Half of tree species in the Amazon at risk of extinction, say scientists – ‘It’s a battle we’re going to see play out in our lifetimes’Posted by Jim at Friday, November 20, 2015
By Damian Carrington
20 November 2015
(The Guardian) – More than half the myriad tree species in the Amazon could be heading for extinction, according to a study that makes the first comprehensive estimate of threatened species in the world’s largest rainforest. Among the species expected to suffer significant falls in numbers are the Brazil nut, and wild cacao and açai trees, all important food sources.
The world’s most diverse forest has endured decades of deforestation, with loggers, farmers, and miners responsible for the removal of 12% of its area. If that continues in the decades ahead, 57% of the 15,000 tree species will be in danger, according to the researchers.
However, if existing protected areas and indigenous territories across the vast area suffer no further damage, the number of species at risk would be restricted to a third of the total.
“Forests in the Amazon have been declining since the 1950s, but [until now] there was a poor understanding of how this has affected populations of individual species,” said Prof Carlos Peres, at the University of East Anglia, one of the 158 scientists from 21 countries who worked together on the study.
“Protected areas and indigenous territories now cover over half of the Amazon basin. But forests and reserves still face a barrage of threats, from dam construction and mining, to wildfires and droughts intensified by global warming.”
Brazil, which holds 60% of the Amazon forest, has sharply cut its rates of deforestation in the last decade. But elsewhere the felling continues unchecked, and it is increasing in Bolivia and Peru. Overall, an area the size of about 4,500 football pitches is still being lost every day.
If Brazil can restrict its deforestation to current levels and other countries improve to match that, protected areas could remain largely untouched. But Rafael Salomão, of Emílio Goeldi Museum in Belem, Brazil, and a member of the research team, said: “The vast majority of protected areas in the Amazon have no management plan or budget and few resident qualified personnel.”
Furthermore, demand for beef, soy and palm oil, which drives much deforestation, is likely to rise rapidly as the global population grows, increasing the pressure to clear more forest. “It’s a battle we’re going to see play out in our lifetimes,” said William Laurance, of James Cook University in Australia, who was also part of the study. [more]
ABSTRACT: Estimates of extinction risk for Amazonian plant and animal species are rare and not often incorporated into land-use policy and conservation planning. We overlay spatial distribution models with historical and projected deforestation to show that at least 36% and up to 57% of all Amazonian tree species are likely to qualify as globally threatened under International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List criteria. If confirmed, these results would increase the number of threatened plant species on Earth by 22%. We show that the trends observed in Amazonia apply to trees throughout the tropics, and we predict that most of the world’s >40,000 tropical tree species now qualify as globally threatened. A gap analysis suggests that existing Amazonian protected areas and indigenous territories will protect viable populations of most threatened species if these areas suffer no further degradation, highlighting the key roles that protected areas, indigenous peoples, and improved governance can play in preventing large-scale extinctions in the tropics in this century.