Custom papers academic service


An introduction to the history of the issue of eliminating rain forests in south america

Deforestation and the expansion of the agricultural frontier go hand in hand within the context of occupation and land use in the region, followed by a hasty process of industrialization since the 1950s and, more recently, by a nation-wide attempt to adapt Brazil to economic globalization.

Intensive agriculture and cattle-raising, lack of territorial planning, the monoculture of certain crops often promoted by official agencies, and the introduction of exotic species by cultivation are some of the factors affecting Amazonian biodiversity. There are still large gaps in knowledge that need to be dealt with for a better understanding of the local ecosystems so as to allow their preservation, but such investigation is subjected to manifold hindrances by misinformation, disinformation and sheer ignorance from the legal authorities and influential media.

Data available for select groups of organisms indicate that the magnitude of the loss and waste of natural resources associated with deforestation is staggering, with estimated numbers of lost birds and primates being over ten times that of such animals illegally commercialized around the world in one year. The challenges to be met for an eventual reversal of this situation demand more systematic and concerted studies, the consolidation of new and existing research groups, and a call for a halt to activities depleting the Amazonian rainforest.

Introduction The highest annual rates of deforestation ever registered for Amazonia occur in the region known as the Deforestation Arch, which occupies most of its east-west expanse, and is currently under pressure from interest groups from all over the country, which are occupying public lands for the development of agricultural and cattle-raising activities.

In spite of the fact that most of the literature hitherto published indicated that the diversity and the fragility of Amazonian ecosystems demanded careful, well-planned occupation, colonization of Amazonia since the late 1960s was marked by a violent process of occupation and environmental degradation typical of "frontier economics", in which progress is understood simply as boundless economic growth and prosperity, based on the exploitation of natural resources perceived as equally limitless Becker, 2001.

Disregarding the peculiarities of the diverse Amazonian ecological spaces and the desires and aspirations of local populations, an alien model based on the predatory extraction of forest resources, followed by the replacement of the forest by expanses for grazing and agriculture, proved inappropriate for the region.

Occupation took place in overwhelming bursts associated with the momentary valorization of products in domestic and international markets, followed by long periods of stagnation Becker, 2004.

Page not available

The environmental cost of this process, with some 700,000 km2 of natural ecosystems undergoing drastic changes by 2005, surpasses by far the limited social benefits generated by such activities. The social and economic failure of this model of colonization over the past thirty years was not enough to restrain the process of indiscriminate occupation of the Amazonian territory. If such activities were once financed by official resources, leased at low interest rates and payable in endless installments, now highly capitalized sectors of Brazilian society are jointly working in order to promote a new era of aggressive occupation of the region, taking advantage of the fragility of the state structure in the region and the support of political sectors little concerned with local aspirations.

Consequently, we have witnessed a considerable increase in deforestation in the region. In the past four years alone, some 92,000 km2 of forest have been destroyed. In this article, we present a review of recent data on deforestation in Amazonia, supporting the claim that it is responsible for an enormous rate of loss of biodiversity. Large-scale human pressure on Amazonian resources has long been a factor of environmental devastation. Most of the deforestation conducted in Amazonia has taken place without any permission by the authorities in charge.

For instance, the total area authorized for deforestation in Legal Amazonia by the country's official agency for environmental protection, the Brazilian Institute for the Environment and Renewable Natural Resources IBAMA corresponds only to 14. Causal Factors of Deforestation and Degradation The appearance of altered or degraded areas in Amazonia is directly related to the process of its human occupation.

In fact, human interference in the forest is centuries-old, either for exploiting wood or non-wooden products, or for the practice of traditional slash-and-burn agriculture and intensive cattle-raising. Soon, other roadways such as the Trans-Amazonian highway were built and tax incentives were created for small-scale agriculture and intensive cattle-raising in those settlements.

Ultimately, this decentralized rural-urban model failed and, by the mid-1970s, a program of large-scale projects was implemented instead, with a massive injection of funds mainly towards mining, wood extraction, cattle-raising and energy-production initiatives.

Some of the main causal factors of deforestation in Amazonia are described in the sections that follow. Agriculture and Cattle-Raising The development of Amazonia relies on an expanding, voracious economic model based on agriculture and cattle-raising, installed in a consolidated frontier region.

In the past five years, the mean rate of annual deforestation in Amazonia has been of about 1.

