More Than Half of the Amazon’s Tree Species Face Extinction

If deforestation continues at its current rate, 40 percent of Amazonian forests could disappear by 2050.
Amazon rainforest burning, forest clearance for cattle raising in the state of Acre, Brazil. (Photo: Ricardo Funari/Getty Images)
Nov 21, 2015· 1 MIN READ
Samantha Cowan is an associate editor for culture.

The world’s most diverse forest could soon become less so if deforestation continues unchecked.

More than half of all tree species in the Amazon may be considered threatened, according to research published Friday in the journal Science Advances. In the next 35 years, common species such as the Brazil nut tree and plants that produce cacao and acai face a 50 percent decline.

Decades of destroying forests for mining, logging, and farming have cut down 12 percent of the Amazon. Previously, little was known about how deforestation rates impact specific species.

“We’ve never had a good idea of how many Amazonian species were vulnerable,” Nigel Pitman, a tropical ecologist at the Field Museum in Chicago, told The New York Times. “And now, with this study, we’ve got an estimate.”

Comparing data from roughly 1,500 forest plots with maps of current and projected deforestation, researchers concluded that between 36 and 57 percent of the more than 15,000 tree species in the Amazon already qualify as globally threatened on the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s Red List.

The 158 researchers from 21 nations also made future projections based on two deforestation scenarios. If current deforestation rates persist, the Amazon could lose 40 percent of its forests by 2050. If further protections against deforestation are taken, that figure drops to 21 percent.

“Fortunately, protected areas and indigenous territories now cover over half of the Amazon basin and likely contain sizeable populations of most threatened species,” researcher Carlos Peres of the University of East Anglia’s School of Environmental Sciences told the BBC.

Those reserves, however, face a variety of threats, from droughts to mining.

High demand for furniture, palm oil, and other products, coupled with population growth, are likely to fuel deforestation. Roughly 50,000 square miles of forest are lost around the globe each year. Deforestation is a major contributor to climate change, as forest loss increases carbon dioxide emissions.