Analyzing ten years of data from on fires in the Brazilian Amazon, researchers found that roads built through reserves do not largely hamper a reserve’s important role in reducing the spread of forest fires. The finding is important as Brazil continues a spree of road-building while at the same time paving over existing roads.
“Our findings show that reserves are making a difference even when they are crossed by roads,” said lead author, Marion Adeney, a PhD candidate at Duke University’s Nicholas School of the Environment. “We already knew, from previous studies, that there were generally fewer fires inside reserves than outside – what we didn’t know was whether this holds true when you put a road across the reserve.”
According to Adeney, almost 90 percent of fires in the Amazon occur within 10 kilometers of a road, explaining why the link between roads and fires is so important.
One of the most important aspects of the study published in PLoS ONE was to look at indigenous reserves, which are more likely to have roads and settlements, since these cover five time the area of fully protected parks in Brazil. However, the study found that there was essentially no difference between fire occurrences in protected parks, indigenous reserves, and even sustainable-use reserves, where the government practices sustainable-management of natural resources.
“Although there are overall many fewer fires inside than outside reserves, we found that reserves in highly impacted areas still experienced more fires than reserves in remote areas. Large and remote reserves, not surprisingly, had the fewest roads and the fewest fires,” Adeney says.
Fire in the Amazon is chiefly used to clear forest for agriculture or ranch land, however it often gets out of control and spreads to adjacent forest. Natural fires occur rarely in tropical forests, so trees have developed little resistance, making them particularly susceptible to burning.
According to Dr. Stuart Pimm, co-author and Doris Duke Professor of Conservation Ecology at Duke’s Nicholas School, the study’s findings “reinforces the importance of reserves for protecting forest cover in the Amazon. Our results show that even inhabited reserves can be an effective tool to reduce fires, even when they have roads built through them.”
(03/31/2009) A new analysis shows that the heavily-deforested Amazonian region of Mato Grosso is particularly susceptible to ‘savannization’ due to repeated burning that has likely depleted the region’s soils of precious nutrients. According to the study, published in the Journal of Geophyscial Research, savannization, or the process of tropical ecosystems shifting to savannah, is likely in northern Mato Grosso even if no further deforestation occurs.
(02/16/2009) Projections by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) likely underestimate the scale and rapidity of climate change, warned a Stanford University scientist presenting Saturday at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) in Chicago.
(02/11/2009) Changes in rainfall resulting from climate change may drive the parts of Amazon rainforest toward seasonal forests rather than savanna, argue researchers writing in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences
(08/14/2008) Smoke released by fires set to clear the Amazon rainforest inhibit the formation of clouds, thereby reducing rainfall, report researchers writing in the journal Science. The study provides clues on how aerosols from human activity influence cloud cover and ultimately affect climate.
(03/26/2008) Remote sensing is increasingly used as a tool for conservation management. Beyond traditional satellite imagery popularized by Google Earth, new sensing applications are allowing researchers located anywhere in the world to track fires, illegal logging and mining, and deforestation in some of Earth’s most isolated regions using a computer or handheld device. The Fire Alert System is one example of an application that is harnessing the power of satellites to deliver key data to conservation managers. Developed by Madagascar’s ministry of Environment, the International Resources Group, conservation International using data from the University of Maryland and NASA, the Fire Alert System enables near real-time monitoring of fires anywhere on the island of Madagascar, a hotspot of biological diversity. The system, which sends subscribers regular email alerts on newly-detected burning, will eventually be expanded to include all the world’s protected areas, allowing managers to detect not only fires but potentially related activities like road building, logging, and even hunting.