  1. Ranching, logging, and mining are prime examples of destructive practices that profit a few but destroy the forest for all.
  2. Ultimately, this decentralized rural-urban model failed and, by the mid-1970s, a program of large-scale projects was implemented instead, with a massive injection of funds mainly towards mining, wood extraction, cattle-raising and energy-production initiatives.
  3. The Fate of the Forest.
  4. The thinning of the protective canopy exposes the forest to increased sunlight and drying winds that can kill symbiotic soil organisms essential for decomposition and nutrient-fixing, while drying leaf litter and increasing the forest's vulnerability to fire. It is not population pressure but the inequitable distribution of land ownership that creates the most pressure on tropical forests.
  5. See diagram 1 in appendix.

Some of that area was deforested for the implementation of agricultural and cattle-raising activities that ceased after a couple of years and abandoned by its owners. Tax incentives for cattle-raising have decreased in recent years, but technological and management adaptations for geoecological conditions in areas such as the "consolidated" frontier of Eastern Amazonia made way for an increase in productivity and cost reduction.

Poor economics

The main agents of deforestation for the implementation of pastures are large- and medium-size cattle raisers. However, there is a large number of go-betweens, with low opportunity costs, who anticipate those cattle-raisers and are directly responsible for much of the deforestation.

Expansion of cattle-raising in Amazonia has benefited from the availability of inexpensive lands and, in many cases, from the disregard of environmental and labor laws. This development of the agricultural frontier and deforestation in Amazonia occurs in the context of the regionalization of Brazilian agriculture, following the accelerated industrialization initiated in the 1950s and expanded in the recent attempts by Brazil to adapt itself to economic globalization.

Within this framework, several factors may lead to high rates of deforestation, such as the availability of public and private funding, population dynamics, the organization of production systems and various physical conditions.

  • Therefore, ignorance is a threat of enormous consequences;
  • Poverty and economic debt;
  • Without the education to know that conservation is crucial, people would not realize how vital it is to their survival to keep the rainforest intact;
  • Occupation took place in overwhelming bursts associated with the momentary valorization of products in domestic and international markets, followed by long periods of stagnation Becker, 2004;
  • The downed trees and flora are then burnt, so that all of the nutrients in the plants are turned into ash, which is mixed with soil;
  • The main agents of deforestation for the implementation of pastures are large- and medium-size cattle raisers.

All those factors show considerable variation from region to region and involve diverse social groups and production networks that need to be recognized regionally, socially and economically, so as to allow for the formulation of appropriate public policies. Lack of Territorial Planning According to Dirzo 2001 and Wright 2005the future of tropical regions is directly linked to the process of conversion of the phytophysiognomies of natural forest in cultivation areas.

This global pattern is even more accentuated in Brazil. One of the main problems associated to this economy based on agriculture and cattle-raising is territorial planning, since the undefined land situation allows for intense, uncontrolled and unplanned human intervention. What are the prospects of optimistically changing this current pattern? Then again, official inductive, reparatory and surveillance actions are generally slower than chainsaws and skidding chains.

7 reasons to save the rainforest

Unfortunately, the likelihood for reversion is very slight. Monoculture In recent years, mechanized agriculture aimed at the international market has been implemented in Amazonia, a process that engages an indirect cycle of deforestation, generally for the benefit of the cultivation of a single, highly profitable crop. The monoculture of soybeans has found a receptive niche in the region, motivated by the low cost of the land and the fragility of environmental law enforcement throughout northern Brazil.

With the promotion of ethanol fuel as an economically viable alternative to fossil fuels by the current Administration, two prime candidates for monoculture in Amazonia have recently emerged: The same economic factors that made soybean monoculture a lucrative business for some entrepreneurs may well make the single-species cultivation of sugarcane and red palm in Amazonia an attractive prospect in no time. Considering the havoc to biodiversity caused by the monoculture of soybean and other plants in Brazil and in other countries, this is a matter of serious concern indeed.

  1. There are potentially millions of animal and plant species that are yet to even be discovered!
  2. Incensed with a misguided perception of scientists especially, but not only, foreign nationals as potential biopirates bent on exploiting this "national genetic patrimony", IBAMA officers have often threatened systematists and ecologists with heavy fines and even imprisonment for having collected one more specimen of a frog or an insect without due license, for having provisionally examined collected material in an institution other than the one for which it was earmarked for permanent holding, or for not reporting beforehand the collection of a new species that was just being described. And the way to change human behavior is thorough education….
  3. Chinese timber firms have been particularly active during that period and the early 2000s, after the government banned domestic logging in much of the country following catastrophic flooding in 1998.
  4. Distribution, Biology, and Management of Exotic Fishes. For instance, the great majority of botanical collections of Amazonian material currently available for study hold a low density of specimens in a clumped, biased distribution.

