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BRAZIL

Brazil Forest Figures

Forest Cover
Total forest area: 477,698,000 ha
% of land area: 57.2%

Primary forest cover: 415,890,000 ha
% of land area: 49.8%
% total forest area: 87.1%

Deforestation Rates, 2000-2005
Annual change in forest cover: -3,103,000 ha
Annual deforestation rate: -0.6%
Change in defor. rate since '90s: 22.0%
Total forest loss since 1990: -42,329,000 ha
Total forest loss since 1990:-8.1%

Primary or "Old-growth" forests
Annual loss of primary forests: -3466000 ha
Annual deforestation rate: -0.8%
Change in deforestation rate since '90s: 35.0%
Primary forest loss since 1990: -17,330,000 ha
Primary forest loss since 1990:-9.7%

Forest Classification
Public: n/a
Private: n/a
Other: n/a
Use
Production: 5.5%
Protection: 17.8%
Conservation: 8.1%
Social services: 23.8%
Multiple purpose: 44.8%
None or unknown: n/a

Forest Area Breakdown
Total area: 477,698,000 ha
Primary: 415,890,000 ha
Modified natural: 56,424,000 ha
Semi-natural: n/a
Production plantation: 5,384,000 ha
Production plantation: n/a

Plantations
Plantations, 2005: 5,384,000 ha
% of total forest cover: 1.1%
Annual change rate (00-05): 21,000,000 ha

Carbon storage
Above-ground biomass: 79,219 M t
Below-ground biomass: 22,017 M t

Area annually affected by
Fire: 68,000 ha
Insects: 30,000 ha
Diseases: 20,000 ha

Number of tree species in IUCN red list
Number of native tree species: 7,880
Critically endangered: 34
Endangered: 100
Vulnerable: 187

Wood removal 2005
Industrial roundwood: 168,091,000 m3 o.b.
Wood fuel: 122,385,000 m3 o.b.

Value of forest products, 2005
Industrial roundwood: $2,897,019,000
Wood fuel: $942,020,000
Non-wood forest products (NWFPs): $193,131,000
Total Value: $4,032,170,000


More forest statistics for Brazil

Brazil holds about one-third of the world's remaining rainforests, including a majority of the Amazon rainforest. It is also overwhelmingly the most biodiverse country on Earth, with more than 56,000 described species of plants, 1,700 species of birds, 695 amphibians, 578 mammals, and 651 reptiles.

Due to the vastness of the Amazon rainforest, Brazil's average loss of 34,660 square kilometers of primary forest per year between 2000 and 2005 represents only about 0.8 percent of its forest cover. Nevertheless, deforestation in Brazil is one of the most important global environmental issues today.

The bulk of Brazil's forest cover is found in the Amazon Basin, a mosaic of ecosystems and vegetation types including rainforests (the vast majority), seasonal forests, deciduous forests, flooded forests, and savannas. This region has experienced an exceptional extent of forest loss over the past two generations—an area almost certainly exceeding 600,000 square kilometers (232,000 square miles), or about 15 percent of its total surface area of 4,005,082 square kilometers, has been cleared in the Amazon since 1970, when only 2.4 percent of the Amazon's forests had been lost. The increase in Amazon deforestation in the early 1970s coincided with the construction of the Trans-Amazonian Highway, which opened large forest areas to development by settlers and commercial interests. In more recent years, growing populations in the Amazon region, combined with increased viability of agricultural operations, have caused a further rise in deforestation rates. Since the close of the 1990s, deforestation rates of primary forest cover in Brazil have climbed by 35 percent.

Recent studies indicate that these figures do not include extensive areas degraded by fires and selective logging. Research led by the Woods Hole Research Center and the Carnegie Institution's Department of Global Ecology found that each year the amount of forest degraded is roughly equivalent to the amount of forest cleared. The finding is trouble to ecologists because degraded forest has lower levels of biodiversity and is more likely to be cleared in the future. Further, degraded forest is more susceptible to fires.

Why is the Amazon Rainforest Disappearing?

In many tropical countries, the majority of deforestation results from the actions of poor subsistence cultivators. However, in Brazil only about one-third of recent deforestation can be linked to "shifted" cultivators. A large portion of deforestation in Brazil can be attributed to land clearing for pastureland by commercial and speculative interests, misguided government policies, inappropriate World Bank projects, and commercial exploitation of forest resources. For effective action it is imperative that these issues be addressed. Focusing solely on the promotion of sustainable use by local people would neglect the most important forces behind deforestation in Brazil.

