Sea level rise and tigers: predicted impacts to Bangladesh’s Sundarbans mangroves
The Sundarbans mangrove ecosystem, shared by India and Bangladesh, is recognized as a global priority for biodiversity conservation. Sea level rise, due to climate change, threatens the long term persistence of the Sundarbans forests and its biodiversity. Among the forests’ biota is the only tiger (Panthera tigris) population in the world adapted for life in mangrove forests. Prior predictions on the impacts of sea level rise on the Sundarbans have been hampered by coarse elevation data in this low-lying region, where every centimeter counts. Using high resolution elevation data, we estimate that with a 28 cm rise above 2000 sea levels, remaining tiger habitat in Bangladesh’s Sundarbans would decline by 96% and the number of breeding individuals would be reduced to less than 20. Assuming current sea level rise predictions and local conditions do not change, a 28 cm sea level rise is likely to occur in the next 50–90 years. If actions to both limit green house gas emissions and increase resilience of the Sundarbans are not initiated soon, the tigers of the Sundarbans may join the Arctic’s polar bears (Ursus maritimus) as early victims of climate change-induced habitat loss.