Forest CoverTotal forest area: 4,294,000 ha % of land area: 57.7%
Primary forest cover: 3,023,000 ha % of land area: 40.6% % total forest area: 70.4%
Deforestation Rates, 2000-2005Annual change in forest cover: -2,600 ha Annual deforestation rate: -0.1% Change in defor. rate since '90s: -61.7% Total forest loss since 1990: -82,000 ha Total forest loss since 1990:-1.9%
Primary or "Old-growth" forests Annual loss of primary forests: -43200 ha Annual deforestation rate: -1.3% Change in deforestation rate since '90s: 5.8% Primary forest loss since 1990: -216,000 ha Primary forest loss since 1990:-18.4%
Forest ClassificationPublic: 9.6% Private: 90.4% Other: 0% Use Production: 7.2% Protection: 21.9% Conservation: 34% Social services: 0% Multiple purpose: 36.8% None or unknown: n/a
Forest Area BreakdownTotal area: 4,294,000 ha Primary: 3,023,000 ha Modified natural: 1,210,000 ha Semi-natural: n/a Production plantation: 60,000 ha Production plantation: 1,000 ha
PlantationsPlantations, 2005: 61,000 ha % of total forest cover: 1.4% Annual change rate (00-05): 3,800,000 ha
Carbon storageAbove-ground biomass: 980 M t Below-ground biomass: 258 M t
Area annually affected byFire: n/a Insects: n/a Diseases: n/a
Number of tree species in IUCN red listNumber of native tree species: 1,200 Critically endangered: 19 Endangered: 71 Vulnerable: 106
Panama loses more than 1 percent of its primary forest cover every year. Deforestation directly threatens one of the country's most important sources of income, the Panama Canal. The tropical cloud forest of the canal watershed ensures the flow of billions of gallons of clean water necessary to operate the canal locks (roughly two billion gallons per day). Population growth in these forests has resulted in a decline of forest cover from 80 percent (1952) to less than 15 percent (1994) of the watershed, a development that increases soil erosion into the canal, which can clog locks and create shoals that ground ships. In 1998, below-average rainfall from el Niño forced the canal to limit the amount of cargo large ships could carry. In an effort to safeguard the canal, the Panamanian government has protected remaining watershed forests while launching reforestation initiatives.
Most deforestation and forest degradation in Panama results from road construction, logging, industrial gold mining, and colonization, which leads to clearing for agriculture, pasture land, and fuelwood collection. Of these activities, colonization is responsible for the bulk of forest loss.
Road construction and other infrastructure projects in Panama's Darien Gap is of ongoing concern to environmentalists who fear that such endeavors will open the largely inaccessible region to settlement by colonists and development by loggers.
Logging—especially illegal logging—has increased in Panama since the early 1990s. In 2002, the country officially produced some 111,000 cubic meters of wood products, but more wood was illicitly extracted. Still, the collection of fuelwood results in a far higher amount of wood loss from the country's forests.
Panama has tremendous potential for eco-tourism given its rich marine habitats and forest biodiversity. The country has several excellent protected areas including Coiba, an island in the Pacific; Barro Colorado Island—home to one of the world's leading tropical research centers, the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institution—and Bocas del Toro on the Caribbean side of Panama. On the Pacific side, Panama has several excellent, but largely deserted, surf spots.
Rainforest loss increased in the 2000s, concludes new analysis
(02/25/2015) Loss of tropical forests accelerated roughly 60 percent during the 2000s, argues a paper published in the journal Geophysical Research Letters. The findings contradict previous research suggesting that deforestation slowed since the 1990s. The study is based on a map of 1990 forest cover developed last year by Do-Hyung Kim and colleagues from the University of Maryland. The map, which includes 34 countries that contain 80 percent of the world's tropical forests, enabled the researchers to establish a consistent baseline for tracking forest cover change across regions and countries over time.
