RAINFOREST INFORMATION

By Rhett A. Butler  Last updated Aug 14, 2020

A Place Out of Time: Tropical Rainforests and the Perils They Face - information on tropical forests, deforestation, and biodiversity

RAINFOREST FACTS

  • Tropical forests presently cover about 2.4 billion hectares or about 16 percent of Earth's land surface.
  • The world's largest rainforest is the Amazon rainforest
  • Brazil has the largest extent of rainforest cover, including nearly two-thirds of the Amazon.
  • Rainforests also exist outside the tropics, including temperate North America, South America, Australia, and Russia.
  • An estimated 50 percent of terrestrial biodiversity is found in rainforests
  • Rainforests are thought to store at least 250 billion tons of carbon
  • Deforestation and degradation of tropical forests account for roughly 10 percent of global greenhouse emissions from human activities

 

Sections:

 

BACKGROUND INFORMATION ON THE RAINFOREST

Rainforests are forest ecosystems characterized by high levels of rainfall, an enclosed canopy and high species diversity. While tropical rainforests are the best-known type of rainforest and the focus of this section of the web site, rainforests are actually found widely around the world, including temperate regions in Canada, the United States, and the former Soviet Union.

Tropical rainforests typically occur in the equatorial zone between the Tropic of Cancer and Tropic of Capricorn, latitudes that have warm temperatures and relatively constant year-round sunlight. Tropical rainforests merge into other types of forest depending on the altitude, latitude, and various soil, flooding, and climate conditions. These forest types form a mosaic of vegetation types which contribute to the incredible diversity of the tropics.

The bulk of the world's tropical rainforest occurs in the Amazon Basin in South America. The Congo Basin and Southeast Asia, respectively, have the second and third largest areas of tropical rainforest. Rainforests also exist on some the Caribbean islands, in Central America, in India, on scattered islands in the South Pacific, in Madagascar, in West and East Africa outside the Congo Basin, in Central America and Mexico, and in parts of South America outside the Amazon. Brazil has the largest extent of rainforest of any country on Earth.

 

Rainforests provide important ecological services, including storing hundreds of billions of tons of carbon, buffering against flood and drought, stabilizing soils, influencing rainfall patterns, and providing a home to wildlife and indigenous people. Rainforests are also the source of many useful products upon which local communities depend.

While rainforests are critically important to humanity, they are rapidly being destroyed by human activities. The biggest cause of deforestation is conversion of forest land for agriculture. In the past subsistence agriculture was the primary driver of rainforest conversion, but today industrial agriculture — especially monoculture and livestock production — is the dominant driver of rainforest loss worldwide. Logging is the biggest cause of forest degradation and usually proceeds deforestation for agriculture.

Organization of this site

The rainforest section of Mongabay is divided into ten "chapters" (the original text for the site was a book, but has since been adapted for the web), with add-on content in the form of special focal sections (e.g. The Amazon, the Congo, REDD, New Guinea, Sulawesi, Forests in Brazil, etc), appendices, and other resources.

There is also a version of the site geared toward younger readers at kids.mongabay.com.

Tropical rainforest in Borneo. Photo by Rhett A. Butler

ABOUT THE RAINFOREST (SUMMARY)

Chapter 1:

RAINFOREST DISTRIBUTION AND CHARACTERISTICS

Each rainforest is unique, but there are certain features common to all tropical rainforests.

  • Location: rainforests lie in the tropics.
  • Rainfall: rainforests receive at least 80 inches (200 cm) of rain per year.
  • Canopy: rainforests have a canopy, which is the layer of branches and leaves formed by closely spaced rainforest trees some 30 meters (100 feet) off the ground. A large proportion of the plants and animals in the rainforest live in the canopy.
  • Biodiversity: rainforests have extraordinarily highs level of biological diversity or “biodiversity”. Scientists estimate that about half of Earth's terrestrial species live in rainforests.
  • Ecosystem services: rainforests provide a critical ecosystem services at local, regional, and global scales, including producing oxygen (tropical forests are responsible for 25-30 percent of the world's oxygen turnover) and storing carbon (tropical forests store an estimated 229-247 billion tons of carbon) through photosynthesis; influencing precipitation patterns and weather; moderating flood and drought cycles; and facilitating nutrient cycling; among others.

