the country has about one percent of its primary forest left since people have resorted to cutting trees down in order to make way for farming and charcoal production needed for cooking.

Related: Deforestation in South America causes extinction of 8 bird species

He also explained that no one on his research team expected the forest to disappear so quickly. The team of researchers realize that Haiti is at a forefront of a global mass extinction as the country’s species are disappearing at the alarming rate of 100 to 1,000 times the normal rate.

Haiti’s loss of wildlife and forestry is largely due to habitat destruction (cutting down trees), but that is just one component in worldwide mass extinction. Other factors across the globe include climate change, invasive species and other human-related activity.

Hedges says people often associate deforestation as just removing plants and trees, but in reality everything is being removed. Stuart Pimm, professor of conservation ecology at Duke University, says that Hedge’s study is a “tragic and brutal” instance of the lengths of human destruction.

Primm added that Haiti’s story should resonate, and should be a lesson that everyone should heed when managing wild areas, watersheds and rivers.


Image via 753tomas