Discover the most talked about and latest scientific content & concepts.

Concept: Tropical rainforest


Ebola virus disease (EVD) is a contagious, severe and often lethal form of hemorrhagic fever in humans. The association of EVD outbreaks with forest clearance has been suggested previously but many aspects remained uncharacterized. We used remote sensing techniques to investigate the association between deforestation in time and space, with EVD outbreaks in Central and West Africa. Favorability modeling, centered on 27 EVD outbreak sites and 280 comparable control sites, revealed that outbreaks located along the limits of the rainforest biome were significantly associated with forest losses within the previous 2 years. This association was strongest for closed forests (>83%), both intact and disturbed, of a range of tree heights (5->19 m). Our results suggest that the increased probability of an EVD outbreak occurring in a site is linked to recent deforestation events, and that preventing the loss of forests could reduce the likelihood of future outbreaks.

Concepts: Forest, Biological warfare, Rainforest, Tropical rainforest, Ebola, Marburg virus, Viral hemorrhagic fever, Incubation period


Tropical rainforest regions have large hydropower generation potential that figures prominently in many nations' energy growth strategies. Feasibility studies of hydropower plants typically ignore the effect of future deforestation or assume that deforestation will have a positive effect on river discharge and energy generation resulting from declines in evapotranspiration (ET) associated with forest conversion. Forest loss can also reduce river discharge, however, by inhibiting rainfall. We used land use, hydrological, and climate models to examine the local “direct” effects (through changes in ET within the watershed) and the potential regional “indirect” effects (through changes in rainfall) of deforestation on river discharge and energy generation potential for the Belo Monte energy complex, one of the world’s largest hydropower plants that is currently under construction on the Xingu River in the eastern Amazon. In the absence of indirect effects of deforestation, simulated deforestation of 20% and 40% within the Xingu River basin increased discharge by 4-8% and 10-12%, with similar increases in energy generation. When indirect effects were considered, deforestation of the Amazon region inhibited rainfall within the Xingu Basin, counterbalancing declines in ET and decreasing discharge by 6-36%. Under business-as-usual projections of forest loss for 2050 (40%), simulated power generation declined to only 25% of maximum plant output and 60% of the industry’s own projections. Like other energy sources, hydropower plants present large social and environmental costs. Their reliability as energy sources, however, must take into account their dependence on forests.

Concepts: Hydrology, Amazon River, Brazil, Rainforest, Tropical rainforest, Amazon Basin, Amazon Rainforest, Xingu River


Amazon forests, which store ∼50% of tropical forest carbon and play a vital role in global water, energy, and carbon cycling, are predicted to experience both longer and more intense dry seasons by the end of the 21st century. However, the climate sensitivity of this ecosystem remains uncertain: several studies have predicted large-scale die-back of the Amazon, whereas several more recent studies predict that the biome will remain largely intact. Combining remote-sensing and ground-based observations with a size- and age-structured terrestrial ecosystem model, we explore the sensitivity and ecological resilience of these forests to changes in climate. We demonstrate that water stress operating at the scale of individual plants, combined with spatial variation in soil texture, explains observed patterns of variation in ecosystem biomass, composition, and dynamics across the region, and strongly influences the ecosystem’s resilience to changes in dry season length. Specifically, our analysis suggests that in contrast to existing predictions of either stability or catastrophic biomass loss, the Amazon forest’s response to a drying regional climate is likely to be an immediate, graded, heterogeneous transition from high-biomass moist forests to transitional dry forests and woody savannah-like states. Fire, logging, and other anthropogenic disturbances may, however, exacerbate these climate change-induced ecosystem transitions.

Concepts: Scientific method, Climate, Ecosystem, Climate change, Forest, Rainforest, Tropical rainforest, Tropical and subtropical moist broadleaf forests