Brazilian deforestation is strongly correlated to the economic health of the country: the decline in deforestation from 1988-1991 nicely matched the economic slowdown during the same period, while the rocketing rate of deforestation from 1993-1998 paralleled Brazil's period of rapid economic growth. During lean times, ranchers and developers do not have the cash to rapidly expand their pasturelands and operations, while the government lacks funds to sponsor highways and colonization programs and grant tax breaks and subsidies to forest exploiters.

A relatively small percentage of large landowners clear vast sections of the Amazon for cattle pastureland. Large tracts of forest are cleared and sometimes planted with African savanna grasses for cattle feeding. In many cases, especially during periods of high inflation, land is simply cleared for investment purposes. When pastureland prices exceed forest land prices (a condition made possible by tax incentives that favor pastureland over natural forest), forest clearing is a good hedge against inflation.

Such favorable taxation policies, combined with government subsidized agriculture and colonization programs, encourage the destruction of the Amazon. The practice of low taxes on income derived from agriculture and tax rates that favor pasture over forest overvalues agriculture and pastureland and makes it profitable to convert natural forest for these purposes when it normally would not be so.

A Closer Look at Brazilian Deforestation

Today deforestation in the Amazon is the result of several activities, the foremost of which include:
  1. Clearing for cattle pasture
  2. Colonization and subsequent subsistence agriculture
  3. Infrastructure improvements
  4. Commercial agriculture
  5. Logging


Clearing for Cattle Pasture

Cattle ranching is the leading cause of deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon. This has been the case since at least the 1970s: government figures attributed 38 percent of deforestation from 1966-1975 to large-scale cattle ranching. However, today the situation may be even worse. According to
the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR), "between 1990 and 2001 the percentage of Europe's processed meat imports that came from Brazil rose from 40 to 74 percent" and by 2003 "for the first time ever, the growth in Brazilian cattle production—80 percent of which was in the Amazon—was largely export driven."

Several factors have spurred recent Brazil's growth as a producer of beef:
  • CURRENCY DEVALUATION—The devaluation of the Brazilian real against the dollar effectively doubled the price of beef in reals and created an incentive for ranchers to expand their pasture areas at the expense of the rainforest. The weakness of the real also made Brazilian beef more competitive on the world market [CIFOR].
  • CONTROL OVER FOOT-AND-MOUTH DISEASE—The eradication of foot-and-mouth disease in much of Brazil has increased price and demand for Brazilian beef.
  • INFRASTRUCTURE—Road construction gives developers and ranchers access to previously inaccessible forest lands in the Amazon. Infrastructure improvements can reduce the costs of shipping and packing beef.
  • INTEREST RATES—Rainforest lands are often used for land speculation purposes. When real pasture land prices exceed real forest land prices, land clearing is a good hedge against inflation. At times of high inflation, the appreciation of cattle prices and the stream of services (milk) they provide may outpace the interest rate earned on money left in the bank.
  • LAND TENURE LAWS—In Brazil, colonists and developers can gain title to Amazon lands by simply clearing forest and placing a few head of cattle on the land. As an additional benefit, cattle are a low-risk investment relative to cash crops which are subject to wild price swings and pest infestations. Essentially cattle are a vehicle for land ownership in the Amazon.
Some have suggested that agricultural certification could help reduce destructive clearing for cattle pasture.

Colonization and subsequent subsistence agriculture

A significant amount of deforestation is caused by the subsistence activities of poor farmers who are encouraged to settle on forest lands by government land policies. In Brazil, each squatter acquires the right (known as a usufruct right) to continue using a piece of land by living on a plot of unclaimed public land (no matter how marginal the land) and "using" it for at least one year and a day. After five years the squatter acquires ownership and hence the right to sell the land. Up until at least the mid-1990s this system was worsened by the government policy that allowed each claimant to gain title for an amount of land up to three times the amount of forest cleared.