Ocelots live in super densities on Barro Colorado Island
(12/18/2014) By comparing camera trapping findings with genetic samples taken from feces, biologists have determined that the density of ocelots on Barro Colorado Island in Panama is the highest yet recorded. There are over three ocelots per every two square kilometers (0.77 square miles) on the island.
New poison dart frog needs immediate conservation plan
(12/15/2014) It was a surprising discovery in an unlikely location. In a leaf litter nearly four inches deep under a dense canopy of rainforest trees, researchers Marcos Ponce and Abel Batista with the Universidad Autónoma de Chiriquí worked to complete an inventory of endangered species in Panama's Isthmian-Atlantic moist forest. But they were both completely unsuspecting of what they were about to find: a new poison dart frog.
Leaf bacteria are important to tree health, may help forests adapt to climate change
(11/13/2014) Leaves are vital trees organs that support many important functions. A recent study published in PNAS found that each tree species in tropical rainforests possesses distinctive bacterial communities – called microbiomes – on their leaves. Understanding how leaf microbiomes vary among species may in the future be applied for maintaining healthy forests and predicting how forests will react to climate change.
Indigenous uprising earned tribe territories, but greatest challenges lie ahead
(11/06/2014) In 1925, Nele Kantule led a revolution that would make Guna Yala an independent and sovereign indigenous territory within Panama. Since then, the Guna have maintained a way of life that has allowed them to preserve their natural resources and mainland forest to an exceptional degree. But today, like many indigenous groups around the world, the Guna face some of their greatest challenges yet: the impacts of climate change, encroaching outside influences, and a younger generation that many elders feel is drifting from its roots.
Between the Forest and the Sea: The Yarsuisuit Collective - Part II
(10/31/2014) In this multimedia piece by SRI fellow Bear Guerra, we follow Andrés de León and the Yarsuisuit collective, a group of men who grow and harvest food sustainably in the Guna mainland forest. They also run a store on the island of Ustupu that helps support their families, serving as a model for the wider community.
Between the forest and the sea: life and climate change in Guna Yala - Part I
(10/27/2014) The island-dwelling Guna people of Panama are one of the most sovereign indigenous communities in the world, but now severe weather and sea level rise are causing regular flooding on many of the islands, and will likely force the Guna to have to abandon their island homes for the mainland. This multimedia piece offers an introduction to everyday life and customs in Guna Yala and touches upon the uncertain future the Guna are now facing thanks to the impacts of climate change.
REDD+ versus indigenous people? Why a tribe in Panama rejected pay for their carbon-rich forests
(09/04/2014) There isn’t a word or phrase in the Kuna language for "carbon trading,” and much less for something as complex as REDD+. Standing for Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation, REDD+ is the worldwide UN-backed climate change mitigation scheme that relies on carbon trading within forest landscapes to fund forest conservation programs. And yet, since 2008, the Kuna people have been hearing lots about it and referring to it often in their private conversations.
Attack of the killer vines: lianas taking over forests in Panama
(07/14/2014) A worrying trend has emerged in tropical forests: lianas, woody long-stemmed vines, are increasingly displacing trees, thereby reducing forests’ overall ability to store carbon. The study, recently published in Ecology, found several detrimental effects of increased liana presence.
Connecting forests, saving species: conservation group plans extensive wildlife corridor in Panama
(05/16/2014) With the cooperation of hundreds of ranchers and researchers, Azuero Earth Project aims to replant a swath of tropical dry forest, connecting the dry tropical forest on the coast to cloud forest further inland. The trees along the 140-kilometer (80-mile) wildlife corridor will create a continuous habitat for the Critically Endangered Azuero spider monkey (Ateles geoffroyi azuerensis) and improve the soil for people who farm and ranch along the way.
3 environmental reporting prize winners to explore drivers of deforestation, community forestry, and sustainable seafood in China
(03/19/2014) Mongabay.org, the non-profit arm of environmental science web site Mongabay.com, has selected winners of three environmental reporting prizes under its Special Reporting Initiatives (SRI) program. The three prizes, which were launched in January, explore the impacts of rising human consumption on forest and marine ecosystems. The winners, selected from more than 150 applicants by a panel of issue-area experts, include Robert S. Eshelman, Ruxandra Guidi and Bear Guerra, and Dominic Bracco II and Erik Vance.
