Brazil's forests

By Rhett A. Butler [Last update August 14, 2020]

Brazil holds about one-third of the world's remaining primary tropical rainforests, including about 60% the Amazon rainforest. Terrestrially speaking, it is also the most biodiverse country on Earth, with more than 34,000 described species of plants, 1,813 species of birds, 1,022 amphibians, 648 mammals, and 814 reptiles.

About 80% of Brazil's tropical forest cover is found in the Amazon Basin, a mosaic of ecosystems and vegetation types including rainforests (the vast majority), seasonal forests, deciduous forests, flooded forests, and savannas, including the woody cerrado. This region has experienced an exceptional extent of forest loss over the past two generations—an area exceeding 760,000 square kilometers, or about 19 percent of its total surface area of 4 million square kilometers, has been cleared in the Amazon since 1970, when only 2.4 percent of the Amazon's forests had been lost. The increase in Amazon deforestation in the early 1970s coincided with the construction of the Trans-Amazonian Highway, which opened large forest areas to development by settlers and commercial interests. In more recent years, growing populations in the Amazon region, combined with increased viability of agricultural operations, have caused a further rise in deforestation rates.

Natural forest in the Brazilian Amazon (Amazonia) by year

This data excludes extensive areas degraded by fires and selective logging, nor forest regrowth, which by one Brazilian government estimate occurs on about 20% of deforested areas. The area of Amazon forest degraded each year in Brazil is thought to be roughly equivalent to the amount of forest cleared. Forest degradation is significant because degraded forests are more likely to be cleared in the future. Degraded forest is also more susceptible to fires.

Why is the Amazon rainforest disappearing?

Historically the majority of deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon was the product of subsistence farmers, but in recent decades this has changed, with a greater proportion of forest clearing driven by large landowners and corporations. The majority of deforestation in the region can be attributed to land clearing for pasture by commercial and speculative interests.

In the early phase of this transition, Brazilian deforestation was strongly correlated to the economic health of the country: the decline in deforestation from 1988-1991 nicely matched the economic slowdown during the same period, while the rocketing rate of deforestation from 1993-1998 paralleled Brazil's period of rapid economic growth. During lean times, ranchers and developers do not have the cash to expand their pasturelands and operations, while the government lacks the budget flexibility to underwrite highways and colonization programs and grant tax breaks and subsidies to agribusiness, logging, and mining interests.

But this dynamic shifted in the mid-2000s, when the link between deforestation and the broader Brazilian economy began to wane. Between 2004 and 2012 the annual rate of deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon fell 80% to the lowest levels recorded since annual record keeping began in the late 1980s. This decline occurred at the same time that Brazil's economy expanded 40 percent and agricultural output surged.

Tree cover loss and primary forest loss in the Brazilian Amazon according to analysis of satellite data by Hansen et al 2020
Comparison of data on deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon, 2001-2019, between official Brazilian government data and Hansen et al 2020.

Why did Amazon deforestation decline?

There are several reasons commonly cited for the decline in Brazil's deforestation rate between 2004 and 2012.

One of the most important active measures was the launch of the Action Plan for the Prevention and Control of Deforestation in the Legal Amazon (PPCDAm) in 2004. PPCDAm aimed to reduce deforestation rates continuously and facilitate conditions that support a transition towards a sustainable economic development model in the region. PPCDAm had three main components: land tenure and spatial planning, environmental monitoring and control, and supporting sustainable production.

These components resulted in increased enforcement of environmental laws; improved forest monitoring by satellite, which enabled law enforcement to take action; new incentives for utilizing already deforested lands; and expanded protected areas and indigenous reserves. A byproduct of PPCDAm was heightened sensitivity to environmental criticism among private sector companies and emerging awareness of the values of ecosystem services afforded by the Amazon.

Other factors also played a part in the decline in deforestation, including macroeconomic trends like a stronger Brazilian currency, which reduced the profitability of export-driven agriculture; prioritization of non-rainforest areas like the adjacent cerrado ecosystem for agribusiness expansion; and increased diversification in the Brazilian economy as a whole.