A number of edible exotic species brought to the region for commercial-scale farming, including African tilapia Oreochromis spp. Even though they are well-known as exotic species, their cultivation is fostered by many Government projects in northern and northeastern Brazil. The environmental impacts of tilapia introduction are well-known, and can be of two major types: Information on the impact of tilapia in Amazonia is urgently needed.

In this latter Amazonian locality, it was found reproducing normally in estuarine waters Barros and Silva, 1997. Macrobrachium rosenbergii is a prolific, omnivorous and quite voracious prawn of great commercial value and potentially dangerous to native species as a transmitter of the White Spot Syndrome WSS virus Gazola-Silva et al.

On the other hand, not all exotic species should be associated to hazards to biodiversity. In the case of plants, only those with a strong capacity for seed dispersal and fast reproduction should pose real threats, and, in contrast to those, introduced coconut palms Cocos nucifera Linnaeus, 1753 may be seen as a useful tool for the indirect conservation of the protected indigenous lands of Brazil.

Those lands are important to the conservation of biodiversity because their inhabitants maintain the integrity of the ecosystems within their respective area, and coconut palms are highly valuable to them as a source of raw material Salm et al. The bottom line is that the introduction of exotic species is generally risky, and the very existence of successful counterexamples calls for a very careful impact assessment prior to any introduction.

At any rate, researchers working within the industry should be always fully aware of the possible threats to local biodiversity posed by escapees from cultivation ponds. Misinformation and Disinformation Throughout many decades of historically-oriented biogeographical studies focusing on organism distribution patterns explained by means of barriers long gone, it has been taken for granted that Amazonian ecology should be generally uniform.

It was only in the past fifteen years or so that ecological heterogeneity in the region was acknowledged, and further, more detailed and thorough studies on the ecology of present-day Amazonia are necessary Tuomisto and Ruokolainen, 1997.

Scientific collections are repositories of specimens found in a region, and, ideally, they should be representative of that region's diversity and richness. However, this ideal situation is still far on the horizon. For instance, the great majority of botanical collections of Amazonian material currently available for study hold a low density of specimens in a clumped, biased distribution: At any rate, the plant biodiversity of the region may be considerably underestimated, and the implementation of sound collecting programmes is of paramount importance to fill in those sizeable gaps of knowledge.

Obviously, the fuller the knowledge we have of the Amazonian environment, the better prepared we shall be to protect and maintain its biodiversity. Therefore, ignorance is a threat of enormous consequences.

That branch of the Ministry of the Environment has determined all life forms in Brazilian territory as sharing what was called the "national genetic patrimony", an abstract entity defined legally but lacking any biological reality, which could be a conceivable target of biopiracy.

  • One paradigm of plant succession is that the abiotic environment determines the pathway of vegetation changes, leading ultimately to a relatively stable species assemblage Clements 1916;
  • Most attempts to turn tropical forest into farmland have failed, resulting in damaged soil and disrupted water systems, leaving settlers even more desperate for land;
  • Advanced Search Abstract Land-use practices can dramatically shift the trajectories of rain forest recovery;
  • Here are 7 reasons why we should be protecting our rainforests;
  • Sustainable development allows the forests to be utilized at a rate that does not threaten the future survival of the forests.

Incensed with a misguided perception of scientists especially, but not only, foreign nationals as potential biopirates bent on exploiting this "national genetic patrimony", IBAMA officers have often threatened systematists and ecologists with heavy fines and even imprisonment for having collected one more specimen of a frog or an insect without due license, for having provisionally examined collected material in an institution other than the one for which it was earmarked for permanent holding, or for not reporting beforehand the collection of a new species that was just being described.

Lacking basic notions of natural history, life cycles or population dynamics, they act as environmental zealots bordering on the irrational, banning researchers from collecting any reasonable number of specimens so as "not to endanger the species".

The problem of our collective ignorance of many patterns and processes involving the diversity and distribution of Amazonian organisms is compounded by the plain ignorance of some misinformed officials who are ironically in charge of that all-powerful environmental agency. To remedy this, there have been high-level talks between leading scientific institutions and IBAMA, but progress has been dismayingly slow due to bureaucracy, miscommunication and a certain lack of goodwill on the part of authorities who should have known better.

Deforestation and Loss of Biodiversity Annual estimates of forest loss in Amazonia are calculated by means of satellite imagery and measurements in square kilometers.

Thus, for the 2003-2004 period, deforestation in the region is estimated at about 26,130 km2. What is not generally known is the number of living organisms which may be considered natural resources lost per square kilometer of cut-down forest.

Plants attain an extraordinary biodiversity in Amazonia. It is estimated that the region harbors some 40,000 vascular plant species, of which 30,000 are endemic Mittermeier et al. In one hectare of Amazonian forest, some 400 to 750 such trees can be found. A recent study estimated that, in the region of the Deforestation Arch, the number of such trees in an area of 1 km2 of forest may vary from 45,000 to 55,000 Ter Steege et al.