The next best thing: how well do secondary forests preserve biodiversity?
(01/23/2014) Secondary forests, which are areas that were previously cleared of old-growth cover, now comprise the majority of the forested areas in the United States, Europe, and elsewhere. A heavily debated issue is to what extent secondary forests are able to contribute to the preservation of biodiversity. In an article published in PLOS ONE, a group of researchers from the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute led by Michiel van Breugel evaluated the biodiversity preservation potential of secondary forests.
For agoutis, the night is fraught with peril
(01/15/2014) In a study recently published in the online Animal Behavior journal, scientists from the US and the Netherlands have examined the impact of predation patterns on prey's food foraging habits. The two-year long study on Barro Colorado Island, Panama, focused on the predator-prey relationship between the Central American agouti (Dasyprocta punctata), a common rainforest rodent, and the ocelot (Leopardus pardalis).
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.
Journalists win environmental news reporting prizes
(12/10/2013) Mongabay's internship program has benefited from the hard work and great environmental reporting of more than 30 writing interns since the program's inception in July 2012. This year, Mongabay asked this pool of contributing authors to submit their most compelling piece out of over 150 articles. The submissions were then reviewed by a panel.
Recovering forests 'heal' themselves by speeding up nitrogen fixation
(10/08/2013) Nitrogen is colorless, odorless and tasteless, but all life on earth depends on it. Without it, our bodies cannot synthesize the nucleic acids that make up our DNA, or the protein-forming amino acids that are the very building blocks of our cells. Problematically, atmospheric nitrogen is relatively inert or nonreactive. This has created a unique biological dependency on a process called nitrogen fixation—where inert nitrogen from the atmosphere is converted into more reactive ammonia, a major component of soil fertilizers.
Attempt to export nearly-extinct pygmy sloths sets off international incident in Panama
(09/20/2013) Last Monday, the police officer on morning duty at Isla Colón International Airport, Panama noticed some foreigners loading crates with what appeared to be animals on a private jet. Finding this suspicious, he alerted his supervisor. Within minutes the local police chief, the mayor of Bocas, the director of the regional office of the National Environmental Authority (ANAM), community leaders and heads of local conservation organizations were informed about the incident. Little by little, a crowd of concerned citizens from Bocas town gathered around what turned out to be eight pygmy sloths – some of the rarest mammals on Earth
Scientists outline how to save nearly 70 percent of the world's plant species
(09/05/2013) In 2010 the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) pledged to set aside 17 percent of the world's land as protected areas in addition to protecting 60 percent of the world's plant species—through the Global Strategy for Plant Conservation (GSPC)—by 2020. Now a new study in Science finds that the world can achieve both ambitious goals at the same time—if only we protect the right places. Looking at data on over 100,000 flower plants, scientists determined that protecting 17 percent of the world's land (focusing on priority plant areas) would conserve 67 percent of the world's plants.
Researchers produce the most accurate carbon map for an entire country
(07/22/2013) Researchers working in Panama have produced the most accurate carbon map for an entire country. Using satellite imagery and extremely high-resolution Light Detection and Ranging (LiDAR) data from airplane-based sensors, a team led by Greg Asner produced a detailed carbon map across the Central American country's forests. The map reveals variations in forest carbon density resulting from elevation, slope, climate, vegetation type, and canopy coverage.
Why Panama's indigenous pulled out of the UN's REDD program
(06/25/2013) This week in Lombok, Indonesia, the Policy Board of the United Nations climate change program known as UNREDD is addressing the first major test of the 2007 UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples of the United Nations, which recognizes the right of Indigenous People to stop projects in their territories that could endanger their traditions and livelihoods. The National Coordinating Body of the Indigenous People of Panama pulled out of UNREDD’s national program in February and have called on the United Nations to close the program.
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.