The Amazonian forest is one of the biggest biodiversity hotpots on the planet. Harboring thousands of plant species, millions of insect species and several thousand animals, this relatively small area in total contains upwards of one tenth of the total biodiversity of the earth. But are we treating this diverse area in a way that befits its enormous species richness? Unfortunately, not.
Historically, much of the amazon has been cleared for urban expansion, lumber harvesting (32 billion trees have been logged to date!), and to make space for crop/livestock farms. In fact, since the 1970’s we have lost over 760,000 square kilometers of the Amazon to deforestation. Overall, this accounts for 12% of the total region. Depending on the extent of government regulation, this figure is projected to rise by 9 to 28% by 2050. Until very recently, these figures were some of the only metrics we had to assess the state of the amazon. Although scientists have thoroughly studied the diversity of species in the Amazon, they have overlooked the effect of deforestation has on the survival and life of its current species.
Ter Steege et al (2015) recently conducted an analysis of the 15,000+ tree species in the amazon rainforest and the results are striking. As of 2013, 25% of flora (plant) species in the amazon meet the criteria for “threatened with extinction”. From here the authors present two possible and polarized scenarios. In the ideal scenario, heavy governmental regulations are put into place and exploitation of the amazon is drastically reduced. Should this come to pass the proportion of threatened flora will merely rise to 36% and the deforested area of the amazon will rise to 21% by 2050. In the less-than-ideal scenario, there will be a lack of governmental or conservatory intervention, the proportion of threatened flora will reach 57% and the deforested area will reach 40% by 2050. Of course, the most likely scenario is something between the two extremes scenarios the authors describe.
On a more positive note, over the past several decades, Amazonian countries have allocated 52% of the amazon basin to conservation reserves, indigenous territories, or sustainable use reserves, and a substantial portion of Amazonian flora inhabit these areas.
Overall, this article suggests that further conservation action is critical in order to preserve the amazon. Losing this many flora is a big problem because they are no longer available to filter carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere, and their absence also poses problems for animals that depend on these flora for food or habitat. At the end of the day sustainability is the only way. We can only exploit earth for so long before it gets fed up and starts making life really difficult for us.