Amazon Trees Pummeled by Deforestation and Climate Change

Amazonian forests in Bolivia. (Photo by Oriol Massana & Adrià López-Baucells)

(CN) – Deforestation will continue to chip away at the Amazon rainforest, but in the next several decades climate change will speed up the process. The forbidding scenario is laid out in a study published on Monday, with the near-extinction scenario for the South American forest occurring by 2050.

Human activity has spurred deforestation along with development of land near the rainforest and the timber industry. Brazil’s president, Jair Bolsonaro, has recently sought to remove environmental protections in order to open up mining and logging operations. Brazil holds the largest portion of the Amazon rainforest.

That could all be exacerbated by climate change, with tree species losing an average of 65% of their environment and a total of 53% may be threatened according to researchers from several universities in South America, including the Federal University of Pará in Brazil.

Deforestation will destroy 19% to 35% percent of the Amazon’s trees, while climate change will complete the destruction with another 31-37% tree species dying off, according to the study published in the journal Nature.

The Amazon rainforest covers 2.1 million square miles and is home to a wide array of plant and animal species. The tropical rainforest spreads across Brazil, Colombia, Peru and several other countries.

Researchers studied existing climate change and deforestation models for the study. The best-case scenario of reducing climate change and limiting deforestation would show a number of threatened species would be on the smaller scale.

But the impact of the combined scenarios if left unchecked would begin in the eastern section of the rainforest and spread west. If nothing is done to protect the Amazon through conservation efforts and climate change continues to ramp up, the Amazon rainforest would be cut into two sections. One would be a continuous block with 53% of the original area and another severely fragmented block.

“Small forest fragments will also quickly lose species and biomass due to overhunting, causing a decrease in populations of large bodied animals and further reducing species richness for trees that depend on these species for dispersal,” according to the study.

Tropical forests like the Amazon play a key role in regulating atmospheric carbon dioxide levels, regulating the climate and safeguarding biodiversity.

“The true losses behind their degradation may be immeasurable,” the study authors wrote. “Biologists have warned for more than a century about the possible demise of the Atlantic forest, and yet only 12% of its original cover remains. We must try to avoid that Amazonia will suffer the same fate.”

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