Amazon rainforest in Brazil. Photo by Rhett A. Butler

Why has progress in reducing Amazon deforestation stalled?

Progress in reducing deforestation stalled after 2012 and forest loss has been trending upward since. There is debate over why this is the case, but some researchers argue that Brazil achieved about as much as it could through law enforcement and other punitive measures ("the stick" in the proverbial "the carrot and stick" approach). Reducing deforestation further requires sufficient economic incentives ("the carrot") to maintain forests as healthy and productive ecosystems. Put another way, standing forest needs to be made more valuable than clearing it for pasture or crops.

By that line of thought, the political impetus for reducing deforestation began to wane as ranchers, farmers, investors, and land speculators grew tried of fines, threats of legal action, and prohibitions against clearing. Political movements like the ruralistas pushed harder for relation of environmental laws and amnesty for past transgressions. These interests gained momentum when the Temer administration came to power in 2016 and won more clout with the election of Jair Bolsonaro in late 2018. Bolsonaro, who campaigned on the promise to open the Amazon to extractive industries and agribusiness while disparaging environmentalists and indigenous peoples, immediately set about dismantling protections for the Amazon when he took office in January 2019. Deforestation increased sharply thereafter.

Causes of deforestation in the Amazon

In evaluating deforestation in the Amazon, it is important to understand both direct and indirect drivers of forest loss.

Direct drivers of deforestation including conversion of forests for pasture, farmland, and plantations, as well as surface mining, dams that inundate forested areas, and intense fires.

Indirect drivers of deforestation include more subtle factors, like insecure land tenure, corruption, poor law enforcement, infrastructure projects, policies that favor conversion over conservation, and selective logging that create conditions or enable activities that facilitate forest clearing.

Pie chart showing drivers of deforestation in the Amazon
Causes of deforestation in the Amazon, 2001-2013 Share of direct deforestation
Cattle ranching63%
Small-scale agriculture
Includes both subsistence and commercial
12%
Fires
Sub-canopy fires often result in degradation, not deforestation
9%
Agriculture
Large-scale industrial agriculture like soy and plantations
8%
Logging
Selective logging commonly results in degradation, not deforestation
6%
Other
Mining, urbanization, road construction, dams, etc.
2%

 

Cattle ranching

Conversion of rainforest for cattle pasture is the single largest driver of deforestation in Brazil. Clearing forest for pasture is the cheapest and easiest way to establish an informal claim to land, which can then be sold on to other parties at a profit. In some parts of the Brazilian Amazon, cleared rainforest land can be worth more than eight times that of land with standing forest. According, cattle ranching is often viewed as a way to speculate on appreciating land prices.

However since 2000, cattle ranching in the Amazon has become increasingly industrialized, meaning that more ranchers are producing cattle to sell commercially. Most of the beef ends up in the domestic market, but secondary products like hides and leather are often exported.

These exports left Brazilian cattle ranchers exposed in the late 2000s when Greenpeace launched a high profile campaign against companies that were sourcing leather and other products from major Brazilian cattle processors. That campaign led major companies to demand zero deforestation cattle. Combined with a crackdown by public prosecutors, the Brazilian cattle industry started to shift substantially toward less damaging practices in late 2009 by signing the "Cattle Agreement", which barred the sourcing of cattle from illegally deforested areas.

However by the mid-2010s investigations revealed that some major cattle producers were circumventing the safeguards established under the Cattle Agreement by laundering cattle through third party ranches. Unlike soy (see below), cattle are highly mobile, making it easy for ranchers to shift livestock clandestinely.

Deforestation for soy in the Brazilian Amazon. The isolated tree is a Brazil nut. Photo by Rhett A. Butler

Soy

The model for the Brazilian cattle industry to move toward zero deforestation came from the country's soy industry, which underwent a similar transformation three years earlier. That shift was also initiative by a Greenpeace campaign, which targeted the soy-based chicken feed used by McDonald's in Europe. Within months of that campaign's launch, the largest soy crushers and traders in the Amazon had established a moratorium on buying soy produced via deforestation in the Amazon.