For half a century, the process of economic integration of the Amazon has been based on intensive use of renewable and nonrenewable natural resources, which has brought significant basin-wide environmental alterations. The rural development in the Amazonia pushed the agricultural frontier swiftly, resulting in widespread land-cover change, but agriculture in the Amazon has been of low productivity and unsustainable. The loss of biodiversity and continued deforestation will lead to high risks of irreversible change of its tropical forests. It has been established by modeling studies that the Amazon may have two “tipping points,” namely, temperature increase of 4 °C or deforestation exceeding 40% of the forest area. If transgressed, large-scale “savannization” of mostly southern and eastern Amazon may take place. The region has warmed about 1 °C over the last 60 y, and total deforestation is reaching 20% of the forested area. The recent significant reductions in deforestation-80% reduction in the Brazilian Amazon in the last decade-opens up opportunities for a novel sustainable development paradigm for the future of the Amazon. We argue for a new development paradigm-away from only attempting to reconcile maximizing conservation versus intensification of traditional agriculture and expansion of hydropower capacity-in which we research, develop, and scale a high-tech innovation approach that sees the Amazon as a global public good of biological assets that can enable the creation of innovative high-value products, services, and platforms through combining advanced digital, biological, and material technologies of the Fourth Industrial Revolution in progress.

Concepts: Biodiversity, Agriculture, Forest, Sustainability, Tropical rainforest, Global warming, Tropical and subtropical moist broadleaf forests, Deforestation


The Amazon rainforest is the Earth’s largest reservoir of plant and animal diversity, and it has been subjected to especially high rates of land use change, primarily to cattle pasture. This conversion has had a strongly negative effect on biological diversity, reducing the number of plant and animal species and homogenizing communities. We report here that microbial biodiversity also responds strongly to conversion of the Amazon rainforest, but in a manner different from plants and animals. Local taxonomic and phylogenetic diversity of soil bacteria increases after conversion, but communities become more similar across space. This homogenization is driven by the loss of forest soil bacteria with restricted ranges (endemics) and results in a net loss of diversity. This study shows homogenization of microbial communities in response to human activities. Given that soil microbes represent the majority of biodiversity in terrestrial ecosystems and are intimately involved in ecosystem functions, we argue that microbial biodiversity loss should be taken into account when assessing the impact of land use change in tropical forests.

Concepts: Biodiversity, Evolution, Organism, Species, Ecosystem, Brazil, Tropical rainforest, Deforestation


The Intermediate Disturbance Hypothesis (IDH) is well-known in ecology providing an explanation for the role of disturbance in the coexistence of climax and colonist species. Here, we used the IDH as a framework to describe the role of forest disturbance in shaping the mosquito community structure, and to identify the ecological processes that increase the emergence of vector-borne disease. Mosquitoes were collected in central Panama at immature stages along linear transects in colonising, mixed and climax forest habitats, representing different levels of disturbance. Species were identified taxonomically and classified into functional categories (i.e., colonist, climax, disturbance-generalist, and rare). Using the Huisman-Olff-Fresco multi-model selection approach, IDH testing was done. We did not detect a unimodal relationship between species diversity and forest disturbance expected under the IDH; instead diversity peaked in old-growth forests. Habitat complexity and constraints are two mechanisms proposed to explain this alternative postulate. Moreover, colonist mosquito species were more likely to be involved in or capable of pathogen transmission than climax species. Vector species occurrence decreased notably in undisturbed forest settings. Old-growth forest conservation in tropical rainforests is therefore a highly-recommended solution for preventing new outbreaks of arboviral and parasitic diseases in anthropic environments.

Concepts: Biodiversity, Ecology, Mosquito, Tropics, Forest, Rainforest, Tropical rainforest, Ecological succession


Mining poses significant and potentially underestimated risks to tropical forests worldwide. In Brazil’s Amazon, mining drives deforestation far beyond operational lease boundaries, yet the full extent of these impacts is unknown and thus neglected in environmental licensing. Here we quantify mining-induced deforestation and investigate the aspects of mining operations, which most likely contribute. We find mining significantly increased Amazon forest loss up to 70 km beyond mining lease boundaries, causing 11,670 km(2) of deforestation between 2005 and 2015. This extent represents 9% of all Amazon forest loss during this time and 12 times more deforestation than occurred within mining leases alone. Pathways leading to such impacts include mining infrastructure establishment, urban expansion to support a growing workforce, and development of mineral commodity supply chains. Mining-induced deforestation is not unique to Brazil; to mitigate adverse impacts of mining and conserve tropical forests globally, environmental assessments and licensing must considered both on- and off-lease sources of deforestation.

