Mongabay.com is considered a leading source of information on tropical forests by some of the world's top ecologists and conservationists. TROPICAL RAINFORESTS: TROPICAL RAINFORESTS

NEOTROPICAL REALM

South and Central America hold the bulk of the world's remaining tropical rainforests. More than 97 percent of this region's forests are found in South America, including the world's largest rainforest, the Amazon.

Threats

Map of South America - Rhett Butler 2000

Click for larger image

Today South America suffers the highest total loss of forest—around 4.3 million hectares were cleared per year between 2000 and 2005. Most of the forest loss has occurred in the Amazon rainforest where large tracts of land are being cleared for cattle ranches, soybean plantations, and subsistence agriculture. Legal and illegal logging is also widespread in the region. Overall, deforestation rates have increased in South America by almost 17 percent since the end of the 1990s. At least 60 million hectares (232,000 square miles) of forest were lost between 1990 and 2005. Scientists are concerned that forest loss could escalate in the Amazon due to increasingly dry conditions. In 2005, the Amazon suffered the most severe drought on record, leaving rivers dry and communities stranded. Tens of thousands of fires burned.

In the Caribbean, very little natural tropical forest cover remains. Between 2000 and 2005, forest cover actually expanded in the Caribbean due to the increase in plantation cover. However, primary forest cover still declined due to clearing for development and small-scale agriculture on the part of poor farmers.

Central America had the highest deforestation rate of any region in the world over the past five years. Much of this clearing came from subsistence activities and agricultural schemes, though illegal logging is a problem in the region. Overall, Central America lost 19 percent of its forest over between 1990 and 2005. The good news is that deforestation rates are slowing.

Outlook


The outlook for the rainforests of South America is better than that of Africa because of heavy pressure by outside environmentalists and an increasingly ecologically minded, educated populace. A fair amount of land is afforded some sort of protection—though not always effective against illegal exploitation—and local projects promoting sustainable management while benefiting locals are on the rise. Several governments, including those of Brazil and Costa Rica, have passed policies to enhance protection of forests. Many Neotropical countries have developed eco-tourism as a means to generate revenue to protect forests. Costa Rica has entered into a unique bioprospecting contract with an American pharmaceutical company (Merck), and it appears that others may soon follow suit. The use and export of non-wood forest products (NWFPs) is increasing, though it still plays a minute role in trade in comparison to timber, oil, and minerals extracted from rainforest lands. Funding of large, damaging hydroelectric projects appears to be on the decline as funding agencies move to support smaller, more effective projects. Nevertheless, the forests of the Neotropical realm are facing tremendous challenges from numerous development threats.

Profiles:
Belize, Bolivia, Brazil, Caribbean islands, Colombia, Costa Rica, Ecuador, El Salvador, French Guiana, Guatemala, Guyana, Honduras, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama, Peru, Suriname, and Venezuela.

Overview:
Total land area
Total forest cover
2005
Primary forest cover
2005
Total
deforestation
1990-2005
Loss of
primary forest
1990-2005
Country(1000 ha)(1000 ha)% of total
land area
(1000 ha)% of total
land area
%
of 1990
forest cover
% of 1990
primary
forest cover
Belize2,2961,65372.561226.70.00.0
Bolivia109,85858,74054.229,36026.7-6.5-6.5
Brazil851,488477,69857.2415,89048.8-8.1-9.7
Colombia113,89160,72858.553,06246.6-1.2-1.5
Costa Rica5,1102,39146.81803.5-6.7-29.4
Ecuador28,35610,85339.24,79416.9-21.50.0
El Salvador2,10429814.460.3-20.50.0
French Guiana9,0008,06391.87,70185.6-0.3-2.6
Guatemala10,8893,93836.31,95718.0-17.1-17.0
Guyana21,49715,10476.79,31443.30.0n/a
Honduras11,2094,64841.51,51213.5-37.10.0
Mexico195,82064,23833.732,85016.8-6.9-15.3
Nicaragua13,0005,18942.71,84914.2-20.60.0
Panama7,5524,29457.73,02340.0-1.9-18.4
Peru128,52268,74253.761,06547.5-2.0-2.9
Suriname16,32714,77694.714,21487.10.00.0
Venezuela91,20547,71354.1-n/a-8.3n/a
Total Caribbean23,4825,97426.10.011.7n/a
Total Central America52,16022,41143.90.0-18.9n/a
Total South America1,783,770831,54047.70.0-6.7n/a


Recent articles | Latin America news updates | XML

Peruvian oil spill sparks concern in indigenous rainforest community
(07/29/2014) A ruptured pipeline that spilled tens of thousands of gallons of crude oil into the Marañón River in late June is fueling concerns about potential health impacts for a small indigenous community.


