Humans Have The Opportunity To Save The Amazon In A Big Way And We Need To Act Fast

We can do big things.

A new study has looked at the fate of tree species in the Amazon rain forest and the results demands our action. 

The research, published in the journal Science Advances, has found that roughly half of all tree species in the Amazon are currently being threatened with extinction. While this sounds immensely disastrous (and it very well could be), the study also points to a clear solution: human involvement.

The danger the trees are facing isn't some new virus or fungus; it's the same mass deforestation that environmentalists have been decrying for decades. The Amazon currently expands well beyond 2 million square miles, though it was much larger before the Industrial Revolution. Since then, immense swaths of the forest have been cleared for agricultural use. At its current rate, between 37% and 52% of the 15,000 species of trees in the Amazon will be considered threatened.

"We aren't saying that the situation in the Amazon has suddenly gotten worse for tree species," Nigel Pitman, co-author of the paper, explained in a statement. "We're just offering a new estimate of how tree species have been affected by historical deforestation, and how they'll be affected by forest loss in the future."

Though the Amazon may often seem infinitely expansive, the reality is that we have used its resources in a wholly unsustainable way. But the study also suggests that just as human activity is putting these tree species at risk, we can come together to save them, too. All we need to do is reduce deforestation by putting bigger sections in protected parks and nature preserves. 

It sounds simple, but there are certain difficulties, as a large amount of deforestation is done illegally. There needs to be increases in resources for those combatting this illegal behavior as well as heightened consequences for those who get caught. The sheer enormity of the Amazon makes it difficult, but international assistance could make it more feasible.

"This is good news from the Amazon that you don't hear enough of," lead author Hans ter Steege continued. "In recent decades Amazon countries have made major strides in expanding parks and strengthening indigenous land rights," he said. "And our study shows this has big benefits for biodiversity."

The Amazon is one of the most biodiverse locations on the planet. It's home to more than 2.5 million species of insects and several thousands of species of reptiles, birds, mammals, and amphibians. The trees serve as sources of food and shelter for these animals, so protecting the trees does wonders for animals by extension. 

"It's a battle we're going to see play out in our lifetimes," co-author William Laurance cautioned. "Either we stand up and protect these critical parks and indigenous reserves, or deforestation will erode them until we see large-scale extinctions."

Want to get involved? Contact your congressmen and tell them to support initiatives that benefit the preservation of the Amazon, one of the world's most unique treasures.

Cover Image: iStockphoto