50% of Amazonian tree species under threat

It looks like more than half the tree species in the Amazonian rainforest are under threat from extinction. On the bright side, ‘if properly managed' the the region's many splendid parks, reserves and the land owned and looked after by indigenous people will offer the protection the species need to survive.

Five decades of rainforest decline

The forest cover in the Amazon region has been in decline for more than fifty years, and scientists have never really got to grips with the way the gradual deforestation has affected individual tree species. This study compared information from surveys right across the region with modern maps and projections estimating future levels of deforestation to pin down how many species have been lost and where.

The research comes from a team of 158 researchers from 21 countries, headed up by Hans ter Steege from  the Dutch Naturalis Biodiversity Center in the Netherlands and Nigel Pitman from the The Field Museum in Chicago.

Research reveals the threat to rainforests worldwide

The conclusion is that anything between 36% and 57% of species probably qualify as threatened under the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species classification. Interestingly, the results of the study have much wider implications. The same trends probably apply throughout other tropical rainforests elsewhere in the world, and the findings gives us clues about how they are likely to be affected by species loss in the future.

Keeping up the good work

The researchers conclude that most of the world's forty thousand or more tropical tree species are likely to qualify as threatened. On the other hand, because more than half of the Amazon Basin is protected or owned by indigenous people, vast areas of forest are better protected than ever before.

It's all thanks to the hard work of local people, politicians and conservationists locally, nationally and internationally, who have worked hard in recent decades to improve rainforest conservation. This, and improving the rights of indigenous people, has dramatic benefits for biodiversity.

A battle we'll see playing out in our lifetimes

The report's conclusion is this: as long as protected forests don't degrade any more, the extinction of threatened species might be halted in its tracks. It matters because the entire region is under constant threat from the greedy and amoral,including dam construction, mining, fire and drought.

As the report's co-author William Laurance of James Cook University in Australia said, “It's a battle we're going to see play out in our lifetimes. Either we stand up and protect these critical parks and indigenous reserves, or deforestation will erode them until we see large-scale extinctions.”

Article by The Rainforest Foundation. Image by mariusz kluzniak.


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