Timber

Logging in the Brazilian Amazon remains plagued by poor management, destructive practices, and outright fraud. Vast areas of rainforest are logged -- legally and illegally -- each year. According to government sources and NGOs, the vast majority of logging in the Brazilian Amazon is illegal.

Palm oil

At present, Amazon palm oil is not a major driver of deforestation in Brazil. While there are concerns that it could eventually exacerbate deforestation, there is also a chance that it could replace degraded cattle pasture, boosting economic productivity at a low environmental cost.

Dams, roads, and other infrastructure projects

Brazil's infrastructure spree from the late-2000s to mid-2010s was interrupted by the corruption scandals of the mid-2010s. Many of the scores of dams being built across the Amazon basin were put on hold following the Lava Jato scandal that ensnared senior politicians in several countries and executives at the infrastructure giant Odebrecht. Yet the scandals also helped usher in the presidency of Jair Bolsonaro, which reinvigorated the push to build roads, dams, and mines in the Amazon.

Amazon rainforest in Brazil. Photo by Rhett A. Butler

Conservation in Brazil

While Brazil may be better known for losing its forests, during the 2000s it easily led the world in establishing new protected areas. Those gains were consolidated in 2014, when donors established a trust fund that will underwrite the country's protected areas system through 2039.

Beyond strict protected areas, more than a fifth of the Brazilian Amazon lies within indigenous reservations, which research has shown reduce deforestation even more effectively than national parks. Overall nearly half the Brazilian Amazon is under some form of protection.

Brazil's other forests

While the Amazon rainforest is Brazil's most famous forest, the country also has other types of forest.

The Mata Atlântica or Atlantic Forest is a drier tropical forest that lies along the coast and inland areas to the south of the Amazon. It has been greatly reduced by conversion to agriculture -- especially sugar cane and cattle pasture -- and urbanization. The Mata Atlântica is arguably Brazil's most threatened forest.

Forest loss in Brazil's Mata Atlantica according to National Space Research Institute, INPE

The Pantanal is an inland wetland that borders Paraguay and Bolivia and covers an area of 154,884 square kilometers. It includes a mosaic of forests and flooded grasslands.

The cerrado biome is a tropical grassland that covers 1.9 square kilometers, or approximately 22 percent of the country. It is being rapidly destroyed for agriculture.

The chaco biome is a dry forest ecosystem that extends into Paraguay, Bolivia, and Argentina.

Brazil's tropical forests

Primary forest extentTree cover extent
StateDominant forest biome20012020% losss20012020% losss
AcreAmazon13,505,69012,583,4186.8%14312070134293788.1%
AlagoasAtlantic forest35,53734,9331.7%57551851079211.4%
AmapáAmazon10,934,64510,792,2681.3%12172480121887352.5%
AmazonasAmazon143,485,183141,217,4831.6%1505680051482690452.0%
BahiaAtlantic forest1,297,7021,187,3478.5%187766221518773716.5%
CearáAtlantic forest74,39572,5012.5%2974477280712710.0%
Espírito SantoAtlantic forest128,492124,4063.2%1813455167559918.8%
GoiásAtlantic forest / Cerrado388,506328,32915.5%7736542680816313.3%
MaranhãoAmazon3,185,7322,483,15322.1%210154431639155623.0%
Mato GrossoAmazon / Cerrado / Chaco39,009,64531,696,95318.7%563962284616815018.7%
Mato Grosso do SulAtlantic forest / Cerrado1,489,0951,356,7178.9%10191243876195312.6%
Minas GeraisAtlantic forest / Cerrado268,244258,6883.6%183574221745008214.0%
ParáAmazon92,225,89683,576,9739.4%1079637179701346412.4%
ParaíbaAtlantic forest23,76423,5121.1%11214826632639.6%
ParanáAtlantic forest1,044,8811,020,2532.4%7947474734017014.1%
PernambucoAtlantic forest42,72741,0014.0%1563136125875910.7%
PiauíCaatinga141,286139,7851.1%11538381930006310.3%
Rio de JaneiroAtlantic forest587,724581,3631.1%180539817379223.8%
Rio Grande do NorteAtlantic forest7,3217,2870.5%90943249110611.0%
Rio Grande do SulAtlantic forest / Cerrado24,16624,1460.1%763611273936658.1%
RondôniaAmazon15,649,57812,470,56320.3%184855791490877921.7%
RoraimaAmazon15,425,75914,683,7384.8%17889964170758365.7%
Santa CatarinaAtlantic forest1,205,5901,176,0142.5%6354636603158012.2%
São PauloAtlantic forest1,837,3211,817,0951.1%6560955646900412.1%
SergipeAtlantic forest17,94016,6707.1%54359139572221.5%
TocantinsAmazon / Cerrado1,194,996995,67116.7%11162164845997216.1%

