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38 endangered Brazilian tree species legally traded, poorly tracked: Study

  • A recent study found that 38 tree species officially listed by Brazil as threatened with extinction were traded between 2012 and 2016. Though prohibited from being harvested, the timber of the threatened trees was traded within Brazil and exported.
  • Of the 38 threatened tree species traded, 17 were classified as Vulnerable, 18 as Endangered, and three as Critically Endangered.
  • To end this exploitation, scientists urge that the timber no longer be tracked only at the genus level, but at the species level. They also recommend better coordination between IBAMA, Brazil’s environmental agency, which designates threat levels, and the Institute of Geography and Statistics (IBGE) which tracks wood products.
  • Another systemic problem: of the 38 threatened species, some are not included on the IUCN Red List or on the CITES species checklist. The study urged IUCN and CITES update their lists to include all 38 of the species found to be threatened by IBAMA.
The Araucaria angustifolia (Bertol.) Kuntze was highly commercialized in Brazil between 2012 and 2016, according to the study. The tree is threatened with extinction according to the Ministry of the Environment. Image by Mauricio Mercadante CC BY-NC-SA 2.0.

A total of 38 tree species on Brazil’s official list of Flora Species Threatened with Extinction were legally traded between 2012 and 2016, according to a recently published study conducted by scientists at the Federal Fluminense University and the Botanical Garden Research Institute of Rio de Janeiro. The species included on the Ministry of the Environment (MMA) list are prohibited for exploitation, except in rare cases, such as for scientific research.

The study, initiated in 2017, was published in the Journal for Nature Conservation. Researchers determined that “Among the 2,214 [tree] species traded [in Brazil during the study period], we found 38 endangered species, comprising a volume of 6 million cubic meters, representing approximately ten percent of the total traffic of 60.9 million cubic meters,” according to data from the National Environment System (SISNAMA).

SISNAMA regulates the possession and transport of all commercial forest products within Brazil’s territory. The supply chain tracking tool that enables the monitoring of tree harvesting, transport and export is known as the Document of Forest Origin (DOF), a mandatory license that registers a forest product’s name, volume, origin, destination, and commercial use.

The research team of biologists analyzed DOF issue reports covering millions of records, then crossed that data with the federal list of endangered species.

Of the 38 threatened tree species traded, the MMA classified 17 as Vulnerable, 18 as Endangered, and three as Critically Endangered. Araucaria angustifolia which is Critically Endangered, was the first on the traded list of threatened species, representing 5.2 percent of the total volume of timber traded over the four-year research period.

A female cone from the Araucaria angustifolia. Image by gjshepherd_br.

At first, “We tried to find which endangered species were circulating in the timber market in recent years, with no success. That motivated us to develop the research. Our investigation aimed to present the endangered species transiting in the country and in which quantities,” study lead author Arno Fritz das Neves Brandes told Mongabay. “The large volume of trading of those species is in conflict with Brazil’s environmental protection policies.”

Asked for comment by Mongabay why the 38 threatened species had been commercialized in Brazil, IBAMA, Brazil’s environment agency, did not respond.

The study authors note important differences in the methods used to quantify and qualify timber shipments used by IBAMA and the Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics (IBGE), which provides volume data of forestry extraction operations in the country.

“The IBGE data is based only on whole logs, while the DOF data [gathered by SISNAMA] used in our study includes all wood products and records any legal wood movement that occurred within national territory.… The IBGE research is subjective and based on interviews and survey data. The questionnaire [answered by timber producers] does not provide species data, volume by species and does not ensure data precision since the survey relies on the quantification methods used by the informant,” said the study. These major differences likely create significant discrepancies between the two data sources.

When questioned, IBGE’s communications office responded that “The agricultural research carried out by IBGE is all based on interviews with producers, cooperatives and local, regional and state production monitoring commissions. We follow international recommendations for this type of research, in the same way as the world’s primary official statistical institutes.”

