July 25 (UPI) -- The construction of a border wall between the United States and Mexico would threaten vulnerable ecosystems, home to thousands of plants and animals, scientists warned in a new report.
The report, published Tuesday, was co-authored by more than a dozen leading biologists and ecologists from Mexico and the United States, including the "the father of biodiversity" E.O. Wilson. The paper and its message were also endorsed by more than 2,500 scientists from 43 countries.
"Fences and walls erected along international boundaries in the name of national security have unintended but significant consequences for biodiversity," scientists wrote in the journal BioScience.
Researchers determined the construction of new barriers along the border could affect as many as 1,077 animal species and 429 plant species, including 66 critically endangered species.
Under different circumstances, the presence of endangered species would offer habitat added protections, but as authors of the new report point out, the passage of the 2005 Real ID Act ensured border construction move ahead "without the necessary depth of environmental impact analysis, development of less-damaging alternative strategies, postconstruction environmental monitoring, mitigation, public input and pursuit of legal remedies."
The variety of habitat and ecosystems found along the United States-Mexico border make the region uniquely biodiverse, and thus, especially vulnerable to disruption.
"A constellation of Northern temperate and Southern tropical lifeforms and lineages coincide with endemic species, as in few areas of the globe," Rodolfo Dirzo, a professor of biology at Stanford University, told the Stanford Report. "This means these borderlands are a global responsibility."
The Trump administration has pushed ahead with plans to enhance barriers and build 33 miles of new wall in the Rio Grande Valley. Environmental groups and immigrant rights groups have called on the government to extend the public comment period for the border construction plans.
In addition to allowing more time for the public to review and comment, authors of the latest report suggested the government follow all existing environmental laws. The report also calls on the government to take extra steps to prevent ecological degradation and to forgo construction in the most environmentally sensitive areas.
While construction itself could cause significant ecological damage, the main threat to larger species, like the endangered Peninsular bighorn sheep and the Sonoran pronghorn antelope, is fragmentation. By restricting the movement of animals, the proposed border wall could effectively shrink the range of large mammals.
"Shrinking that range will lead to local population loss or declines," Dirzo told the Stanford Report. "Smaller population sizes suffer from reduced genetic variation, which reduces their capacity for adaptation."