The global distribution of tropical rainforests can be broken up into four biogeographical realms based roughly on four forested continental regions: the Afrotropical, the Australiasian, the Indomalayan/Asian, and the Neotropical. Just over half the world's rainforests lie in the Neotropical realm, roughly a quarter are in Africa, and a fifth in Asia.

Map showing the world's rainforests, defined as primary forests in the tropics. Click to enlarge.

These realms can be further divided into major tropical forest regions based on biodiversity hotspots, including:

  1. Amazon: Includes parts of Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, French Guiana, Guyana, Peru, Suriname, Venezuela
  2. Congo: Includes parts of Cameroon, Central African Republic, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Equatorial Guinea, Gabon, Republic of Congo
  3. Australiasia: Includes parts of Australia, Indonesian half of New Guinea, Papua New Guinea
  4. Sundaland: Includes parts of Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore
  5. Indo-Burma: Includes parts of Bangladesh, Cambodia, China, India, Laos, Myanmar, Thailand, Vietnam
  6. Mesoamerica: Includes parts of Belize, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama
  7. Wallacea: Sulawesi and the Maluku islands in Indonesia
  8. West Africa: Includes parts of Benin, Cameroon, Côte d'Ivoire, Ghana, Guinea, Liberia, Nigeria, Sierra Leone, Togo
  9. Atlantic forest: Includes parts of Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay
  10. Choco: Includes parts of Colombia, Ecuador, Panama

Dozens of countries have tropical forests. The countries with the largest areas of tropical forest are:

  • Brazil
  • Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC)
  • Indonesia
  • Peru
  • Colombia

Other countries that have large areas of rainforest include Bolivia, Cameroon, Central African Republic, Ecuador, Gabon, Guyana, India, Laos, Malaysia, Mexico, Myanmar, Papua New Guinea, Republic of Congo, Suriname, and Venezuela.

Cover and loss by rainforest region

Primary forest extentTree cover extent
Rainforest region200120102020200120102020
Amazon556.7543.5526.2673.4658.6628.9
Congo173.7172.2167.6301.2300.3287.7
Australiasia61.865.464.476.391.389.1
Sundaland39.957.351.067.7121.6103.1
Indo-Burma15.342.640.137.8153.0139.1
Mesoamerica43.717.416.0160.354.349.8
Wallacea18.115.214.656.226.124.5
West Africa9.810.910.215.648.541.8
Atlantic forest11.19.79.349.396.389.0
Choco10.08.58.499.815.915.6
PAN-TROPICS1,029.61,006.5969.12,028.31,959.41,839.1

 

Primary forest lossTree cover change
2002-092010-192002-092010-19
Rainforest regionM ha (%)M ha (%)M ha (%)M ha (%)
Amazon-13.18 (-2.4%)-17.28 (-3.2%)-14.7 (-2.2%)-29.8 (-4.5%)
Congo-1.46 (-0.8%)-4.68 (-2.7%)-0.8 (-0.3%)-12.7 (-4.2%)
Australiasia-0.29 (-0.5%)-0.86 (-1.3%)0.2 (0.2%)-1.4 (-1.5%)
Sundaland-2.22 (-5.5%)-3.67 (-6.4%)-1.5 (-2.3%)-9.5 (-7.8%)
Indo-Burma-1.62 (-10.5%)-2.14 (-5.0%)-0.6 (-1.6%)-6.4 (-4.2%)
Mesoamerica-1.10 (-2.5%)-2.51 (-14.4%)-7.3 (-4.6%)-13.9 (-25.6%)
Wallacea-0.66 (-3.6%)-1.36 (-8.9%)-1.9 (-3.3%)-4.6 (-17.5%)
West Africa-0.30 (-3.1%)-0.50 (-4.6%)-0.1 (-0.8%)-1.2 (-2.4%)
Atlantic forest-0.24 (-2.1%)-0.62 (-6.4%)-0.7 (-1.5%)-6.8 (-7.0%)
Choco-0.33 (-3.3%)-0.35 (-4.1%)-3.5 (-3.5%)-7.3 (-46.0%)
PAN-TROPICS-23.11 (-2.2%)-37.34 (-3.7%)-68.9 (-3.4%)-120.3 (-6.1%)

 

Bar chart showing the world's largest rainforests as defined by the area of primary forest cover according to Hansen / WRI 2020.
Bar chart showing the world's largest rainforests as defined by the area of primary forest cover according to Hansen / WRI 2020.
Tropical primary forest cover and tree cover by country in 2020