 

Recent news on Brazil's tropical forests

New voyage checks in on Darwin’s species, nearly 200 years after Beagle (Aug 19 2022)
- On Sept. 12, 2021, French documentary maker Victor Rault set sail from Plymouth, England, aboard his sailing ship, the Captain Darwin.
- His goal is to retrace the same route taken by famed naturalist Charles Darwin nearly 200 years earlier and assess how the species he described in the 19th century are faring today.
- Rault has already made stops in Brazil, in the same places that Darwin visited, and recorded a mixed picture as a result of widespread deforestation: a decline in sloth numbers, but a boom in the population of leafcutter ants.
- At the end of his four-year voyage, Rault plans to write a book and make a documentary: “My aim is to predict what the world will look like if we decide to take action as a global community now, and not wait for the extinction of all the species.”

Commodity kings Cargill, Bunge buying soy from stolen Indigenous land, report says (Aug 19 2022)
- Commodity-trading giants Cargill and Bunge source some of their soy products, including chicken feed and pet food, to land where Indigenous communities have suffered violence and displacement, according to a new report from Earthsight, an organization investigating environmental and social injustices.
- The companies have ties to a 9,700-hectare (24,000-acre) soy farm in the state of Mato Grosso do Sul that operates on the ancestral land of the Guarani Kaiowá, an Indigenous group that has spent the last several decades fighting forced eviction.
- The report documented supply chain links between soy from the Brasília do Sul farm and chicken retailers like KFC, Sainsbury’s, Asda, Aldi and Iceland, as well as German supermarket chains like Rewe Markt, Netto Marken-Discount, Lidl, Aldi and Edeka.
- Earthsight said Cargill and Bunge need to take a firmer stance on Indigenous rights rather than passing off responsibility to intermediaries or deferring to legal loopholes.

Amazon deforestation on pace to roughly match last year’s rate of loss (Aug 12 2022)
- Deforestation in Earth’s largest rainforest is on track to rival last year’s 15-year-high according to data released today by the Brazilian government.
- INPE, Brazil’s national space research institute, today published figures from its DETER deforestation alert system, which tracks forest clearing on a near-real time basis. INPE’s system detected 8,590 square kilometers of deforestation between August 1, 2021 and July 31, 2022, 2.3% lower than the previous year, when deforestation hit the highest level since 2006.
- The area of forest affected by degradation and selected cutting, which is typically a precursor to outright deforestation, climbed 15.6% year over year.
- 2022’s tally represents an area nearly the size of Puerto Rico or Cypress. But the actual area of forest loss over the past 12 months is significantly higher: INPE is expected to release its findings from analysis of high resolution satellite imagery in October or November.

Big banks fund the heavy machinery used for Amazon deforestation, report says (Aug 4 2022)
- A new report from investigative outlet Repórter Brasil describes how the demand for heavy machinery like bulldozers, excavators and tractors is accelerating deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon.
- Heavy machinery is present at most steps of the process of nearly every activity driving deforestation, including cattle ranching, industrial agriculture and mining, among others.
- A lack of oversight by the government, manufacturers and the banks providing loans for the purchase of the machinery means that almost anyone can acquire one for any purpose.
- The report suggests that GPS tracking technologies be implemented for all heavy machinery and that banks carry out more rigorous due diligence measures.