Concepts: Forest, Amazon River, Brazil, Rainforest, Tropical rainforest, Amazon Basin, Tropical and subtropical moist broadleaf forests, Amazon Rainforest


Defaunation is causing declines of large-seeded animal-dispersed trees in tropical forests worldwide, but whether and how these declines will affect carbon storage across this biome is unclear. Here we show, using a pan-tropical data set, that simulated declines of large-seeded animal-dispersed trees have contrasting effects on aboveground carbon stocks across Earth’s tropical forests. In our simulations, African, American and South Asian forests, which have high proportions of animal-dispersed species, consistently show carbon losses (2-12%), but Southeast Asian and Australian forests, where there are more abiotically dispersed species, show little to no carbon losses or marginal gains (±1%). These patterns result primarily from changes in wood volume, and are underlain by consistent relationships in our empirical data (∼2,100 species), wherein, large-seeded animal-dispersed species are larger as adults than small-seeded animal-dispersed species, but are smaller than abiotically dispersed species. Thus, floristic differences and distinct dispersal mode-seed size-adult size combinations can drive contrasting regional responses to defaunation.

Concepts: Biodiversity, Southeast Asia, Plant, Tropics, Asia, Rainforest, Tropical rainforest, Tropical and subtropical moist broadleaf forests


Extinction rates in the Anthropocene are three orders of magnitude higher than background and disproportionately occur in the tropics, home of half the world’s species. Despite global efforts to combat tropical species extinctions, lack of high-quality, objective information on tropical biodiversity has hampered quantitative evaluation of conservation strategies. In particular, the scarcity of population-level monitoring in tropical forests has stymied assessment of biodiversity outcomes, such as the status and trends of animal populations in protected areas. Here, we evaluate occupancy trends for 511 populations of terrestrial mammals and birds, representing 244 species from 15 tropical forest protected areas on three continents. For the first time to our knowledge, we use annual surveys from tropical forests worldwide that employ a standardized camera trapping protocol, and we compute data analytics that correct for imperfect detection. We found that occupancy declined in 22%, increased in 17%, and exhibited no change in 22% of populations during the last 3-8 years, while 39% of populations were detected too infrequently to assess occupancy changes. Despite extensive variability in occupancy trends, these 15 tropical protected areas have not exhibited systematic declines in biodiversity (i.e., occupancy, richness, or evenness) at the community level. Our results differ from reports of widespread biodiversity declines based on aggregated secondary data and expert opinion and suggest less extreme deterioration in tropical forest protected areas. We simultaneously fill an important conservation data gap and demonstrate the value of large-scale monitoring infrastructure and powerful analytics, which can be scaled to incorporate additional sites, ecosystems, and monitoring methods. In an era of catastrophic biodiversity loss, robust indicators produced from standardized monitoring infrastructure are critical to accurately assess population outcomes and identify conservation strategies that can avert biodiversity collapse.

Concepts: Biodiversity, Conservation biology, Tropics, Forest, Extinction, Tropical rainforest, Biome, Tropical and subtropical moist broadleaf forests


Many major corporations and countries have made commitments to purchase or produce only “sustainable” palm oil, a commodity responsible for substantial tropical forest loss. Sustainability certification is the tool most used to fulfill these procurement policies, and around 20% of global palm oil production was certified by the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) in 2017. However, the effect of certification on deforestation in oil palm plantations remains unclear. Here, we use a comprehensive dataset of RSPO-certified and noncertified oil palm plantations (∼188,000 km2) in Indonesia, the leading producer of palm oil, as well as annual remotely sensed metrics of tree cover loss and fire occurrence, to evaluate the impact of certification on deforestation and fire from 2001 to 2015. While forest loss and fire continued after RSPO certification, certified palm oil was associated with reduced deforestation. Certification lowered deforestation by 33% from a counterfactual of 9.8 to 6.6% y-1 Nevertheless, most plantations contained little residual forest when they received certification. As a result, by 2015, certified areas held less than 1% of forests remaining within Indonesian oil palm plantations. Moreover, certification had no causal impact on forest loss in peatlands or active fire detection rates. Broader adoption of certification in forested regions, strict requirements to avoid all peat, and routine monitoring of clearly defined forest cover loss in certified and RSPO member-held plantations appear necessary if the RSPO is to yield conservation and climate benefits from reductions in tropical deforestation.

Concepts: Biodiversity, Forestry, Forest, Rainforest, Tropical rainforest, Palm oil, Oil palm