Experts estimate that our planet is home to around 8.7 million species, more than 80% of which haven't yet been identified. The Amazon is the world's largest area of tropical rainforest, and it's home to the biggest collection of plants and animals. Now we've found 400 more new species there.
A place rich in magical new flora and fauna
We all know that rainforests are absolutely stuffed with magical flora and fauna, many of which are yet to be discovered. But nobody predicted that a two year study would deliver almost four hundred new species in the Amazon rainforest alone, hinting that the remarkable richness and diversity of the world's forests are probably even greater than anyone imagined.
The study, which ran between 2014 and 2015, revealed 381 new species in the Amazon region, according to a report by the World Wildlife Fund and Mamiraua Institute for Sustainable Development. Apparently the researchers tracked down a new species every two days or so, finding in total 216 new plants, 93 fish, 32 amphibians, 20 mammals, 19 reptiles and one bird, all previously unknown. The discoveries were made across all nine countries covered by the Amazon's tropical forest.
At more risk than ever from human activity
It's amazing news. But the flip side is that these new species could so easily be lost forever, at constant risk from mining, logging, road building and climate change. All the new species were found in areas of the forest that are already at risk from human activity, and the sheer, unprecedented level of habitat change we're seeing right now means many species may go extinct before we discover their existence. That's terribly sad.
2000 new species found over three periods of research
The report is the third of its kind. The three research projects together discovered 2000 or so new species in the past 17 years. The report's authors are determined to continue research in the area to monitor and preserve biodiversity because the sheer wealth of biodiversity found there is unique and unparalleled.
Let's hope their work plays a part in protecting this absolute treasure of an environment.
In a bid to stop rainforest deforestation, trees in Brazil's mighty Amazon are being kitted out with special mobile phones so that they can ‘ring for assistance' if they're cut down! This incredible move has been launched in a bid to help the local authorities to deal with illegal logging as soon as it starts to occur.
A hidden phone in the trees
The system is called the Invisible Tracck and it's purposefully small and discreet; just the size of a cigarette packet and fuelled by a basic battery cell. This allows it to be stored in the tree's branches and it activates itself automatically if it registers a falling motion from felling. At this point, the system waits to pick up a mobile signal – which it is capable of picking up from as far as twenty miles away – and when the connection is made, it registers an automatic call for aid, triggering a swoop from the rainforest authorities.
The radio module box uses BGS2 technology and was developed locally in Brazil by an organisation called Cargo Tracck, which have a primary market in vehicle and truck tracking. Now, the firm's staff are turning their talents towards efforts to prevent rainforest deforestation instead.
The innovative Invisible Tracck should be able to run itself for up to a year before it needs a battery change. Although the forest itself is generally short of reliable phone network coverage, there are plenty of towns arising around the saw mills and these generally bring good connectivity with them. The authorities hope that even the threat of these devices will help to prevent rainforest deforestation and give illegal loggers pause to think about what they are doing, the damage they are causing and the repercussions if they do find themselves at the centre of a logging raid.
Campaigners against rainforest destruction can afford a brief moment of satisfaction thanks to recent satellite images released in November. The photos of the Brazilian Amazon rainforest showed that its destruction had slowed to the lowest level since the monitoring work began. The satellite showed that between August 2011 to July 2012, just under 1800 square miles in the Amazon were destroyed, according to the Brazilian Government's environment minister, Izabella Teixeira.
Although the figure is still too high for campaigners, it is still 27% lower than the previous year's figure of just under 2,480 square miles.
The Brazilian National Institute for Space Research also said that the Amazon's rate of deforestation had reached its lowest level since the organisation began capturing its measurements in 1988. The institute said that these figures have also suggested that Brazil is already close to its 2020 target, to reduce deforestation rates by 80%, from its 1990 recorded levels. The government have attributed this success down to improvements in surveillance technologies designed to record illegal activities and a tighter enforcement of its environmental laws.
About the Amazon
The mighty Amazon comprises over 50% of the world's remaining rainforest mass and in addition to being the largest in the world, it's also the most species-rich. Brazil is home to 63% of the rainforest, which stands at an awe-inspiring 2.4m square miles.
Still room for improvement
However, those involved in protecting the rainforest, from charities to the Brazilian and world governments, have agreed that there is still a great deal of work to be done in preventing rainforest deforestation, in terms of raising consumer awareness and educating the next generation to make more environmentally-friendly decisions, tightening up laws, finding more sustainable agriculture and manufacturing methods and promoting holistic businesses that preserve, rather than damage the land.
Brazil has announced that it will be setting up a special environmental task force to combat the soaring problem of illegal rainforest deforestation in the Amazon. The new unit is going to be conducting regular and permanent checks and surveillance of the dwindling Amazon rainforest, where illegal deforestation activities have grown 220% in the last month alone, compared to the previous year.
The task force
The new task force will have backing from a range of government bodies, including the army and federal police, along with the police unit of Brazil's Environment Institution, the IBAMA. The authorities plan to focus their surveillance operations on the problematic dry season, which tends to see a rise in secret logging. Brazil's Environmental Minister explained that the criminals involved in environmental crimes were becoming more sophisticated, meaning that the government had to response with more modern ways of carrying out surveillance and rainforest protection activities.
The figures are worrying too, with logging covering an area of over 210 square miles recorded in August, which was an exponential rise on the previous year's figures. The drivers combining to encourage this illicit logging activity are thought to be drought, land grabs and the pressure of international soybean and other commodity prices. Land-grabs by settlers are being seen far more frequently along the Amazon's nearby Trans-Amazonian road, which is being newly asphalted and ripe for nearby aligned economic development.
The problem isn't simply Brazil's but 60% of the vast Amazon – the world's largest rainforest – is located within its borders. The problems with illegal deforestation to date have made this huge country one of the globe's worst offenders for greenhouse gas emissions, but the government is now committed to curbing illegal rainforest deforestation and has made great strides towards achieving this. Meanwhile, the pressure of the international community remains strong, as observers wait to see how effective these latest measures are.
Researchers have discovered that rainforest deforestation leads to dramatically reduced rainfall in the areas affected, with predictions that rain could decrease by 21% in the Amazon Basin alone by 2050 if current deforestation rates continue.
Fascinating – and worrying – results
The scientists working on the project found that air passing over forest vegetation naturally produces twice the amount of rain than air passing over sparser ground. In some recorded cases, rainfall many thousands of miles away was being linked to the rainforests. The implications suggest that a failure to protect the rainforest and to continue logging and destruction activities will seriously reduce the amount of rainfall in both the surrounding areas and further afield.
The study suggested that the Congo and Amazon rainforests could be amongst the most affected, with severe consequences for communities living in the surrounding regions.
Scientists have been debating whether vegetation leads to increased rainfall for many years, with unclear results between the link of quantity of rain and its geographic reach. These results will show conclusively that rainforest preservation projects must be prioritised by governments and corporations alike.
Governments must act
The leading researcher on the project, Dr Spracklen, pointed to the positive efforts by the Brazilian government to slow down the rates of historically high deforestation throughout the Amazon, adding that the results of his team's study showed that such efforts must continue. Certainly, rainforests once covered around 14% of the earth's surface and now they cover just 6%, with 1.5 acres being lost each second to logging companies. There is certainly plenty of scope for improvement and projects such as these provide activists and decision-makers with plenty of compelling evidence to push for positive changes, to preserve our planet's future. We're pleased to hear that the results of these studies will help to further the cause of rainforest protection and encourage further efforts to save the rainforest.