Violence persists in Amazon region where Pereira and Phillips were killed (Aug 2 2022)
- Armed illegal gold miners on July 15 threatened government rangers near the site where British journalist Dom Phillips and Brazilian Indigenous expert Bruno Pereira were killed in June.
- Days after the threats, federal prosecutors charged three men in the killing of Phillips and Pereira, but activists and lawmakers say the investigation needs to be expanded to identify the possible involvement of criminal organizations.
- Activists say threats against government officials, including Pereira, have happened for decades, but that the situation has grown dire under President Jair Bolsonaro.
- The government’s weakening of environmental agencies and Bolsonaro’s anti-Indigenous rhetoric have created a sense of impunity, emboldening criminals in the Amazon to retaliate against activists and environmentalists who expose their illicit activities, experts say.

Delectable but destructive: Tracing chocolate’s environmental life cycle (Aug 1 2022)
- Chocolate in all its delicious forms is one of the world’s favorite treats. Per capita consumption in the U.S. alone averages around 9 kilograms (19.8 pounds) per year. The industry is worth more than $90 billion globally.
- Ingredients — including cocoa, palm oil and soy — flow from producer nations in Africa, Asia and South America to processors and consumers everywhere. But a recent study reveals that large amounts of these commodities are linked to indirect supply chains, falling outside sustainability programs and linked to untraced deforestation.
- Key producers of these commodities — mostly West African countries for cocoa, Brazil for soy, and Indonesia for palm oil — have faced extensive deforestation due to agricultural production, and will likely face more in future as chocolate demand increases.
- Production, transport and consumption of chocolate also have their own environmental impacts, some of which remain relatively understudied. But researchers inside and outside the industry are working to better trace chocolate deforestation, and to make processing, shipping and packaging more sustainable.

Organized crime drives violence and deforestation in the Amazon, study shows (Aug 1 2022)
- Increasing rates of both deforestation and violence in the Brazilian Amazon are being driven by sprawling national and transnational criminal networks, a study shows.
- Experts say criminal organizations engaged in activities ranging from illegal logging to drug trafficking often threaten and attack environmentalists, Indigenous people, and enforcement agents who attempt to stop them.
- In 2020, the Brazilian Amazon had the highest murder rate in Brazil, at 29.6 homicides per 100,000 habitants, compared to the national average of 23.9, with the highest rates corresponding to municipalities suffering the most deforestation.
- Experts say the current government’s systematic dismantling of environmental protections and enforcement agencies has emboldened these criminal organizations, which have now become “well connected, well established and very strong.”

From agribusiness to oil to nuclear power and submarines: welcome to anti-environmental Putin-Bolsonaro alliance (commentary) (Aug 1 2022)
- Brazil’s dependence on Russian fertilizers has contributed to Jair Bolsonaro’s friendly relationship with Vladimir Putin as well as environmental impacts in the South American nation.
- In this editorial Nikolas Kozloff, an American academic, author and photojournalist, reviews some of the implications of the growing ties between the two leaders, including deforestation in the Amazon, extractive industries, and infrastructure projects.
- This article is a commentary. The views expressed are those of the author, not necessarily of Mongabay.

As the Amazon burns, only the weather can ward off a catastrophe, experts say (Jul 26 2022)
- The Brazilian Amazon saw the highest number of fires for the month of June in 15 years, with 2,562 major fires detected, an increase of 11.14% over 2021.
- The first half of the year had 7,533 major fires, the most since 2019, according to data from the national space research institute.
- On June 23, the Brazilian government issued a decree banning the use of fires to manage forests throughout the country for the next 120 days.
- Experts say they’re skeptical about this ban, noting that similar measures failed to stop the burning in previous years, and say the weather is the only thing that can help curb the increase in fires as the dry season unfolds.

