The phrase, “Save the Rainforest!” has been around for a while. It first gave rise when the rapid loss of rainforests around the Amazon River Basin became widely known. Once the plight of the rainforest became mainstream news, deforestation did in fact slow down for a period. However, the threat is still very present. In a new study, scientists have painted a clear picture of what the world will lose if logging and forest-clearing continues.

The study, published in the journal Science Advances, offers estimates about how many Amazonian species of trees will likely qualify as threatened if the current deforestation practices continue. Researchers determined that between 36%-57% of Amazonian trees potentially could meet the “threatened” criteria based on the Red List published by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).

Presently, about 12% of the Amazon’s trees and forests are gone. By 2050, another 9%-28% could also be lost. The new study lists specific species that deserve special attention.

Nigel Pitman, a tropical ecologist at the Field Museum in Chicago, observed that, “We’ve never had a good idea of how many Amazonian species were vulnerable. And now, with this study, we’ve got an estimate.”  

In conducting their research, the team reviewed maps of projected deforestation as well as trekked through the forest. They looked at more than 1,700 tree plots, collected leaves, counted and measured trees. Their model estimated that about 8,690 of trees in the forest today should receive a threatened classification if logging and deforestation continues as usual.

However, the study estimates that if stronger regulations were imposed by governments and the percentage of deforestation is limited to 21%, over 5,500 species of trees could receive the threatened classification.

While the numbers are worrisome, there are some bright spots. Governments in Brazil and other South American countries are expanding their protected areas and parks. About 52% of the Amazon basin is protected to some degree.
One of the study’s authors, Hans ter Steege, pointed out that, “If we can protect these areas… the Amazon could be a showcase of large-scale conservation worldwide.”

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