Poor farmers use fire for clearing land and every year satellite images pick up
tens of thousands of fires burning across the Amazon. Typically understory shrubbery is cleared and then forest trees are cut. The area is left to dry for a few months and then burned. The land is planted with crops like bananas, palms, manioc, maize, or rice. After a year or two, the productivity of the soil declines, and the transient farmers press a little deeper and clear new forest for more short-term agricultural land. The old, now infertile fields are used for small-scale cattle grazing or left for waste.

Between 1995 and 1998, the government granted land in the Amazon to roughly 150,000 families. Forty-eight percent of forest loss in 1995 was in areas under 125 acres (50 hectares) in size, suggesting that both loggers and peasants are significant contributors to deforestation.

Infrastructure Improvements

Road construction in the Amazon leads to deforestation. Roads provide access to logging and mining sites while opening forest frontier land to exploitation by poor landless farmers.

Brazil's Trans-Amazonian Highway was one of the most ambitious economic development programs ever devised, and one of the most spectacular failures. In the 1970s, Brazil planned a 2,000-mile highway that would bisect the massive Amazon forest, opening rainforest lands to (1) settlement by poor farmers from the crowded, drought-plagued north and (2) development of timber and mineral resources. Colonists would be granted a 250-acre lot, six-months' salary, and easy access to agricultural loans in exchange for settling along the highway and converting the surrounding rainforest into agricultural land. The plan would grow to cost Brazil US$65,000 (1980 dollars) to settle each family, a staggering amount for Brazil, a developing country at the time.

The project was plagued from the start. The sediments of the Amazon Basin rendered the highway unstable and subject to inundation during heavy rains, blocking traffic and leaving crops to rot. Harvest yields for peasants were dismal since the forest soils were quickly exhausted, and new forest had to be cleared annually. Logging was difficult due to the widespread distribution of commercially valuable trees. Rampant erosion, up to 40 tons of soil per acre (100 tons/ha) occurred after clearing. Many colonists, unfamiliar with banking and lured by easy credit, went deep into debt.

Adding to the economic and social failures of the project, are the long-term environmental costs. After the construction of the Trans-Amazonian Highway, Brazilian deforestation accelerated to levels never before seen and vast swaths of forest were cleared for subsistence farmers and cattle-ranching schemes. The Trans-Amazonian Highway is a prime example of the environmental havoc that is caused by road construction in the rainforest.

Road construction and improvement continues in the Amazon today:
Paving of roads brings change in the Amazon rainforest and the Chinese economy drives road-building and deforestation in the Amazon

Commercial agriculture

Recently, soybeans have become one of the most important contributors to deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon. Thanks to a new variety of soybean developed by Brazilian scientists to flourish in rainforest climate, Brazil is on the verge of supplanting the United States as the world's
leading exporter of soybeans. High soybean prices have also served as an impetus to expanding soybean cultivation.

Philip Fearnside, co-author of a report in Science [21-May-04] and member of Brazil's National Institute for Amazonian Research in Manaus, explains, "Soybean farms cause some forest clearing directly. But they have a much greater impact on deforestation by consuming cleared land, savanna, and transitional forests, thereby pushing ranchers and slash-and-burn farmers ever deeper into the forest frontier. Soybean farming also provides a key economic and political impetus for new highways and infrastructure projects, which accelerate deforestation by other actors."

Satellite data from 2004 shows a marked increase in deforestation along the BR-163 road, a highway the government has been paving in an effort to help soy farmers from Mato Grosso get their crops to export markets. Typically, roads encourage settlement by rural poor who look to the rainforest as free land for subsistence agriculture.

Logging

In theory, logging in the Amazon is controlled by strict licensing which allows timber to be harvested only in designated areas. However, there is significant evidence that illegal logging is quite widespread in Brazil. In recent years, Ibama—Brazil's environmental enforcement agency—has made several large seizures of illegally harvested timber including one in September 2003 when 17 people were arrested for allegedly cutting 10,000 hectares worth of timber.

Logging in the Amazon is closely linked with road building. Studies by the Environmental Defense Fund show that areas that have been
selectively logged are eight times more likely to be settled and cleared by shifting cultivators than untouched rainforests because of access granted by logging roads. Logging roads give colonists access to rainforest, which they exploit for fuelwood, game, building material, and temporary agricultural lands.

