The destruction of great swaths of the Brazilian Amazon has turned scores of rare species into the walking dead, doomed to disappear even if deforestation
were halted in the region overnight, according to a new study.
Forest clearing in Brazil has already claimed casualties, but the animals lost to date in the rainforest region are just one-fifth of those that will slowly die out as the full impact of the loss of habitat takes its toll. In parts of the eastern and southern Amazon, 30 years of concerted deforestation have shrunk viable living and breeding territories enough to condemn 38 species to regional extinction in coming years, including 10 mammal, 20 bird and eight amphibian species, scientists found.
The systematic clearance of trees from the Amazon forces wildlife into ever-smaller patches of ground.
Though few species are killed off directly in forest clearances, many face a slower death sentence as their breeding rates fall and competition for food becomes more intense.
Scientists at Imperial College, London, reached the bleak conclusion after creating a statistical model to calculate the Brazilian Amazon’s “extinction debt”, or the number of species headed for extinction as a result of past deforestation. The model draws on historical deforestation rates and animal populations in 50 by 50 kilometre squares of land.
It stops short of naming the species most at risk, but field workers in the region have drawn attention to scores of creatures struggling to cope with habitat destruction and other environmental threats.