Tropical forest cover and loss by country

Units: million hectaresPrimary forest extentTree cover extent
2001
Country200120102020200120102020
Brazil343.2331.9318.7516.4498.1468.2
DR Congo104.6103.499.8198.8198.5188.0
Indonesia93.890.284.4159.8157.7141.7
Colombia54.854.253.381.681.779.3
Peru69.168.567.277.978.676.5
Bolivia40.839.938.164.462.758.9
Venezuela38.638.538.156.457.356.1
Angola2.52.42.349.748.346.8
Central African Republic7.47.37.246.947.146.6
Papua New Guinea32.632.431.942.942.941.9
Mexico9.29.08.643.342.540.3
China1.71.71.742.841.138.5
Myanmar14.013.813.542.840.938.2
India10.210.19.935.131.430.2
Cameroon19.119.018.530.629.728.7
Republic of Congo21.221.120.826.426.626.0
Argentina4.44.24.030.927.624.9
Gabon22.722.622.424.724.724.4
Malaysia15.915.013.329.128.623.8
Mozambique0.10.10.126.625.023.1
Tanzania0.70.70.721.820.619.3
Guyana17.317.317.219.019.118.9
Ecuador10.610.610.518.318.518.1
Thailand5.95.95.819.819.017.7
Philippines4.64.54.418.318.117.4
Paraguay3.53.02.523.920.216.6
Zambia0.30.30.318.517.416.6
Laos8.38.17.519.117.915.4
Suriname12.812.712.613.914.013.9
Rest of the tropics59.658.053.9210.1203.5183.3
Grand Total1,029.61,006.5969.12,009.71,959.41,839.1

 

Primary forest lossTree cover change
2002-092010-20192002-092010-2019
CountryM ha (%)M ha (%)M ha (%)M ha (%)
Brazil-11.37 (-3.3%)-13.15 (-4.0%)-18.25 (-3.5%)-29.93 (-6.0%)
DR Congo-1.16 (-1.1%)-3.67 (-3.5%)-0.37 (-0.2%)-10.50 (-5.3%)
Indonesia-3.63 (-3.9%)-5.85 (-6.5%)-2.09 (-1.3%)-15.98 (-10.1%)
Colombia-0.54 (-1.0%)-0.96 (-1.8%)0.17 (0.2%)-2.43 (-3.0%)
Peru-0.60 (-0.9%)-1.37 (-2.0%)0.68 (0.9%)-2.10 (-2.7%)
Bolivia-0.90 (-2.2%)-1.84 (-4.6%)-1.67 (-2.6%)-3.75 (-6.0%)
Venezuela-0.15 (-0.4%)-0.33 (-0.9%)0.86 (1.5%)-1.14 (-2.0%)
Angola-0.03 (-1.2%)-0.09 (-3.8%)-1.37 (-2.8%)-1.51 (-3.1%)
Central African Republic-0.05 (-0.6%)-0.11 (-1.5%)0.15 (0.3%)-0.49 (-1.0%)
Papua New Guinea-0.19 (-0.6%)-0.55 (-1.7%)0.04 (0.1%)-1.05 (-2.4%)
Mexico-0.20 (-2.1%)-0.40 (-4.4%)-0.81 (-1.9%)-2.22 (-5.2%)
China-0.03 (-1.9%)-0.04 (-2.4%)-1.67 (-3.9%)-2.66 (-6.5%)
Myanmar-0.19 (-1.4%)-0.38 (-2.8%)-1.90 (-4.4%)-2.70 (-6.6%)
India-0.13 (-1.2%)-0.20 (-2.0%)-3.67 (-10.5%)-1.18 (-3.8%)
Cameroon-0.11 (-0.6%)-0.50 (-2.6%)-0.96 (-3.1%)-1.02 (-3.4%)
Republic of Congo-0.07 (-0.3%)-0.25 (-1.2%)0.28 (1.0%)-0.60 (-2.2%)
Argentina-0.19 (-4.4%)-0.21 (-5.0%)-3.31 (-10.7%)-2.69 (-9.8%)
Gabon-0.08 (-0.3%)-0.16 (-0.7%)0.02 (0.1%)-0.29 (-1.2%)
Malaysia-0.98 (-6.2%)-1.65 (-11.0%)-0.47 (-1.6%)-4.84 (-16.9%)
Mozambique0.00 (-1.6%)-0.01 (-7.5%)-1.60 (-6.0%)-1.95 (-7.8%)
Tanzania-0.01 (-0.9%)-0.02 (-2.8%)-1.21 (-5.5%)-1.31 (-6.3%)
Guyana-0.03 (-0.2%)-0.09 (-0.5%)0.07 (0.3%)-0.14 (-0.8%)
Ecuador-0.05 (-0.5%)-0.12 (-1.2%)0.20 (1.1%)-0.43 (-2.3%)
Thailand-0.07 (-1.2%)-0.05 (-0.9%)-0.75 (-3.8%)-1.31 (-6.9%)
Philippines-0.05 (-1.1%)-0.09 (-2.1%)-0.18 (-1.0%)-0.80 (-4.4%)
Paraguay-0.46 (-13.3%)-0.53 (-17.7%)-3.69 (-15.4%)-3.60 (-17.8%)
Zambia0.00 (-1.0%)-0.02 (-6.5%)-1.07 (-5.8%)-0.77 (-4.4%)
Laos-0.23 (-2.7%)-0.55 (-6.8%)-1.15 (-6.0%)-2.58 (-14.4%)
Suriname-0.02 (-0.2%)-0.10 (-0.8%)0.05 (0.4%)-0.14 (-1.0%)
Rest of the tropics-1.59 (-2.7%)-4.04 (-7.0%)-6.59 (-3.1%)-20.17 (-9.9%)
Grand Total-23.11 (-2.2%)-37.34 (-3.7%)-50.27 (-2.5%)-120.27 (-6.1%)