Other causes of forest loss in Brazil

Historically, hydroelectric projects have flooded vast areas of Amazon rainforest. The Balbina dam flooded some 2,400 square kilometers (920 square miles) of rainforest when it was completed. Phillip Fearnside, a leading expert on the Amazon, calculated that in the first three years of its existence, the Balbina Reservoir emitted 23,750,000 tons of carbon dioxide and 140,000 tons of methane, both potent greenhouse gases which contribute to global climate change.

Mining has impacted some parts of the Amazon Basin. During the 1980s, over 100,000 prospectors invaded the state of Para when a large gold deposit was discovered, while wildcat miners are still active in the state of Roraima near the Venezuelan border. Typically, miners clear forest for building material, fuelwood collection, and subsistence agriculture.

Fires


Deforestation Figures for the Brazilian Amazon, 1978-2005


Year
Deforestation
[sq mi]
Deforestation
[sq km]
1978-1987*8,15821,130
19888,12721,050
19896,86117,770-16%
19905,30113,730-23%
19914,25911,030-20%
19925,32313,78625%
19935,75114,8968%
19945,75114,8960%
199511,22029,05995%
19967,01218,161-38%
19975,10713,227-27%
19986,71217,38331%
19996,66417,259-1%
20007,03718,2266%
20017,01418,1650%
20028,26021,65117%
20039,80525,39619%
200410,72227,7729%
20057,34119,014-31%
20065,51514,285-49%
20074,49811,651-18%
20084,98412,91111%
20092,8897,484-42%

All figures derived from official National
Institute of Space Research (INPA) figures


*For the 1978-1987 period the figures represent
the average annual rates of deforestation.

Virtually all forest clearing, by small farmer and plantation owner alike, is done by fire. Though these fires are intended to burn only limited areas, they frequently escape agricultural plots and pastures and char pristine rainforest, especially in
dry years like 2005. Many of the fires set for clearing forest for these purposes are set during the three-month burning season and the smoke produced creates widespread problems across the region, including airport closings and hospitalizations from smoke inhalation. These fires cover a vast area of forest. In 1987 during a four-month period (July-October), about 19,300 square miles (50,000 sq. km) of Brazilian Amazon were burned in the states of Parà, Rondonia, Mato Grosso, and Acre. The burning produced carbon dioxide containing more than 500 million tons of carbon, 44 million tons of carbon monoxide, and millions of tons of other particles and nitrogen oxides. An estimated 20 percent of fires that burn between June and October cause new deforestation, while another 10 percent is the burning of ground cover in virgin forests.

Fires and climate change are having a dramatic impact on the Amazon. Recent studies suggest that the Amazon rainforest may be losing its ability to stay green all year long as forest degradation and drought make it dangerously flammable. Scientists say that as much as 50 percent of the Amazon could go up in smoke should fires continue. Humidity levels were the lowest ever recorded in the Amazon in 2005.

Slavery and Violence in the Amazon

The Amazon has been a place of violence since at least the arrival of European explorers, and the present is no exception. Violent conflicts between large landowners, poor colonists, and indigenous groups over land are not unusual in the Amazon and may be worsening.

The Pastoral Land Commission, a nongovernmental group working in the region, found that land battles in Brazil's countryside reached the highest level in at least 20 years in 2004. According to the annual report by the organization, documented conflicts over land among peasants, farmers, and land speculators rose to 1,801 in 2004 from 1,690 conflicts in 2003 and 925 recorded in 2002. Tensions reached their peak earlier this year with the high-profile slaying of Dorothy Stang, an American nun who worked with rural poor, by gunmen associated with plantation owners. In response to the murder, the Brazilian government sent in the army to quell violence in the region and promised to step up environmental monitoring efforts.

The government has also stepped up efforts to end slavery in the Amazon. While Brazil officially abolished slavery in 1888, the government acknowledges that at least 25,000 Brazilians work under "conditions analogous to slavery," clearing land and working for cattle ranches, soy farms, and other labor-intensive industries. Some groups say the true figure could be ten times that amount. In 2005, 4,133 slaves were freed after Brazilian Swat-style teams raided 183 farms.

