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Cuba's Economic Isolation Protected Its Environment


By Meghan BrownJeffrey CorbinFrom corn to coal to cannabis, cultures and economies are shaped by their surrounding ecology. Nations have been built on tobacco, communities defined by migrating salmon, and wars fought in the name of spices.

Political and economic decisions can also alter a region’s ecology. Post-Columbian maritime trade initiated the accidental and intentional redistribution of plants, animals, bacteria and viruses, which continues to this day. Ecological changes spurred by politics can also be positive; for example, wildlife thrives in the demilitarized zone (DMZ) between North and South Korea.

The Cuban Revolution and the subsequent U.S.-sponsored economic blockade are preeminent global geopolitical events that define Cuba’s modern socioeconomic character. Has Cuba’s distinctive economy also impacted its modern ecology?

Cuba is among the largest and most biodiverse islands in the world. Islands are hotspots of diversity and endemism, but they are also hotbeds of nonnative species—those far from their evolutionary home. One in three plant species on islands are typically nonnative, and bigger islands with a range of habitats and native plant diversity foster the most nonnatives.

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