 

Chapter 2:

RAINFOREST STRUCTURE

Rainforests are characterized by a unique vegetative structure consisting of several vertical layers including the overstory, canopy, understory, shrub layer, and ground level. The canopy refers to the dense ceiling of leaves and tree branches formed by closely spaced forest trees. The upper canopy is 100-130 feet above the forest floor, penetrated by scattered emergent trees, 130 feet or higher, that make up the level known as the overstory. Below the canopy ceiling are multiple leaf and branch levels known collectively as the understory. The lowest part of the understory, 5-20 feet (1.5-6 meters) above the floor, is known as the shrub layer, made up of shrubby plants and tree saplings.

Chapter 3:

RAINFOREST BIODIVERSITY

Tropical rainforests support the greatest diversity of living organisms on Earth. Although they cover less than 2 percent of Earth’s surface, rainforests house more than 50 percent of the plants and animals on the planet.

There are several reasons why rainforests are so diverse. Some important factors are:
  • Climate: because rainforests are located in tropical regions, they receive a lot of sunlight. The sunlight is converted to energy by plants through the process of photosynthesis. Since there is a lot of sunlight, there is a lot of energy in the rainforest. This energy is stored in plant vegetation, which is eaten by animals. The abundance of energy supports an abundance of plant and animal species.
  • Canopy: the canopy structure of the rainforest provides an abundance of places for plants to grow and animals to live. The canopy offers sources of food, shelter, and hiding places, providing for interaction between different species. For example, there are plants in the canopy called bromeliads that store water in their leaves. Frogs and other animals use these pockets of water for hunting and laying their eggs.
  • Competition: while there is lots of energy in the rainforest system, life is not easy for most species that inhabit the biome. In fact, the rainforest is an intensively competitive place, with species developing incredible strategies and innovations to survive, encouraging specialization.
While species everywhere are known for utilizing symbiotic relationships with other species to survive, the biological phenomenon is particularly abundant in rainforests.

 

Chapter 4:

THE RAINFOREST CANOPY

In the rainforest most plant and animal life is not found on the forest floor, but in the leafy world known as the canopy. The canopy, which may be over 100 feet (30 m) above the ground, is made up of the overlapping branches and leaves of rainforest trees. Scientists estimate that more than half of life in the rainforest is found in the trees, making this the richest habitat for plant and animal life.

The conditions of the canopy are markedly different from the conditions of the forest floor. During the day, the canopy is drier and hotter than other parts of the forest, and the plants and animals that live there have adapted accordingly. For example, because the amount of leaves in the canopy can make it difficult to see more than a few feet, many canopy animals rely on loud calls or lyrical songs for communication. Gaps between trees mean that some canopy animals fly, glide, or jump to move about in the treetops. Meanwhile plants have evolved water-retention mechanisms like waxy leaves.

Scientists have long been interested in studying the canopy, but the height of trees made research difficult until recently. Today the canopy is commonly accessed using climbing gear, rope bridges, ladders, and towers. Researchers are even using model airplanes and quadcopters outfitted with special sensors — conservation drones — to study the canopy.