Brazil’s new deforestation data board sparks fear of censorship of forest loss, fires (Jul 22 2022)
- A new council set by the Brazilian government to vet deforestation and forest fire data from the country’s space agency has been widely slammed as a political ploy to aid President Jair Bolsonaro’s reelection bid.
- The National Institute of Space Research (INPE) has provided and analyzed deforestation and forest fire data in the Amazon since 1988 and is globally renowned for its monitoring expertise, but was left out of the new council.
- The Bolsonaro government has questioned the credibility of INPE’s data since taking office in 2019, drawing outrage from scientists and researchers for claiming that data showing a spike in deforestation under Bolsonaro was false.
- Experts have raise concerns that the new council could prevent the release of annual deforestation data, scheduled at the same time as this year’s elections, that are expected to show an alarming increase in both forest loss and fires.

First-of-its-kind freshwater mangroves discovered in Brazil’s Amazon Delta (Jul 20 2022)
- Researchers on an expedition in the Amazon River Delta have found mangroves growing in freshwater — a phenomenon never before documented in deltas or coastal mangroves anywhere else in the world.
- The mangroves, overlooked by previous satellite mapping efforts, increase the known area of mangroves in the region by 20%, or an additional 180 square kilometers (70 square miles).
- Mangroves are a more effective carbon sink than other types of tropical forest, with more than 8% of all carbon stocks worldwide held in Brazil’s mangroves.
- Despite their many ecosystem services, mangroves are not well protected or funded in Brazil.

Amazon deforestation is off to the fastest start to a year since 2008 (Jul 8 2022)
- Deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon is off to the fastest start for the first half of any year since 2008 according to government data published today.
- Deforestation alert data from Brazil’s national space research institute INPE shows that 3,988 square kilometers of forest have been cleared within the Brazilian Amazon since January 1, a 17 percent rise over last year.
- Deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon reached a 15-year high in 2021.

Net-zero commitments must include more anti-deforestation policies, UN tells private sector (Jul 5 2022)
- Many companies with net-zero commitments have made little, tangible progress against tropical deforestation, according to a recent report from a U.N. climate change task force.
- Approximately a third of carbon emissions released each year are absorbed by forests, making tackling deforestation a key part of the fight to keep global temperatures below 1.5°C (2.7°F).
- Many companies, even ones that have implemented other effective net-zero commitments, have fallen short on deforestation, meaning their carbon footprint may end up being larger than they hope.

Habitat loss, climate change send hyacinth macaw reeling back into endangered status (Jul 4 2022)
- The hyacinth macaw, the world’s largest flying parrot, is closer to return to Brazil’s endangered species list, less than a decade after intensive conservation efforts succeeded in getting it off the list.
- The latest assessment still needs to be made official by the Ministry of the Environment, which is likely to publish the updated endangered species list next year.
- Conservation experts attribute the bird’s decline to the loss of its habitat due to fires in the Pantanal wetlands and ongoing deforestation in the Amazon and Cerrado biomes.
- Climate change also poses a serious threat, subjecting the birds to temperature swings that can kill eggs and hatchlings, and driving heavy rainfall that floods their preferred nesting sites.

Protecting Brazil’s Amazon could be a bargain — if the government were willing to pay (Jul 4 2022)
- A new study shows that conserving 350 million hectares (865 million acres) of the Brazilian Amazon — 83% of the biome — would cost between $1.7 billion and $2.8 billion a year.
- That’s a fraction of the $5.3 billion that the European Union spends every year maintaining its 1 million hectares (2.5 million acres) of protected areas.
- Current protected areas cover 51% of the Brazilian Amazon, which experts say isn’t enough to maintain the biome’s biodiversity and must be expanded.
- While the cost for protecting the Amazon is hundreds of times cheaper, hectare for hectare, than in the EU, it’s much higher than what the Brazilian government allocates for environmental conservation.

