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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


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

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Last updated: 7 Feb 2006






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