Small-scale forest loss in Amazon has increased

Michelle Kalamandeen during one of her many excursions into the rain forest

– study led by Guyanese scientist finds

A RECENT study led by Guyanese scientist Michelle Kalamandeen and co-authors from the University of Leeds and Brazil, showed that small-scale forest loss, such as those associated with subsistence agriculture and gold-mining, has significantly increased across the Amazon rainforest, including Guyana, over the past decade.

The study, published in the top peer review journal, Nature Scientific Reports, alters the way we understand forest loss across the entire Amazon Basin.

This was the most detailed analysis of deforestation in the Amazon to date, focusing on all nine Amazonian countries, including Guyana.

For the analyses, the authors used forest-loss data from the Global Forest Cover (GFC) datasets which can detect losses in tree cover at a scale of 30 metres.

Since the 1960s, deforestation has been responsible for the increase of 15 per cent of global carbon emissions and has significant consequences on climate change.

From 2001 to 2014, the team found a prominent shift in deforestation hotspots away from Brazil’s ‘arc of deforestation’ – where close to half of the world’s tropical deforestation occurred — to Bolivia, Peru and to a lesser extent, Colombia.

They also showed a strong reduction in the number of large forest fragments (6.25 ha) over time, but an increase of 34 per cent of small (6.25 ha) deforestation fragments between 2001-2007 and 2008-2014.

According to the journal, this is substantial as these smaller forest-loss fragments are not often captured by official estimates, unless they had increased considerably over time.

There was an especially pronounced increase in these small forest fragments in 2012 in Venezuela, Guyana, Suriname and French Guiana, and is most likely associated with the gold-mining sector.

This suggests that the footprint of deforestation tied to gold-mining activities in these countries is much greater than previously reported, implying an important role of such activities in opening up remote areas of the Amazon to deforestation pressure, even if for short-lived periods.

The study also found that there was a very large difference in the geographical patterns of small forest loss fragments between 2001-2007 and 2008-2014, with low-density small-scale deforestation proliferating across considerably large areas of Amazonia in 2008-2014, which were effectively free of deforestation in 2001-2007.

The researchers also showed that protected areas were also affected by the increasing small-scale forest loss between 2001-2007 and 2008-2014.

Ultimately, these small-scale losses in forest cover now present a new and alarming challenge for conservation efforts in Amazonia, as they are inherently more difficult to monitor and control.

“Protected areas are seen as a cornerstone for reducing deforestation and carbon emissions. Our results suggest that the management strategies of Amazonian protected areas may need revising, to account for the increasing threat of low-density, small-scale forest losses,” the study noted.