Still, some locals view the government's increased presence in the area as an ominous sign of things to come. According to a June 23 article in the Los Angeles Times, many Brazilians are "convinced that foreign powers, in particular the United States, are making plans for a takeover of the world's biggest tropical forest to secure the rights to its seemingly limitless natural resources." Some 75 percent of Brazilians surveyed in a recent poll said they feared a foreign invasion provoked by their country's natural riches. Environmentalists' interests in the Amazon are seen as a way for foreigners to assert control over the region.

Concerns over the governance of the Amazon are nothing new in Brazil. Following the internationalization of Antarctica in the late 1950s, Brazil became concerned over its tenuous claim to the Amazon. To establish a "presence" in the Amazon, and therefore the right to keep it as part of the national territory, Brazil established the Manaus Free Trade Zone —a sort of tariff-free manufacturing zone. In the 1960s and 1970s, the government continued to see the region as having great potential that warranted massive investment (hence the road-building, transmigration, and hydroelectric projects) resulting in ever more forest loss.

Forest Protection

Despite massive deforestation, Brazil has vast protected areas and intends to add more under Amazon Region Protected Areas (ARPA), a 10-year plan to create a 190,000 square mile network of protected areas and sustainable-use reserves. Brazil has also set aside large tracts of forests—roughly 12.5 percent of Brazil's total land area and 26.4 percent of the Amazon basin—for the indigenous population, which is made up of about 450,000 Indians or 0.25 percent of the total population. These indigenous reserves—set forth under Brazil's 1988 constitution—have helped the country's Indian population to rebound after centuries of decline. According to The Economist [Feb 2nd 2006], 60 percent of Brazil's Indian population lives in the Amazon.

These protected areas are not popular among poor farmers, landowners, and developers, who have tried to fight the establishment of new parks and indigenous reserves and are known to illegally exploit forest resources—especially mahogany and other valuable timber—within the boundaries of protected areas. Nevertheless, a 2006 study conducted by researchers at the Woods Hole Research Center and the Instituto de Pesquisa Ambiental da Amazonia, found that parks and indigenous reserves in the Amazon help slow deforestation. Using quantitative analysis of satellite data, the research concluded that deforestation and the incidence of fires was significantly lower inside the perimeter of reserves and demarcated indigenous lands.

IBAMA, which for most of the 1990s had less than 80 enforcement agents to patrol the entire Amazon and lacked the legal authority to even levy fines and prosecute offenders, has long been criticized as a corrupt institution with little power of enforcement, but that is changing. In August 1999, the government announced a new joint operation between IBAMA and the military to monitor and crack down on illegal logging and fires, and added some 360 inspectors to patrol the Amazon. Despite these new powers, IBAMA still struggles to combat illegal timber cutting which, it estimates, makes up 80 percent of logging in the Amazon.

The future

It seems likely that deforestation will continue in the Brazil Amazon for the foreseeable future. This author personally expects at least half the Amazon to be converted for agriculture or otherwise degraded by 2050. While this is discouraging, there is hope that improved agricultural techniques—perhaps based on research into how pre-Colombian societies managed these forests—could maybe increase productivity on already affected areas and reduce the need for further forest clearing.

It is important to recognize that Brazil is a sovereign state with its own rights to develop its economy. How it chooses to do so will likely be influenced by economic factors which may include how western countries value the services (especially climate moderation and biodiversity preservation) provided by forests. If Western countries begin to place greater value on these services, then the protection of Brazil's rainforests can likely be "purchased" via the open market. While right now the environment for such a scenario is not favorable, this author believes it will become more so in the next few years. Scientists will play an important role in disseminating the value of these forests to policymakers and the media.

Brazil's other forests

Outside the Amazon, Brazil does have other tropical forests. To the south of the Amazon is an expanse of forest that lies in the Tocantins river system. A small area of forest, greatly reduced by urbanizations and agriculture to less than 5 percent of its original cover, is found along the Atlantic seaboard in Brazil. Known as the Mata Atlântica, this ecosystem is home to the world-famous golden lion tamarin.

Other important Brazilian ecosystems are the Pantanal Biome, an inland wetland that borders Paraguay and Bolivia and covers an area of 154,884 square kilometers, and the cerrado biomes, a tropical grassland that covers 1,890,278 square kilometers, or approximately 22 percent of the country. The Amazon covers about 47 percent of Brazil. Recent articles | Brazil news updates | XML

Nearly a thousand environmental activists murdered since 2002
(04/15/2014) At least 908 people were murdered for taking a stand to defend the environment between 2002 and 2013, according to a new report today from Global Witness, which shows a dramatic uptick in the murder rate during the past four years. Notably, the report appears on the same day that another NGO, Survival International, released a video of a gunman terrorizing a Guarani indigenous community in Brazil.


