July 13, 2012

The ‘Extinction Debt’ of Brazil’s Deforestation

Golden Lion Tamarin, BrazilEnding the forest clearance in Brazil would not save some species from the decades of destruction.

Scientists have found that ending forest clearance in Brazil would not save some species from the effects of decades of destruction.

Golden Lion Tamarin, BrazilWhilst some animals have already become extinct due to forest clearance, five times that are expected to slowly die out from breeding rates falling and competition for food increasing, caused by the loss of habitat.

This conclusion was reached by scientists at Imperial College, London, using a statistical model to calculate the Brazilian Amazon’s “extinction debt”, which means the number of species expected to go extinct as a result of past deforestation.

The Brazilian Amazon accounts for 40% of the world’s tropical forest and is one of the most biodiverse regions on the planet. However, according to the study, if the rate of forest continues to be cleared as it is now, then at least 15 mammal, 30 bird and 10 amphibian species are expected to die out  by 2050 from around half of the Amazon. The most optimistic scenario still saw the extinction debt to be as much as 38 species.

Writing in the journal Science, Robert Ewers and co-authors wrote

Deforestation in the Amazon“For now, the problem is along the arc of deforestation in the south and east where there is a long history of forest loss. But that is going to move in the future. We expect most of the species there to go extinct, and we’ll pick up more extinction debt along the big, paved highways which are now cutting into the heart of the Amazon.”

Scientists believe that their model can be used to show where conservation efforts should be focused on the most vulnerable wildlife.

Whilst in recent years, Brazil has seen a falling deforestation trend, the Brazilian government has a rapid development programme, with more than 20 hydroelectric power plants across the Amazon basin planned as well as a possible relaxation of the Brazilian Forest Code which is widely expected to weaken the protection of the Brazilian Forest. 

Source: The Guardian


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