Chapter 5:

The rainforest floor

The rainforest floor is often dark and humid due to constant shade from the leaves of canopy trees. The canopy not only blocks out sunlight, but dampens wind and rain, and limits shrub growth.

Despite its constant shade, the ground floor of the rainforest is the site for important interactions and complex relationships. The forest floor is one of the principal sites of decomposition, a process paramount for the continuance of the forest as a whole. It provides support for trees responsible for the formation of the canopy and is also home to some of the rainforest's best-known species, including gorillas, tigers, tapirs, and elephants, among others.

Rainforest in Tangkoko National Park, North Sulawesi Province, Indonesia in 2017. Photo by Rhett A. Butler
Chapter 6:

Rainforest waters

Tropical rainforests support some of the largest rivers in the world, like the Amazon, Mekong, Negro, Orinoco, and Congo. These mega-rivers are fed by countless smaller tributaries, streams, and creeks. For example, the Amazon alone has some 1,100 tributaries, 17 of which are over 1,000 miles long. Although large tropical rivers are fairly uniform in appearance and water composition, their tributaries vary greatly.

Rainforest waters are home to a wealth of wildlife that is nearly as diverse as the biota on land. For example, more than 5,600 species of fish have been identified in the Amazon Basin alone.

But like rainforests, tropical ecosystems are also threatened. Dams, deforestation, channelization and dredging, pollution, mining, and overfishing are chief dangers.

Chapter 7:

Rainforest people

Tropical rainforests have long been home to tribal peoples who rely on their surroundings for food, shelter, and medicines. Today very few forest people live in traditional ways; most have been displaced by outside settlers, have been forced to give up their lifestyles by governments, or have chosen to adopt outside customs.

Of the remaining forest people, the Amazon supports the largest number of indigenous people living in traditional ways, although these people, too, have been impacted by the modern world. Nonetheless, indigenous peoples' knowledge of medicinal plants remains unmatched and they have a great understanding of the ecology of the Amazon rainforest.

In Africa there are native forest dwellers sometimes known as pygmies. The tallest of these people, also called the Mbuti, rarely exceed 5 feet in height. Their small size enables them to move about the forest more efficiently than taller people.

There are few forest peoples in Asia living in fully traditional ways. The last nomadic people in Borneo are thought to have settled in the late 2000's. New Guinea and the Andaman Islands are generally viewed as the last frontiers for forest people in Asia and the Pacific.

Chapter 8:

Deforestation

Every year an area of rainforest the size of New Jersey is cut down and destroyed, mostly the result of human activities. We are cutting down rainforests for many reasons, including:

  • wood for both timber and making fires;
  • agriculture for both small and large farms;
  • land for poor farmers who don’t have anywhere else to live;
  • grazing land for cattle (the single biggest driver of deforestation in the Amazon);
  • plantations, including wood-pulp for making paper, oil palm for making palm oil, and rubber;
  • road construction; and
  • extraction of minerals and energy.

In recent decades there has been an important shift in deforestation trends. Today export-driven industries are driving a bigger share of deforestation than ever before, marking a shift from previous decades, when most tropical deforestation was the product of poor farmers trying to put food on the table for their families. There are important implications from this change. While companies have a greater capacity to chop down forests than small farmers, they are more sensitive to pressure from environmentalists. Thus in recent years, it has become easier—and more ethical—for green groups to go after corporations than after poor farmers.

Rainforests are also threatened by climate change, which is contributing to droughts in parts of the Amazon and Southeast Asia. Drought causes die-offs of trees and dries out leaf litter, increasing the risk of forest fires, which are often set by land developers, ranchers, plantation owners, and loggers.

Tropical primary forest cover and tree cover by country in 2020
Chapter 9:

Rainforest importance

While rainforests may seem like a distant concern, they are critically important for our well-being. Rainforests are often called the lungs of the planet for their role in absorbing carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas, and producing oxygen, upon which all animals depend for survival. Rainforests also stabilize climate, house incredible amounts of plants and wildlife, and produce nourishing rainfall all around the planet.

