When nature aches, the consequences are often drastic. For the past two decades, the Amazon forest has suffered from blazing fires and deforestation as a direct effect of climate change. Yet the fire didn’t only lay waste to the trees and green habitats, it also strangled the Amazon’s unique biodiversity. According to the Nature report, almost 85% of the forest’s already threatened species are affected by the natural crisis.
Between regulations and limits
The Amazon forest plays a vital role in regulating the Earth’s climate, standing firm in the face of adversity. Not only does it support almost half of the world’s remaining tropical forests, but it is also a home for 10% of all known species. Despite its significance, regulations aimed for its protection remain lacking.
Though Brazil’s management policies during the 2000s managed to slow the rate of habitat destruction, their relaxed reinforcement, along with the 2019 governmental approval change, drove things south, fast.
“We show how policy has had a direct and enormous influence on the pace at which biodiversity across the entire Amazon has been affected,” says senior author Brian Enquist, a professor in the University of Arizona ecology and evolutionary biology department.
“Even with policies in place, which you can think of as a brake slowing the rate of deforestation, it’s like a car that keeps moving forward, just at a slower speed,” says senior author Brian Enquist, a professor in the University of Arizona ecology and evolutionary biology department. “But in 2019, it’s like the foot was let off the brake, causing it to accelerate again.”
Biodiversity and survival
According to Arie Staal, an ecologist at Utrecht University in the Netherlands, biodiversity increases the forest’s resilience to drought. Thus, experts agree that the consequences of threats to the survival of biodiversity can initiate a hardly-reversible chain of events. “If the fire-impacted area continues to rise, not only does the Amazon lose forest cover, but also some of its capacity to cope with the changing climate,” he added.
Moreover, with fires diving deep into the forest, many animal and plant species will suffer for the first time the wrath of such fires. “If the fire-impacted area continues to rise, not only does the Amazon lose forest cover, but also some of its capacity to cope with the changing climate.”
“Fire is not a part of the natural cycle in the rainforest,” says coauthor Crystal N. H. McMichael at the University of Amsterdam. “Native species lack the adaptations that would allow them to cope with it, unlike the forest communities in temperate areas. Repeated burning can cause massive changes in species composition and likely devastating consequences for the entire ecosystem.”
The Amazon has been losing almost 20% of its forest since the 1960s, with fires and deforestation being the main culprits. Though reports always bundle these two culprits together, that has not always been the case. In the Amazon, fire is often used as means of clearing large areas of rainforest for the agricultural industry. However, with climate change increasing regional drought seasons, deforestation is surging. In return, deforestation increases the chances of out of control wildfires. Thus, experts estimate the forest loss to reach almost 40% by 2050 if no serious implantation takes place.
“What’s nasty about fire in that region is once it starts to encroach on areas that have not been burned, it degrades them irreparably and makes them more susceptible to burning in the future,” Enquist says.
“Since the majority of fires in the Amazon are intentionally set by people, preventing them is largely within our control,” says co-author Patrick Roehrdanz, senior manager of climate change and biodiversity at Conservation International. “One way is to recommit to strong anti-deforestation policies in Brazil, combined with incentives for a forest economy, and replicate them in other Amazonian countries.”
Threatening the vulnerable
The fires have already affected more than three-quarters of the 610 endangered species residing in the forest. These species are classified vulnerable to extinction, already endangered, or critically endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature. The report includes up to 264 kinds of plants, 107 amphibians, and 55 mammals. Thus, the lack of commitment to the cause, as well as natural catastrophes, is threatening the vulnerable biodiversity of our planet.