By multiplying these values by the above-mentioned total deforested area, we can estimate some 1,175,850,000 to 1,437,150,000 trees were cut down in the Arch between 2003 and 2004.

Two groups of animals for which some statistics are available are birds and primates. It is thought that Amazonia harbors over 1,000 avian species: The same calculations done previously for plants yield an estimate of 43 to 50 million individual birds affected by deforestation in that period.

As for primates, which comprise fourteen genera in Amazonia, of which five are endemic, studies conducted in various subregions show that their density vary considerably Peres and Dolman, 2000.

Those numbers, albeit in a somewhat oversimplified way, may give us a notion of the magnitude of the loss and waste of natural resources associated to deforestation in Amazonia. Estimated numbers for animals are also huge, many times higher than those known, for instance, for the illegal animal trade: Such numbers are mere fractions of what would have been lost with deforestation in Amazonia last year.

Loss of biodiversity is the main consequence of deforestation in Amazonia, and is also totally irreversible. It is always possible to prevent soil erosion and recover water bodies and nutrient cycling by means of simplified ecological systems, but it is impossible to bring back extinct species.

In addition, Amazonian species are not widely distributed, but have instead a restricted distribution Cracraft, 1985. Also, most of the species are rare, with small populations and very sensitive to any change in their respective habitats Terborgh et al.

Large-scale deforestation threatens thousands of species, many of which are already listed as endangered by the Brazilian Government, such as some birds Dendrexetastes rufigula rufigula Lorenz, 1895, Dendrocincla merula badia Zimmer, 1934, Dendrocincla fuliginosa trumai Sick, 1970, Pyrrhura lepida coerulescens Neumann, 1927, Pyrrhura lepida lepida Wagler, 1927Clytoctantes atrogularis Lanyon, Stotoz and Wilard, 1990 and Phlegopsis nigromaculata paraensis Hellmayr, 1904 and primates Cebus kaapori Queiroz, 1982, Allouatta belzelbul ululata Elliot, 1912 and Chiropotes satanas Hoffmannsegg, 1807.

Some Hope for the Future: The Positive Role of Secondary Vegetation Agriculture in Amazonia creates unique landscapes composed of a shifting patchwork of crop fields, fallows of various ages, secondary forest derived from fallows, and remnants of the original vegetation.

  • From the environmental standpoint, growth of secondary forests contributes to the immobilization of carbon in the atmosphere, the re-establishment of hydrological functions, the recovery of biodiversity, the reduction of potential nutrient losses by erosion and lixiviation, and the decrease in inflammability of the landscape;
  • Impact on indigenous species to biodiversity caused by the globalisation of alien recreational freshwater fisheries;
  • The Positive Role of Secondary Vegetation Agriculture in Amazonia creates unique landscapes composed of a shifting patchwork of crop fields, fallows of various ages, secondary forest derived from fallows, and remnants of the original vegetation;
  • Rainforests around the world are being destroyed at such rates, three hundred and sixty-five days a year;
  • However, the range of rainforests that exists today is diminishing;
  • Just as the farmers do, the ranchers use the land until all the nutrients are gone.

Fallows or secondary vegetation are primarily components of an agricultural land-use system, and their ecological or forestry status as secondary vegetation or phases in the "reconstitution" of forest in this context is, indeed, secondary. Fallows are components of an integrated farming system, in which multiple objectives for the livelihoods of the farmers have to be met.

They exist for a number of ecological and socio-economic reasons, among which are the restoration of soil fertility, the reduction of erosion, the control of weeds, or the generation of opportunities to gather products for sustaining the livelihoods of the household.

As far as forest "reconstitution" is concerned, in many tropical landscapes, fallows may never develop into a community resembling the original one of the site, even if they are not subject to further disturbance. The vegetation component of the community will normally be made up of plants which regenerate naturally when the land is left fallow, useful plants which are conserved by the farmer, whether planted or naturally regenerated, and remnants of agricultural crops and weeds.

The growing consensus is that the conservation of tropical biodiversity can no longer be centred solely on protected areas, but will require action in all land use types across landscapes and regions Aide, 2000.

In this process of alteration of Amazonian ecosystems, it is important to emphasize the role of secondary vegetation areas "capoeiras" that continue to grow, and eventually could become the predominant ecosystem in the Amazonian landscape, if the current pattern of land use is kept unchecked. Secondary vegetation areas can be regarded as partially degraded ones. However, that does not mean they are ecologically worthless or unsuitable for agricultural or forestry activities.