Rainforests:

  • Help stabilize the world’s climate: Rainforests help stabilize the world’s climate by absorbing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. Scientists have shown that excess carbon dioxide in the atmosphere from human activities is contributing to climate change. Therefore, living rainforests have an important role in mitigating climate change, but when rainforests are chopped down and burned, the carbon stored in their wood and leaves is released into the atmosphere, contributing to climate change.
  • Provide a home to many plants and animals: Rainforests are home to a large number of the world’s plant and animals species, including many endangered species. As forests are cut down, many species are doomed to extinction.
  • Help maintain the water cycle: The role of rainforests in the water cycle is to add water to the atmosphere through the process of transpiration (in which plants release water from their leaves during photosynthesis). This moisture contributes to the formation of rain clouds, which release the water back onto the rainforest. In the Amazon, 50-80 percent of moisture remains in the ecosystem’s water cycle. When forests are cut down, less moisture goes into the atmosphere and rainfall declines, sometimes leading to drought. Rainforests also have a role in global weather patterns. For example researchers have shown that forests in South America affect rainfall in the United States, while forests in Southeast Asia influence rain patterns in southeastern Europe and China. Distant rainforests are therefore important to farmers everywhere.
  • Protect against flood, drought, and erosion: Rainforests have been compared to natural sponges, moderating flood and drought cycles by slowing run-off and contributing moisture to the local atmosphere. Rainforests are also important in reducing soil erosion by anchoring the ground with their roots. When trees are cut down there is no longer anything to protect the ground, and soils are quickly washed away with rain. On steep hillsides, loss of forest can trigger landslides.
  • Are a source for medicines and foods and support forest-dependent people: People have long used forests as a source of food, wood, medicine, and recreation. When forests are lost, they can no longer provide these resources. Instead people must find other places to get these goods and services. They also must find ways to pay for the things they once got for free from the forest.
Chapter 10:

Rainforest conservation

Rainforests are disappearing very quickly. The good news is there are a lot of people who want to save rainforests. The bad news is that saving rainforests will be a challenge as it means humanity will need to shift away from business-as-usual practices by developing new policies and economic measures to creative incentives for preserving forests as healthy and productive ecosystems.

Over the past decade there has been considerable progress on several conservation fronts. Policymakers and companies are increasingly valuing rainforests for the services they afford, setting aside large blocks of forests in protected areas and setting up new financial mechanisms that compensate communities, state and local governments, and countries for conserving forests. Meanwhile, forest-dependent people are gaining more management control over the forests they have long stewarded. Large international companies are finally establishing policies that exclude materials sourced via deforestation. People are abandoning rural areas, leading to forest recovery in some planes.

But the battle is far from over. Growing population and consumption means that rainforests will continue to face intense pressures. At the same time, climate change threatens to dramatically alter temperatures and precipitation patterns, potentially pushing some forests toward critical tipping points.

Thus the future of the world's rainforests in very much in our hands. The actions we take in the next 20 years will determine whether rainforests, as we currently know them, are around to sustain and nourish future generations of people and wildlife.

The Latest News on Rainforests

Deforestation spurred by road project creeps closer to Sumatra wildlife haven (14 Jan 2021 10:59:15 +0000)
- A road in Sumatra that cuts through the only habitat on Earth that houses rhinos, tigers, elephants and orangutans has recently been upgraded, stoking fears of greater human incursion into the rainforest.
- Already the upgrades have seen a proliferation of human settlements along a section of the road in a forest adjacent to Gunung Leuser National Park, resulting in the loss of 1,200 hectares (3,000 acres) of forest.
- Environmentalists say it’s only a matter of time before the encroachment spreads into the national park, triggering fears that it will fragment the habitat of the critically endangered Sumatran orangutans.
- The road upgrade was carried out despite calls against it from UNESCO, which lists the national park as part of a World Heritage Site and has identified infrastructure projects as a threat to the ecosystem.

Podcast: What are the tropical forest storylines to watch in 2021? (13 Jan 2021 22:45:08 +0000)
- Happy new year to all of our faithful Mongabay Newscast listeners! For our first episode of the year, we take stock of how the world’s rainforests fared in 2020 and look ahead to the major stories to watch in 2021.
- We’re joined by Mongabay founder and CEO Rhett Butler, who discusses the impacts of the Covid pandemic on tropical forest conservation efforts, the most important issues likely to impact rainforests in 2021, and why he remains hopeful despite setbacks in recent years.
- We also speak with Joe Eisen, executive director of Rainforest Foundation UK, who helps us dig deeper into the major issues and events that will affect Africa’s rainforests in the coming year.

