CCNY biologist Ana Carnaval sounds alarm about accelerated deforestation in the Amazon

The global climate crisis has altered every ecosystem on planet Earth. In the Amazon, the rate of change is accelerating. 

The Amazon is home to more than 10% of all named and plant and vertebrate species. It is the core of biogeographic realm that is home to about one-third of all known species. Habitat conversion – driven by logging, forest fires, and canopy clearing, threaten this biodiversity. Global warming, climate variability, and extreme weather events amplify these threats.

City College of New York biologist Ana Carnaval along with collaborators from multiple institutions in North America, South America and Europe has determined that these anthropogenic events are pushing the entire Earth System across a critical threshold to a qualitatively different global climate scenario. Their study, entitled: “Human impacts outpace natural processes in the Amazon,” appears in the journal “Science.”

Carnaval and her colleagues compared rates of anthropogenic and natural environmental changes in the Amazon to other regions of South America. They then compared these rates with other processes in the larger Earth System. They compiled South America data from the Science Panel for the Amazon (SPA) Assessment Report which details the dimensions of the Amazon as a regional entity of the Earth System and documents Amazonian biodiversity, ecosystem function and cultural diversity. 

Among other key takeaways, they found the rate at which modern human activity drives extinction in the Neotropics is between 1,000 times and 10,000 times higher than the natural rate as estimated from the fossil record.

The Amazon is transitioning from a largely natural to a degraded landscape. After millions of years of serving as a global carbon pool, the Amazon rainforest is poised to become a net carbon source. In some areas, forest respiration and burning are outpacing photosynthesis.

Carnaval and her colleagues believe the global community must enhance conservation through legal protections and punish illegal activities for areas under public, private community, and Indigenous management. They call for international financial institutions to suspend funding for mega-infrastructure projects such as roads, bridges, railways, dams and mines in Amazonia pending independent regional environmental assessment.

They conclude: “To fail the Amazon is to fail the biosphere, and we fail to act at our own peril.”

About the City College of New York
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Erica Rex
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