Amazon forest deteriorating too fast for world to adapt: researchers’ review finds
Two new scientific review articles by international teams of researchers paint a bleak picture of the state of the Amazon rainforest: the critical ecosystem is being damaged at an unprecedented pace, they warn, which may usher in “a qualitatively different global climate regime” with grievous effects on biodiversity and human welfare.
The papers, both published in the peer-reviewed journal Science on Thursday, summarise research on deforestation and landscape degradation in the Amazon to deliver a sharp message. The region that is key to the world’s climate system “is now perched to transition rapidly from a largely forested to a non-forested landscape,” write one set of authors, “and the changes are happening much too rapidly for Amazonian species, peoples, and ecosystems to respond adaptively”.
The main culprits are human activities, such as logging and clearing forest for cattle pasture, and climate change.
“We know the two major drivers of deforestation are global climate change and regional deforestation,” said James Albert, a biologist at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette and lead author of one of the articles. “If you allow development to proceed unregulated, you will have an ecological disaster.”
Albert and his team analysed data from the Science Panel for the Amazon Assessment Report, which documents changes to the rainforest’s ecosystem and biodiversity. Specifically, they compared how fast humans are changing the Amazon with the speed at which other natural processes are affecting it. They found that human factors are causing degradation and habitat destruction at a rate hundreds to thousands of times faster than natural phenomena.
Already, 17 per cent of the rainforest has impacted by disturbances like logging, fires and road expansion, and 14 per cent of it has been replaced with pasture or cropland.
The second review focuses on other human-caused factors that degrade the Amazon – including timber extraction, fire and extreme drought. By analysing existing data, the researchers found that these impacts are degrading roughly 2.5 million square kilometres, representing more than one-third of the region’s remaining forest.