Short-eared dog? Uncovering the secrets of one of the Amazon's most mysterious mammals
(07/28/2014) Fifteen years ago, scientists knew next to nothing about one of the Amazon's most mysterious residents: the short-eared dog. Although the species was first described in 1883 and is considered the sole representative of the Atelocynus genus, biologists spent over a century largely in the dark about an animal that seemed almost a myth.


Targeted enforcement saved a Massachusetts-worth of Amazon rainforest in 3 years
(07/24/2014) Targeted law enforcement efforts via Brazil's green municipalities programs were responsible for reducing deforestation by 10,653 square kilometers — an area the size of Massachusetts — between 2009 and 2011, argues a paper published in the journal Land Use Policy.


Brazil could meet all its food demand by 2040 without cutting down another tree
(07/24/2014) Better utilization of its vast areas of pasturelands could enable Brazil to dramatically boost agricultural production without the need to clear another hectare of Amazon rainforest, cerrado, or Atlantic forest, argues a new study published in the journal Global Environmental Change.


Peru slashes environmental protections to attract more mining and fossil fuel investment
(07/23/2014) In an effort to kickstart investment in mining and fossil fuels, Peru has passed a controversial law that overturns many of its environmental protections and essentially defangs its Ministry of Environment. The new law has environmentalists not only concerned about its impact on the country but also that the measures will undermine progress at the up-coming UN Climate Summit in December.


Rare bird paradise protected in war-torn Colombian mountain range (photos)
(07/22/2014) A coalition of conservation groups have established a new protected area in one of Latin America's most neglected ecosystems: the Colombian-side of the Serranía de Perijá mountain range. Following decades of bloody conflict and rampant deforestation, experts say only five percent of rainforest is left on the Colombian side of this embattled mountain range.


Coastal wildlife paradise declared biosphere reserve in Argentina (PHOTOS)
(07/15/2014) Conservationists are celebrating the announcement that UNESCO has dubbed Argentina's Península Valdés a biosphere reserve under the Man and Biosphere Program (MBA). A hatchet-shaped peninsula that juts out into the Southern Atlantic Ocean, the world's newest biosphere reserve is home to a hugely-diverse collection of both terrestrial and marine wildlife.


Only 15 percent of world's biodiversity hotspots left intact
(07/14/2014) The world's 35 biodiversity hotspots—which harbor 75 percent of the planet's endangered land vertebrates—are in more trouble than expected, according to a sobering new analysis of remaining primary vegetation. In all less than 15 percent of natural intact vegetation is left in the these hotspots, which include well-known jewels such as Madagascar, the tropical Andes, and Sundaland.


A garden or a wilderness? One-fifth of the Amazon may have been savannah before the arrival of Europeans
(07/09/2014) The Amazon is the largest tropical forest on the planet, covering about 6.5 million square kilometers, although much has been lost in recent decades.Yet new research published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) finds that quite recently—just 500 years ago—a significant portion of the southern Amazon was not the tall-canopied forest it is today, but savannah.


Booming populations, rising economies, threatened biodiversity: the tropics will never be the same
(07/07/2014) For those living either north or south of the tropics, images of this green ring around the Earth's equator often include verdant rainforests, exotic animals, and unchanging weather; but they may also be of entrenched poverty, unstable governments, and appalling environmental destruction. A massive new report, The State of the Tropics, however, finds that the truth is far more complicated.


On babies and motherhood: how giant armadillos are surprising scientists (photos)
(07/01/2014) Until ten years ago scientist's knowledge of the reproductive habits of the giant armadillo— the world's biggest— were basically regulated to speculation. But a long-term research project in the Brazilian Pantanal is changing that: last year researchers announced the first ever photos of a baby giant armadillo and have since recorded a second birth from another female.


Camera trap captures first ever video of rarely-seen bird in the Amazon...and much more
(06/17/2014) A camera trap program in Ecuador's embattled Yasuni National Program has struck gold, taking what researchers believe is the first ever film of a wild nocturnal curassow (Nothocrax urumutum). In addition, the program has captured video of other rarely-seen animals, including the short-eared dog and the giant armadillo.


Next big idea in forest conservation? Learning from innovations to make REDD+ work
(06/12/2014) A scientist at the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR) in Brazil, Dr. Amy Duchelle coordinates research on the effectiveness, efficiency, equity, and co-benefits of REDD+ initiatives at the sub-national level in Latin America as part of CIFOR's Gloal Comparative Study on REDD+.