Indigenous advocates sense a legal landmark as a guardian’s killing heads to trial (Jun 30 2022)
- For the first time in Brazil, the killing of an Indigenous land defender is expected to be tried before a federal jury — escalated to that level because of what prosecutors say was an aggression against the entire Guajajara Indigenous community and Indigenous culture.
- Paulo Paulino Guajajara, 26, was killed in an alleged ambush by illegal loggers in the Arariboia Indigenous Territory in November 2019; two people have been indicted to stand trial in the case.
- The impending trial stands out amid a general culture of impunity that has allowed violence against Indigenous individuals and the theft of their land — including the killings of more than 50 Guajajara individuals in the past 20 years — to go unpunished.
- It could also set an important legal precedent for trying those responsible for the recent killings of British journalist Dom Phillips and Brazilian Indigenous rights defender Bruno Pereira.

In Brazil, an Indigenous land defender’s unsolved killing is the deadly norm (Jun 27 2022)
- Two years after the death of Indigenous land defender Ari Uru-Eu-Wau-Wau in Brazil’s Amazonian state of Rondônia, questions about who killed him and why remain unanswered.
- Perpetrators of crimes against environmental activists are rarely brought to justice in the country, with a government report showing zero convictions for the 35 people killed in incidents of rural violence in 2021 — about a third of them in Rondônia.
- Indigenous groups and environmental activists in Rondônia say they fear for their lives as the criminal gangs that covet the Amazon’s rich resources act with impunity in threatening defenders and invading protected lands.
- Activists and experts point to a combination of the government’s anti-Indigenous rhetoric and the undermining of environmental agencies as helping incite the current surge of invasions and violence against land defenders in Rondônia and the wider Brazilian Amazon.

Pumpkin toadlets can’t jump: The frog that gave up balance for size (Jun 24 2022)
- Pumpkin toadlets are very bad at jumping, often losing balance mid-air and crash landing awkwardly.
- Researchers have determined that this is due to the size of their inner ear canals, the area of the body that regulates balance and orientation: their semicircular ear canals are the smallest recorded in vertebrates.
- The toadlets live in the leaf litter of Brazil’s Atlantic forest, where being small enough to burrow is an advantage.
- But the frogs are so small that the balancing mechanisms in their ears can’t respond to quick movements, resulting in some ungraceful antics.

The war on journalists and environmental defenders in the Amazon continues (commentary) (Jun 16 2022)
- Journalists in Brazil and around the world are devastated about the tragic end of a 10-day search for British journalist Dom Phillips and Indigenous advocate Bruno Pereira in the Amazon rainforest near the Brazil-Peru border in northern Amazonas state. Bodies believed to be theirs were found on June 15 after a huge outcry against the federal government’s inaction following their disappearance. Indigenous patrols bravely conducted their own search while the government did little.
- The murders of Dom and Bruno are emblematic of the plight of journalists across Latin America as violence against both journalists and activists in the region escalates. It also raises an alarm for the need to protect reporters as we report on environmental crime from Nature’s frontline.
- But these crimes will not stop us: Exposing wrongdoing across Brazil’s critical biomes — from the Mata Atlantica to the Cerrado to the Amazon — is more necessary than ever now. At the same time, demanding justice for the murder of Bruno and Dom became a fight for all of us.
- This article is a commentary. The views expressed are those of the author, not necessarily of Mongabay.

Foreign capital powers Brazil’s meatpackers and helps deforest the Amazon (Jun 7 2022)
- To conquer the world market, Brazil’s Big Three beef packers — JBS, Marfrig and Minerva — invited in foreign capital. Today, all three are transnationals, with the original Brazilian founders owning only minority shares in their own companies.
- Foreign investors, including asset management companies and pension funds, now own large stakes, which means that ordinary citizens in the United States and elsewhere are helping fund Amazon deforestation through their investments.
- The three Brazilian families behind the Big Three have remarkable rags-to-riches histories, though with the speed of their expansion and dominance greatly assisted by the Brazilian government, keen to produce “National Champions.”
- The companies expanded rapidly abroad, but their presence in the U.S. means they are now subject to greater scrutiny from authorities and NGOs. However, most small-scale investors, including working people, have no awareness they’re investing in the destruction of the Amazon, one of the world’s most crucial carbon sinks.