Indigenous agroforestry revives profitable palm trees and the Atlantic Forest (13 Jan 2021 19:24:22 +0000)
- Highly popular in Brazil because of its delicious heart, the jussara palm was eaten nearly to the brink of extinction.
- The Indigenous Guarani people from the São Paulo coast are traditional consumers of jussara palm hearts, and decided to reverse the loss by planting thousands of palm trees inside their reserve.
- With more than 100,000 jussara palms planted since 2008, the community now sells hearts and seedlings to tourists and beach house owners. The next step is to start extracting the pulp from jussara berries — similar to açaí berries, the popular superfood — which the group hopes will generate enough income to keep the palm trees standing.
- The palms grow among native trees in an ancient and increasingly popular agricultural technique called agroforestry, which combines woody trees with shrubs, vines, and annuals, in a system that benefits wildlife, builds water tables and soil, provides food, and sequesters carbon.

Deregulation law ‘raises corruption risk’ in Indonesia’s forestry sector (13 Jan 2021 10:37:30 +0000)
- Experts have warned that a controversial deregulation act will serve as a springboard for greater corruption in Indonesia’s forestry sector.
- They say a pervasive lack of transparency will allow companies such as plantation operators to whitewash their illegal occupation of forests or take control of larger swaths of land than permitted, among other risks.
- The experts have called for greater transparency, especially on the beneficial ownership of companies, and more detailed guidelines on how to implement the deregulation law.

California-sized area of forest lost in just 14 years (13 Jan 2021 00:14:01 +0000)
- An area of forest roughly the size of California was cleared across the tropics and subtropics between 2004 and 2017 largely for commercial agriculture, finds a new assessment published by the World Wildlife Fund (WWF).
- The report looks at the state of forests and causes of deforestation in 24 “active deforestation fronts”, which account for over half of all tropical and subtropical deforestation that occurred over the 14-year period. These include nine forest areas in Latin America, eight in Africa, and seven in Asia and Oceania.
- Using five satellite-based datasets, the report finds 43 million hectares (166,000 square miles) of deforestation during the period. Nearly two-thirds of that loss occurred in Latin America.
- The report lays out a series of actions to address deforestation, include policy measures by governments and companies. These range from commodity sourcing policies to recognizing Indigenous and local communities’ land rights.

Six rangers killed in deadly militia attack in DRC’s Virunga National Park (11 Jan 2021 13:51:24 +0000)
- The incident is the latest in a series of deadly attacks against rangers working inside the park.
- The Congolese agency that supervises ranger operations said the attack was likely carried out by members of a local militia.
- Land pressures and instability in eastern DRC have increasingly brought rangers from Virunga into conflict with armed groups in the region.

Paper giant APP failing its own sustainability goals, report alleges (11 Jan 2021 08:27:34 +0000)
- A new report urges bank and buyers to stop doing business with Asia Pulp & Paper (APP), one of the world’s biggest paper producers, for its alleged failure to uphold its own sustainability commitments.
- The report, by the Environmental Paper Network (EPN), a coalition of NGOs, lists a litany of violations — from destruction of tropical peat ecosystems to the prevalence of burning to persistent community conflicts — associated with APP’s operations in Indonesia.
- The company has denied the allegations, saying it continues to make strides in restoring peat areas of its concessions and resolving land disputes with local and Indigenous communities.
- However, the EPN points to a lack of transparency and verifiable progress in both APP’s sustainability commitments and resolution of conflicts.

A good year for the Philippine eagle in 2020, but not for its supporters (08 Jan 2021 21:05:50 +0000)
- The country’s pandemic lockdown, among the longest and strictest in the world, curtailed field expeditions in the southern Mindanao region, impacting the conservation of the critically endangered Philippine eagles (Phitecopaga jefferyi).
- Despite the limitations, Philippine eagle conservationists and their partner agencies rescued seven eagles and sighted two new eagle families.
- Conservationists note that more eagles have been seen in the wild in Mindanao, among the last remaining bastions of the species, which means that conservation drives to educate communities are working.
- While 2020 was a productive year for eagle conservation, the pandemic crippled the steady stream of revenue coming from tourists visiting the Philippine Eagle Center in Davao City.

Colombian and Ecuadorian Indigenous communities live in fear as drug traffickers invade (08 Jan 2021 20:15:07 +0000)
- The Siona Indigenous group inhabits communities in two Indigenous territories: Buenavista in Colombia and the smaller Wisuyá in Ecuador.
- Both territories have seen increasing deforestation in recent years, which sources attribute to oil extraction, logging and the clearing of land for illicit crops – mainly coca, which is used to make cocaine.
- Armed groups control the trade and processing of coca and sources say those who oppose them face violent reprisal.

