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.
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.
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.
The price of gold: winners and losers in Latin America's mining industry
(03/05/2014) On a Friday afternoon in June, the Plaza de Armas in Cajamarca is pulsing with life. It's winter here, and although thick white clouds hover low in the distance, the sun in this northern Peruvian city is warm. Couples sit on benches facing one another. Kids run in the grass between flowerbeds. Men in suits stride along the perimeter. It's an idyllic day. But signs of something more ominous are not far from sight. On the mountainside overlooking the town the words Nova Conga have been carved into the vegetation. It is a constant reminder that beyond the square, hemmed with international hotels and expensive restaurants, there is another reality.
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.
Nicaragua Canal could cause ecological disaster, warn experts
(02/20/2014) Nicaragua's plans for a canal linking the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans could trigger an environmental disaster through habitat destruction and alteration, introduction of non-native species, pollution, and sedimentation, warns a commentary published in this week's issue of Nature.
The making of Amazon Gold: once more unto the breach
(02/19/2014) When Sarah duPont first visited the Peruvian Amazon rainforest in the summer of 1999, it was a different place than it is today. Oceans of green, tranquil forest, met the eye at every turn. At dawn, her brain struggled to comprehend the onslaught of morning calls and duets of the nearly 600 species of birds resounding under the canopy. Today, the director of the new award-winning film, Amazon Gold, reports that "roads have been built and people have arrived. It has become a new wild west, a place without law. People driven by poverty and the desire for a better life have come, exploiting the sacred ground."
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
Gas company to drill in Manu National Park buffer zone, imperiling indigenous people
(02/04/2014) The Peruvian government has approved plans for gas company Pluspetrol to move deeper into a supposedly protected reserve for indigenous peoples and the buffer zone of the Manu National Park in the Amazon rainforest. The approval follows the government rescinding a highly critical report on the potential impacts of the operations by the Culture Ministry (MINCU), the resignation of the Culture Minister and other Ministry personnel, and repeated criticism from Peruvian and international civil society.
Next big idea in forest conservation? Connecting forest fragments
(01/31/2014) Dr. Stuart Pimm is an expert in extinctions: why they happen, how fast they happen, and how they can be prevented. Reconnecting forest fragments and avoiding fragmentation, according to Pimm, are among the most crucial things we can do to conserve global biodiversity. His organization SavingSpecies identifies areas at-risk for extinctions and helps local organizations fundraise so they can protect and restore habitats and safeguard biodiversity.
287 amphibian and reptile species in Peruvian park sets world record (photos)
(01/28/2014) It's official: Manu National Park in Peru has the highest diversity of reptiles and amphibians in the world. Surveys of the park, which extends from high Andean cloud forests down into the tropical rainforest of the Western Amazon, and its buffer zone turned up 155 amphibian and 132 reptile species, 16 more than the 271 species documented in Ecuador's Yasuní National Park in 2010.
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.
One lizard, four species: the collared treerunner
(01/21/2014) Now, that’s a horse of a different color. Or, in this case, a lizard of another species--four species. Recent research suggests that the collared treerunner (Plica plica), previously thought of as one widespread species, is actually four distinct species inhabiting diverse geographical areas east of the Andes in northern South America.
Court orders logging company to clean up pollution disaster in Chile wetlands
(01/17/2014) Chile is probably best known for its volcanoes, earthquakes and the formidable peaks of the Andes, but as a country that spans 4,300 km (2,670 miles) from top to bottom, it also boasts a huge variety of bird life. And, until recently, it was home to what was thought to be the largest population of black-necked swans (Cygnus melancoryphus) in South America. Not long ago, these swans, as well as 100 other species of rare or vulnerable bird species, could be seen nesting in the Carlos Anwandter Nature Sanctuary in Valdivia, a Ramsar site that covers 12,000 acres in the south of Chile. But in 2004 the swans began to die.
Colombia to protect remote region bordering Venezeula
(01/13/2014) The Colombian government plans to declare a remote area bordering Venezuela a new protected area. Colombian Minister of Environment, Luz Helena Sarmiento, told the El Espectador that President Juan Manuel Santos will declare the Estrella Fluvial de Inirida river area a Ramsar Wetland of International Importance. The designation would give Colombia six Ramsar sites.
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.
Top 10 HAPPY environmental stories of 2013
(12/19/2013) China begins to tackle pollution, carbon emissions: As China's environmental crisis worsens, the government has begun to unveil a series of new initiatives to curb record pollution and cut greenhouse emissions. The world's largest consumer of coal, China's growth in emissions is finally slowing and some experts believe the nation's emissions could peak within the decade. If China's emissions begin to fall, so too could the world's.
Using stories to connect people to biodiversity: an interview with Tara Waters Lumpkin, PhD
(12/18/2013) In a world where extinctions are almost commonplace and global warming barely raises an eyebrow, very few of us can return to find the places we grew up in unsullied by development. Sometimes, all that is left of a favorite grove of trees or strip of forest are memories. Through Izilwane: Voices for Biodiversity Project, an online magazine for story-tellers, Tara Waters Lumpkin has succeeded in bringing together more than one hundred "eco-writers" who have shared their memories, highlighted environmental crises in their localities and raised their voices against habitat destruction.
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.
Camera traps find less mammals than expected in Costa Rican corridor
(12/16/2013) A new study using camera traps in mongabay.com's open-access journal Tropical Conservation Science has surveyed the diversity of medium and large-sized predators in the San Juan-La Selva biological corridor in Costa Rica, whilst also demonstrating how alteration of habitat is affecting the use of this corridor.
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.
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.