Forests in peril in Amazon rainforests

Published: Sunday 31 December 2006

Forests in peril Many species of trees in the Amazon rainforests, and animals that depend on them are disappearing more rapidly than previously thought, an international research team reported recently.

Led by William Laurance of the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute in Panama, the research team has been studying nearly 32,000 Amazonian trees for 22 years--the world's longest-running experimental study of habitat fragmentation. Writing in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the team said fragmenting the forest exposes trees that would normally have been protected by other trees; it lets hot winds blow in and around ancient trees, cutting their longevity by hundreds of years. "Rainforest trees can live for centuries, even millennia... but in just two decades, a wink of time for a thousand-year-old tree, the ecosystem has been seriously degraded," Laurance said in a statement. Large-scale cattle ranching, slash-and-burn agriculture, the expansion of soyabean cultivation, industrial logging and wildfires are responsible for the degradation, he says. Prime losers are the slow-growing tree species, which are unique to the region.

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