Emissions from rainforest logging average 16% of those from deforestation
(04/08/2014) Carbon emissions from selective logging operations in tropical rainforests are roughly a sixth of those from outright forest clearing, finds a new study that evaluated 13 forestry concessions in six countries. The study analyzed carbon losses from elements of logging operations, including timber extraction, collateral damage to surrounding vegetation, and logging infrastructure like roads and skid trails.


Will yellow fever drive brown howler monkeys to extinction in Argentina?
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Controversial Amazon dams may have exacerbated biblical flooding
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Sharp jump in deforestation when Amazon parks lose protected status
(03/01/2014) Areas that have had their protected status removed or reduced have experienced a sharp increase in forest loss thereafter, finds a new study published by Imazon, a Brazilian NGO.


Is Brazil's epic drought a taste of the future?
(02/25/2014) With more than 140 cities implementing water rationing, analysts warning of collapsing soy and coffee exports, and reservoirs and rivers running precipitously low, talk about the World Cup in some parts of Brazil has been sidelined by concerns about an epic drought affecting the country's agricultural heartland.


Two new wasp species found hidden in museum collections
(02/24/2014) Scientists have identified two new wasp species, years after the specimens were first collected from the wild. The two new species, Abernessia prima and Abernessia capixaba, belong to the rare pompilid genus Abernessia, and are believed to be endemic to Brazil. They made the discovery while examining spider wasp collections from museums in Brazil and Denmark, and published their findings in the journal ZooKeys.


Helping the Amazon's 'Jaguar People' protect their culture and traditional wisdom
(02/11/2014) Tribes in the Amazon are increasingly exposed to the outside world by choice or circumstance. The fallout of outside contact has rarely been anything less than catastrophic, resulting in untold extinction of hundreds of tribes over the centuries. For ones that survived the devastation of introduced disease and conquest, the process of acculturation transformed once proud cultures into fragmented remnants, their self-sufficiency and social cohesion stripped away, left to struggle in a new world marked by poverty and external dependence


Photos: mass turtle hatching produces over 200,000 babies
(02/11/2014) Biologists recently documented one of nature's least-known, big events. On the banks of the Purus River in the Brazilian Amazon, researchers witnessed the mass-hatching of an estimated 210,000 giant South American river turtles (Podocnemis expansa). The giant South American river turtle, or Arrau, is the world's largest side-necked turtle and can grow up to 80 centimeters long (nearly three feet).


Brazilian soy industry extends deforestation moratorium
(02/01/2014) Soy traders and producers in the Brazilian Amazon agreed to extend a moratorium on soybeans produced in recently deforested areas for another year, reports Greenpeace.


Next big idea in forest conservation? Connecting forest fragments
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New dolphin discovered in the Amazon surprises scientists
(01/23/2014) Researchers have discovered a new species of river dolphin from the Amazon. Writing in the journal Plos One, scientists led by Tomas Hrbek of Brazil's Federal University of Amazonas formally describe Inia araguaiaensis, a freshwater dolphin that inhabits the Araguaia River Basin. It is the first true river dolphin discovered since 1918.


Rainforest news review for 2013
(12/26/2013) 2013 was full of major developments in efforts to understand and protect the world's tropical rainforests. The following is a review of some of the major tropical forest-related news stories for the year. As a review, this post will not cover everything that transpired during 2013 in the world of tropical forests. Please feel free to highlight anything this post missed via the comments section at the bottom. Also please note that this review focuses only on tropical forests.


Assassination 25 years ago catalyzed movement to protect the Amazon
(12/22/2013) Twenty-five years ago today, Chico Mendes, an Amazon rubber tapper, was shot and killed in front of his family at his home in Acre, Brazil at the age of 44.


Brazilian cattle producers standardize audits to exclude deforestation from supply chain
(12/18/2013) Brazil's largest cattle producers have agreed to standardize and make public their audits as part of an effort to exclude from their supply chains livestock produced via deforestation, reports Greenpeace, which has led a campaign to improve the environmental performance of the sector. The agreement on a standard auditing protocol means that the companies' progress toward eliminating deforestation will now be directly comparable.