Lack of protection leaves Spain-size swath of Brazilian Amazon up for grabs (08 Jan 2021 16:15:42 +0000)
- Fifty million hectares (124 million acres) of undesignated forest in the Brazilian Amazon, an area the size of Spain, is under growing threat of illegal occupation and deforestation facilitated by a controversial government land registry.
- A Greenpeace Brazil study shows 62% of undesignated forest along a stretch of the BR-163 Highway has been illegally invaded and then registered by the occupiers with the Rural Environmental Registry (CAR).
- CAR, a self-declaratory system, was created in 2012 to help identify those responsible for rural plots, however, combined with the current weakening of environmental agencies and of field actions against deforestation, it’s helping legitimize land grabbing.
- The problem of land grabbing in the Amazon, often by speculators looking to sell to cattle ranchers and crop growers, is not new, but the situation has intensified under the administration of President Jair Bolsonaro. The Greenpeace researchers say there’s little prospect of a crackdown on land grabbing under the present political scenario.

Cocaine production driving deforestation into Colombian national park (07 Jan 2021 16:33:19 +0000)
- Catatumbo Barí National Natural Park protects unique, remote rainforest in northeastern Colombia.
- Satellite data show the park lost 6.2% of its tree cover between 2001 and 2019, with several months of unusually high deforestation in 2020.
- Sources say illegal coca cultivation is rapidly expanding in and around Catatumbo Barí and is driving deforestation as farmers move in and clear forest to grow the illicit crop, which is used to make cocaine.
- Area residents say armed groups are controlling the trade of coca in and out of the region, and are largely operating in an atmosphere of impunity.

For Latin America’s environmental defenders, Escazú Agreement is a voice and a shield (07 Jan 2021 13:03:31 +0000)
- The Escazú Agreement is an unprecedented regional treaty in Latin America and the Caribbean that provides access to environmental information, public participation in environmental decision-making, and measures to protect environmental activists.
- The treaty’s ratification by 11 countries is the final step for the agreement to enter into force, the end of an eight-year process that has been marked throughout by the deep involvement of civil society groups.
- Experts say the success of the treaty will depend on the political will of the signatory countries, and on the continued efforts of civil society actors to hold those governments accountable.
- The agreement still faces heavy opposition within many countries in the region, from groups who claim that it will compromise state sovereignty, threaten business interests, and open up internal affairs to international interference.

Historical data point to ‘imminent extinction’ of Tapanuli orangutan (07 Jan 2021 11:56:07 +0000)
- A new study indicates that the Tapanuli orangutan, already the world’s most threatened great ape species, faces a much greater risk of extinction than previously thought.
- It estimates the orangutans today occupy just 2.5% of their historical range, and attributes this to loss of habitat and hunting.
- Those threats persist today and are compounded by mining and infrastructure projects inside the Tapanuli orangutan’s last known habitat in northern Sumatra.
- At the current rates at which its habitat is being lost and the ape is being hunted, the extinction of the Tapanuli orangutan is inevitable, the researchers say.

Canopy beetles and flowering trees rely on each other in the Amazon, study (06 Jan 2021 15:15:29 +0000)
- A canopy scientist collected 859 species of beetles from the canopy species of a healthy lowland tropical rainforest in southern Venezuela.
- More than 75% of the beetle species collected were found living exclusively on flowering trees — many on trees with small white flowers.
- The results suggest that flowering trees play an important role in maintaining canopy beetle diversity in the Amazon and that these trees are being visited by beetles more than any other insect order, including bees and butterflies.
- To fight the global decline of insects, “researchers and conservationists must understand the ecological connections between insects and their food plants.”

For Sumatran elephant conservation, involvement of local people is key (commentary) (05 Jan 2021 19:56:49 +0000)
- For critically endangered Sumatran elephants, a long-term conservation strategy must include community involvement in mitigating human-elephant conflict, in addition to securing viable habitats.
- Any successful conflict mitigation should raise the awareness of–and gain acceptance from–the local community, requiring adequate support from governments and conservation NGOs.
- Only when viable habitats and community involvement are both ensured will the well-being of the local people, as well as the conservation of Sumatran elephants, be secured.
- This article is a commentary. The views expressed are those of the author, not necessarily Mongabay.