Chile drops hugely controversial mega-dam project in wild Patagonia
(06/12/2014) One of the world's most controversial mega-dam projects met its likely end this week when Chile's Committee of Ministers voted to cancel the permits for the HidroAysén project. Costing around $8 billion and expected to produce about 2.75 gigawatts, the project involved building five large dams on two wild rivers in Chile's famously-unspoiled Patagonia region.


In cutting deforestation, Brazil leads world in reducing emissions
(06/05/2014) Brazil's success in reducing deforestation in the world's largest rainforest has been much heralded, but progress may stall unless farmers, ranchers and other land users in the region are provided incentives to further improve the environmental sustainability of their operations, argues a study published this week in the journal Science.


Oil company breaks agreement, builds big roads in Yasuni rainforest
(06/05/2014) When the Ecuadorian government approved permits for an oil company to drill deep in Yasuni National Park, it was on the condition that the company undertake a roadless design with helicopters doing most of the leg-work. However, a new report based on high-resolution satellite imagery has uncovered that the company, Petroamazonas, has flouted the agreement's conditions, building a massive access road.


Intact Amazon forests show possible signs of global warming impact
(06/04/2014) Climate change may be taking a hidden toll on intact rainforests in the heart of the Amazon, finds a new study based on 35 years of observations. The research, published in the journal Ecology, focused on the ecological impacts of fragmentation but unexpectedly found changes in the control forests.


Guatemala establishes new reserve for endangered animals
(06/04/2014) Guatemala has formally established a 19,000-hectare (47,000-acre) reserve that protects several endangered bird and amphibian species, reports the American Bird Conservancy (ABC). The Sierra Caral Water and Forest Reserve received overwhelming support during a vote by Guatemala's Congress. It is the first new protected area designated by Congress since 2005


After throwing out referendum, Ecuador approves oil drilling in Yasuni's embattled heart
(06/02/2014) By 2016, oil drilling will begin in what scientists believe is the most biodiverse place on the planet: remote Yasuni National Park. Late last month, Ecuador announced it had approved permits for oil drilling in Yasuni's Ishpingo-Tambococha-Tiputinin (ITT) block, an untouched swathe of primary rainforest covering around 100,000 hectares or about 10 percent of the park.


Of jaguars and loggers: new film to showcase one of the least-known regions in the deep Amazon
(06/02/2014) In August, three young filmmakers will go on the expedition of a lifetime. They plan to spend six months filming in one of the most remote, most spectacular, and most endangered ecosystems on the planet: the Las Piedras River system. This unprotected swathe of Amazon jungle contains massive anacondas, prowling jaguars, and even uncontacted indigenous people.


Emerald-faced reptile discovered in Ecuador
(05/23/2014) Researchers have discovered a colorful lizard species in the cloud forests of northwestern Ecuador.


Happy Amazon: $215 million raised for world's largest protected area network
(05/21/2014) By all standards the Amazon Region Protected Areas (ARPA) program is gargantuan: the network includes over 90 parks, covers 51 million hectares, and comprises 15 percent of Brazil's Amazon. But protecting an area bigger than Spain isn't cheap or easy. Today, a broad coalition of government donors and private funders have announced $215 million to secure ARPA over the next 25 years.


53 indigenous activists on trial for police-protester massacre in Peru
(05/15/2014) In the summer of 2009, on a highway in Peru known as Devil's Curve: everything went wrong. For months, indigenous groups had protested new laws by then President Alan Garcia opening up the Amazon to deregulated logging, fossil fuels, and other extractive industries as a part of free trade agreements with the U.S.


NASA photographs the amazing 'guitar forest'
(04/30/2014) After his wife died of an aneurysm at the age of 25, Pedro Martin Ureta set about to plant her a legacy: a forest in the shape of a guitar. His wife, Graciela Yraizoz—who gave him four children—suggested the idea shortly before her sudden death in 1977.


Intensifying cattle production in Brazil could cut global deforestation emissions 25%, says study
(04/28/2014) Brazil could reduce more than a quarter of emissions linked to deforestation worldwide by intensifying cattle production in the Amazon, argues a new study published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.





Unless otherwise specified, this article was written by Rhett A. Butler [Bibliographic citation for this page]

Other resources

Contact me if you have suggestions on other rainforest-related environmental sites and resources for this country.




Last updated: 7 Feb 2006






what's new | rainforests home | for kids | help | madagascar | search | about | languages | contact

Copyright Rhett Butler 1994-2013

Carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions generated from mongabay.com operations (server, data transfer, travel) are mitigated through an association with Anthrotect,
an organization working with Afro-indigenous and Embera communities to protect forests in Colombia's Darien region.
Anthrotect is protecting the habitat of mongabay's mascot: the scale-crested pygmy tyrant.

"Rainforest" is used interchangeably with "rain forest" on this site. "Jungle" is generally not used.