A new study, co-authored by University of Arizona researchers and published in the Sept. 1 issue of Nature, provides the first quantitative assessment of how environmental policies on deforestation, along with forest fires and drought, have impacted the diversity of plants and animals in the Amazon. Researchers used records of more than 14,500 plant and vertebrate species to create biodiversity maps of the Amazon region. Overlaying the maps with historical and current observations of forest fires and deforestation over the last two decades allowed the team to quantify the cumulative impacts on the region’s species. They found that since 2001, between 40,000 and 73,400 square miles of Amazon rainforest have been impacted by fires, affecting 95% of all Amazonian species and as many as 85% of species that are listed as threatened in this region. While forest management policies enacted in Brazil during the mid-2000s slowed the rate of habitat destruction, relaxed enforcement of these policies coinciding with a change in government in 2019 has seemingly begun to reverse this trend, the authors write. With fires impacting 1,640 to 4,000 square miles of forest, 2019 stands out as one of the most extreme years for biodiversity impacts since 2009, when regulations limiting deforestation were enforced.
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