Threatened tropical trees that are harvested are typically turned into lumber for sale in their home country or for export to the EU, UK, US, China or elsewhere, where the wood can find its way into high-end porches and decking. Photo credit: rdo_jeep on / CC BY-NC-ND.

The study authors argue that the DOF timber tracking system needs greater rigor in order to capture data from several Brazilian states: “The DOF system does not accurately quantify total national wood production and harvest,” they write, noting that, “During the period analyzed, three Brazilian states (Pará, Mato Grosso and Minas Gerais) used independent state-managed controls to estimate intrastate transport. In these states the intrastate transit information was not recorded by the IBAMA DOF system.” More recently, moves were made in 2018 to incorporate the state reporting systems into a national timber tracking system.

The study authors also note that, “Some taxa [species] are registered in the DOF system at only the genus level, for example: Apuleia sppHymenolobium spp, and Hymenaea spp. Since threatened species belong to these genera, regulatory agencies should require identification at the species level. Our data reveals that environmental agencies are using scientific names presently synonymous with threatened species, many of which are highly commercialized.… This is particularly important since endangered species such as Mezilaurus itauba [and] Cedrela fissilisa… are transported under the same names as the non-endangered species Silvia itauba, Cedrela brasiliensis [and] Couratari glabra... Updated species nomenclature [would] protect against this kind of illicit commercialization of endangered species under other names.”

Another systemic problem: of the 38 threatened species, several are not included on the Red List of the IUCN (the International Union for Conservation of Nature) and on the species checklist for CITES (the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora). Both the IUCN and CITES designations and lists “are important international tools to highlight taxa threatened with extinction, to prevent unsustainable or illegal exploitation of wild species and promote their conservation,” says the paper.

Just six of the Brazilian threatened species reported in the study are covered by the CITES treaty on the global trade of flora and fauna, while only 23 are on the IUCN Red Llist.

Araucaria angustifolia, for instance, which was the most traded of the threatened trees, and classified as Critically Endangered by the IUCN, is not included in the CITES list; while Mezilaurus itauba, the second most traded, is classified as Vulnerable by the MMA, but is on neither the CITES nor the IUCN lists.

Araucaria angustifolia, also known as the Paraná pine, Brazilian pine or candellbra tree, is Critically Endangered, but was actively traded between 2012 and 2016 according to Brazil’s own tracking records. Image by Webysther Nunes licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International license.

Contacted by Mongabay, CITES Communications Program Support Officer Francisco Pérez responded that “Every three years, parties gather in the Conference of the Parties, during which proposals for the amendment of the Appendices are submitted by individual parties or groups of parties. Decisions on these proposals are made either by consensus or through a vote, when necessary. If a proposal [to add a species to the CITES list] gets a two-thirds majority in its favor, it can be included in Appendix I or II. The requests for amendments to Appendix III, however, are made unilaterally, though the status of species included in this Appendix is different from those in Appendices I and II.

“Finally, for a species to be included in the CITES Appendices, international trade must be considered a threat to its survival, and the biological criteria for the inclusion of a species in the CITES Appendices laid down by the following Resolution [which] must be met.”

Craig Hilton-Taylor, who heads up the IUCN Red List, told Mongabay that “We are working with the National Flora Conservation Center [linked to the Botanical Garden of Rio de Janeiro, which in turn is linked to the MMA] in Brazil, they coordinate the National Flora Red List process and also serve as the IUCN SSC Brazil Plants Red List Authority, to include the Brazilian assessments on the IUCN Red List. So over the next year or so, we hope to have all the Brazilian trees that have been assessed included on the IUCN Red List. The first batch of these will be published on the IUCN Red List in July.”

Banner image: The Critically Endangered Araucaria angustifolia (Bertol.) Kuntze seen in Itatiaia, Rio de Janeiro state. Image by Arno Fritz das Neves Brandes.


Brandes AFN, Novello BQ, Domingues GAF, Barros CF, Tamaio N, Endangered species account for 10% of Brazil’s documented timber trade, Journal for Nature Conservation (2020), volume 55, doi:

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