Scientists make one of the biggest animal discoveries of the century - a new tapir
(12/16/2013) In what will likely be considered one of the biggest (literally) zoological discoveries of the Twenty-First Century, scientists today announced they have discovered a new species of tapir in Brazil and Colombia. The new mammal, hidden from science but known to local indigenous tribes, is actually one of the biggest animals on the continent, although it's still the smallest living tapir. Described in the Journal of Mammology, the scientists have named the new tapir Tapirus kabomani after the name for 'tapir' in the local Paumari language: Arabo kabomani.


Scientists: well-managed forest restoration benefits both biodiversity and people
(12/16/2013) In November this year, the world was greeted by the dismaying news that deforestation of the Brazilian Amazon jumped 28% in the past year. The year 2013 also holds the dubious distinction of being the first time since humans appeared on the planet, that carbon concentrations in the atmosphere rose to 400 parts per million. A map by Google revealed that Russia, Brazil, the United States, Canada and Indonesia all displayed over 10 million hectares of gross forest loss from 2000-2012, with the highest deforestation rate occurring in Malaysia.


Odd porcupine hugely imperiled by hunting, deforestation
(12/16/2013) The thin-spined porcupine, also known as the bristle-spined rat, is a truly distinct animal: a sort of cross between New World porcupines and spiny rats with genetic research showing it is slightly closer to the former rather than the latter. But the thin-spined porcupine (Chaetomys subspinosus), found only in Brazil's Atlantic Forest, is imperiled by human activities. In fact, a new study in mongabay.com's open access journal Tropical Conservation Science found that the species remains a target for hunters, despite a reputation for tasting terrible.


Top 10 Environmental Stories of 2013
(12/10/2013) 1. Carbon concentrations hit 400ppm while the IPCC sets global carbon budget: For the first time since our appearance on Earth, carbon concentrations in the atmosphere hit 400 parts per million. The last time concentrations were this high for a sustained period was 4-5 million years ago when temperatures were 10 degrees Celsius higher. Meanwhile, in the slow-moving effort to curb carbon emissions, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) crafted a global carbon budget showing that most of the world's fossil fuel reserves must be left untouched if we are to avoid catastrophic climate change.


New mountain porcupine discovered in Brazil (photos)
(12/09/2013) In Brazil's Baturite Mountains, scientists have uncovered a new species of prehensile-tailed porcupine, according to a new paper in Revista Nordestina de Biologia. Dubbed, the Baturite porcupine (Coendou baturitensis), the new species was discovered when scientists noticed significant differences between it and its closest relative, the Brazilian porcupine (Coendou prehensilis). The name prehensile-tailed refers to these porcupines long, mobile tail which they use as a fifth limb to adroitly climb trees.


Humans are not apex predators, but meat-eating on the rise worldwide
(12/05/2013) A new paper in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences has measured the "trophic level" of human beings for the first time. Falling between 1 and 5.5, trophic levels refer to where species fit on the food chain. Apex predators like tigers and sharks are given a 5.5 on trophic scale since they survive almost entirely on consuming meat, while plants and phytoplankton, which make their own food, are at the bottom of the scale. Humans, according to the new paper, currently fall in the middle: 2.21. However, rising meat-eating in countries like China, India, and Brazil is pushing our trophic level higher with massive environmental impacts.


Brazil could boost agriculture without destroying forests
(12/03/2013) Brazil could substantially boost its agricultural output while increasing protection of its native ecosystems, finds a new analysis published by the Climate Policy Initiative (CPI), an international think tank.


Scientists discover new cat species roaming Brazil
(11/27/2013) As a family, cats are some of the most well-studied animals on Earth, but that doesn't mean these adept carnivores don't continue to surprise us. Scientists have announced today the stunning discovery of a new species of cat, long-confused with another. Looking at the molecular data of small cats in Brazil, researchers found that the tigrina—also known as the oncilla in Central America—is actually two separate species. The new species has been dubbed Leopardus guttulus and is found in the Atlantic Forest of southern Brazil, while the other Leopardus tigrinus is found in the cerrado and Caatinga ecosystems in northeastern Brazil.


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