(NaturalNews) New research has determined that human disturbances have made the Amazon rainforest much more flammable and that even in areas of protected forest human activity has degraded the landscape.
As reported by the BBC, the two-year study of the Brazilian Amazon found that a range of activity including logging and defragmentation has dramatically increased the chance for more wildfires.
Though the Brazilian Amazon is supposed to be protected from widespread deforestation, the new study, which was published in the journal Nature, suggests that a larger effort is necessary to “safeguard the hyper-diversity of tropical forest ecosystems.”
As the BBC noted further, the study’s authors pointed out that on their own, rainforests are not normally in danger of igniting.
“Rainforests don’t normally burn,” said the study’s lead researcher, Prof. Jos Barlow, from the Lancaster Environment Center. “But human activities are making them much more flammable.”
50 percent – not the required 80 percent
The research team’s goal was to measure the effects that humans were having on the rainforest, which was not an easy thing to do given the sheer size of it at 5.5 million square kilometers (2.1 million square miles). But in order to accomplish the research, the team selected 400 plots on a gradient of forest cover, which ranged from pristine to deforested areas.
Over the span of two years the team gathered data from the sites in the Eastern Amazon through a tedious analysis of tree, bird and insect densities. Importantly, the study looked at areas of forest that are supposed to be protected by the Forest Code, a centralized policy that was designed to limit deforestation by requiring landowners in the Amazon to maintain at least 80 percent forest coverage.
“If you can imagine a landscape with 80 percent forest cover, I think most environmentalists would say that’s a very good scenario and you’ve maintained most of your core habitat there,” Barlow told the BBC. The BBC noted further:
Selective logging, for example, can leave the forest fragmented or punch holes in the canopy, drying out the vegetation below. This, combined with the effects of climate change, is leaving the Amazon much more likely to catch fire.
Another member of the team, Dr. Alexander Lees from Cornell University, said that many bird species unique to the Amazon were suffering the most from these effects. These endemic species, he said, “cannot survive in disturbed forests.”
‘Immediate action is required’
“Protecting tropical forests is a fundamental pillar of many national and international strategies for conserving biodiversity,” said the study. “Although improved regulatory and incentive measures have reduced deforestation rates in some tropical nations, the conservation value of the world’s remaining primary forests may be undermined by the additional impacts of disturbance, which falls into two broad categories.
“First, landscape disturbance results from deforestation itself, with area, isolation and edge effects degrading the condition of the remaining forests,” the study continued. “Second, within forest disturbance, such as wildfires and selective logging, induces marked changes in forest structure and species composition.”
Barlow also noted, “We need to keep focusing on reducing deforestation, but we need to think about forest disturbance – how we can monitor it, how we can reduce it, and how we can maintain pristine forest in large blocks as well.”
He added: “Immediate action is required to combat forest disturbance in tropical nations,” said Silvio Ferraz from the University of Sao Paulo, who was also involved in the study. “This is particularly important in Brazil, which holds up to 40 percent of the world’s remaining tropical forests.”