Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences
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Climate change and lithium mining influence flamingo abundance in the Lithium Triangle

The development of technologies to slow climate change has been identified as a global imperative. Nonetheless, such ‘green’ technologies can potentially have negative impacts on biodiversity. We explored how climate change and the mining of lithium for green technologies influence surface water availability, primary productivity and the abundance of three threatened and economically important flamingo species in the ‘Lithium Triangle’ of the Chilean Andes. We combined climate and primary productivity data with remotely sensed measures of surface water levels and a 30-year dataset on flamingo abundance using structural equation modelling. We found that, regionally, flamingo abundance fluctuated dramatically from year-to-year in response to variation in surface water levels and primary productivity but did not exhibit any temporal trends. Locally, in the Salar de Atacama—where lithium mining is focused—we found that mining was negatively correlated with the abundance of two of the three flamingo species. These results suggest continued increases in lithium mining and declines in surface water could soon have dramatic effects on flamingo abundance across their range. Efforts to slow the expansion of mining and the impacts of climate change are, therefore, urgently needed to benefit local biodiversity and the local human economy that depends on it.


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