Devastating human impact on the Amazon rainforest revealed

May 23, 2014
Logging. Credit: Luke Parry

The human impact on the Amazon rainforest has been grossly underestimated according to an international team of researchers from Brazil and the UK, led by Lancaster University.

They found that and surface wildfires can result in an annual loss of 54 billion tonnes of carbon from the Brazilian Amazon, increasing .

This is equivalent to 40% of the yearly carbon loss from deforestation - when entire forests are chopped down. 

This is the largest ever study estimating above and belowground carbon loss from selective logging and ground level forest fires in the tropics, based on data from 70,000 sampled trees and thousands of soil, litter and dead wood samples  from 225 sites in the eastern Brazilian Amazon.

The forest degradation often starts with logging of prized trees such as mahogany and ipe. The felling and removal of these large trees often damages dozens of neighbouring trees.

Once the forest has been logged, the many gaps in the canopy means it becomes much drier due to exposure to the wind and sun, increasing the risk of wildfires spreading inside the forest.

The combination of selective logging and wildfires damages turns primary forests into a thick scrub full of smaller trees and vines, which stores 40% less carbon than undisturbed forests.

Credit: Jos Barlow

So far, climate change policies on the tropics have effectively been focusing on reducing carbon emissions from deforestation only, not accounting for emissions coming from forest degradation.

Lead researcher Dr Erika Berenguer from Lancaster University said: "The impacts of fire and logging in tropical forests have always been largely overlooked by both the scientific community and policy makers who are primarily concerned with deforestation. Yet our results show how these disturbances can severely degrade the forest, with huge amounts of carbon being transferred from plant matter straight into the atmosphere".

The research to be published in Global Change Biology on June 3 was carried out by 10 from 11 universities and research institutions in Brazil and the UK.

The second author, Dr Joice Ferreira from Embrapa in Brazil, said: "Our findings also draw attention to the necessity for Brazil to implement more effective policies for reducing the use of fire in agriculture, as fires can both devastate private property, and escape into surrounding forests causing widespread degradation. Bringing fire and illegal logging under control is key to reaching our national commitment to reducing ." 

Explore further: Gauging the impact of tropical forest logging: Winrock develops new method for quantifying carbon emissions

More information: Erika Berenguer, Joice Ferreira, Toby Alan Gardner, Luiz Eduardo Oliveira Cruz Aragão, Plínio Barbosa de Camargo, Carlos Eduardo Cerri, Mariana Durigan, Raimundo Cosme de Oliveira Junior, Ima Célia Guimarães Vieira, Jos Barlow, "A Large-Scale Field Assessment of Carbon Stocks in Human-Modified Tropical Forests", Global Change Biology June 3 2014, provisional. DOI: 10.1111/gcb.12627

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

New method can aid rainforest, help loggers

Nov 18, 2011

(PhysOrg.com) -- Reduced-impact logging (RIL) in an Amazon rainforest generated profits while emitting a small fraction of carbon compared with total forest clearing, a University at Albany study concludes.

Amazon inhales more carbon than it emits, NASA finds

Mar 19, 2014

(Phys.org) —A new NASA-led study seven years in the making has confirmed that natural forests in the Amazon remove more carbon dioxide from the atmosphere than they emit, therefore reducing global warming. ...

79 years of monitoring demonstrates dramatic forest change

Jan 06, 2014

Long-term changes to forests affect biodiversity and how future fires burn. A team of scientists led by Research Ecologist Dr. Eric Knapp, from the U.S. Forest Service's Pacific Southwest Research Station, found dramatic ...

Recommended for you

Rising anger as Nicaragua canal to break ground

21 hours ago

As a conscripted soldier during the Contra War of the 1980s, Esteban Ruiz used to flee from battles because he didn't want to have to kill anyone. But now, as the 47-year-old farmer prepares to fight for ...

Hopes, fears, doubts surround Cuba's oil future

Dec 20, 2014

One of the most prolific oil and gas basins on the planet sits just off Cuba's northwest coast, and the thaw in relations with the United States is giving rise to hopes that Cuba can now get in on the action.

User comments : 10

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

Moebius
5 / 5 (7) May 23, 2014
As I said here years ago, the destructors of the amazon rainforest are more our enemy than 100 Al Quedas could ever hope to be.
Sinister1812
5 / 5 (3) May 24, 2014
As I said here years ago, the destructors of the amazon rainforest are more our enemy than 100 Al Quedas could ever hope to be.


Yes they are. They are short-sighted and only care about profiting.
rachin
not rated yet May 31, 2014
So... Global carbon emissions are about 10 GtC/year. This article says the Amazon loses 54 GtC/year. So where does it go? Some to the atmosphere, but seemingly only a small portion. The rest "leaves" the forest by hitting the forest floor? Wondering...
Caliban
5 / 5 (2) May 31, 2014
So... Global carbon emissions are about 10 GtC/year. This article says the Amazon loses 54 GtC/year. So where does it go? Some to the atmosphere, but seemingly only a small portion. The rest "leaves" the forest by hitting the forest floor? Wondering...


Rachin,

You'll probably find that the 10 GTonne/Y figure is incorrect. For instance:

http://www.livesc...els.html

Of The 54GT harvested/burned from the Amazon forest every year, most of that carbon is still contained in the wood products manufactured from the timber, and results in:

This is equivalent to 40% of the yearly carbon loss from deforestation - when entire forests are chopped down.


As stated in the article, so only ~40% of the 54GT is converted to charcoal, soot, CO2, or lost from the soil of the harvested areas.

ryggesogn2
1 / 5 (4) May 31, 2014
As I said here years ago, the destructors of the amazon rainforest are more our enemy than 100 Al Quedas could ever hope to be.


Yes they are. They are short-sighted and only care about profiting.

Who owns the trees?
Caliban
5 / 5 (2) May 31, 2014
As I said here years ago, the destructors of the amazon rainforest are more our enemy than 100 Al Quedas could ever hope to be.


Yes they are. They are short-sighted and only care about profiting.

Who owns the trees?


Apparently, the Forest Products Industry does.

How are your shares in APP doing, rygsuckn'?

Troll.

ryggesogn2
1 / 5 (4) May 31, 2014
"the Brazilian government possesses the territory where the Amazon rainforest is located. But does it legitimately own this area? The difference between possession and ownership can be illustrated by the example of a person who stole a watch and walked away unpunished. The thief does possess the watch, but the property remains owned by the victim, who has the right of reclaiming it if the thief is caught."
http://mises.org/...e-Amazon
Caliban
5 / 5 (2) May 31, 2014
"the Brazilian government possesses the territory where the Amazon rainforest is located. But does it legitimately own this area? The difference between possession and ownership can be illustrated by the example of a person who stole a watch and walked away unpunished. The thief does possess the watch, but the property remains owned by the victim, who has the right of reclaiming it if the thief is caught."
http://mises.org/...e-Amazon


Precisely, rygsuckn'.

Therefore, the Forest Products Industry can legitimately be labeled thieves.

Moron.
ryggesogn2
1 / 5 (3) Jun 01, 2014
Then the govt is failing to protect its property.
Why?
Caliban
5 / 5 (1) Jun 02, 2014
Then the govt is failing to protect its property.
Why?


Perhaps it was stolen from them. Have you ever managed to protect your property after it was theived?

Have you ever not posed a meaningless question?

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.