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Study says 40% of Amazon region is potentially conserved — more than officially recorded

Pinipini river in the Peruvian Amazon. Photo by Rhett A. Butler.

  • A new study reveals that more than 40% of land across nine Amazonian countries is under some form of conservation management, significantly higher than the 28% reported in official records.
  • The research highlights the crucial role of Indigenous peoples and local communities in conservation, with Indigenous territories covering 16% of the total land area of the nine Amazonian countries and community-managed conservation areas adding another 3.5%.
  • Despite these findings, the Amazon still faces serious threats from deforestation, fire and climate change, leading some experts to question whether the global “30×30” conservation target is adequate.
  • The study’s authors propose a new inventory approach to conservation planning, emphasizing the need to understand existing conservation efforts and governance structures before creating new protected areas or allocating resources.

A larger portion of the Amazonian region might be under protection or potentially conserved than official records indicate, according to a new study published in the journal One Earth.

A team of international researchers found that more than 40% of land across the nine Amazonian countries is under some form of conservation management, significantly higher than the 28% reported in official records. This figure includes all biomes in the region such as the Amazon rainforest, the Cerrado, Atlantic forest, the Chaco, and Pantanal. In the Amazon rainforest alone, 62.44%  of land is under some sort of area-based conservation.

To arrive at this number, the authors looked beyond traditional protected areas such as national parks and nature reserves. They gathered information from scientific papers, legal documents and local knowledge to include land managed by Indigenous peoples, community-based natural resource management areas, regions covered by payment for ecosystem services programs and even sustainably managed forest production areas.

The researchers say this method provides a more complete picture of conservation efforts than current tracking systems and will help others assess the effectiveness of different types of conservation governance systems.

“Knowing who is governing these lands and how, as well as recognizing their visions related to conservation, is the first step to collectively planning for a fair and feasible future for our planet,” Siyu Qin, a lead author of the study, told Mongabay.

Figure from Qin et al 2024 illustrating the types of conservation areas considered in the study.
Women from the Sinangoe Indigenous Guard. Alexandra Narváez, third from left, led the creation of the Indigenous Guard in 2017, and was the only woman in the group at the time.
Women from the Sinangoe Indigenous Guard in the Ecuadorian Amazon. Alexandra Narváez, third from left, led the creation of the Indigenous Guard in 2017. Her community went on win a major legal victory, preventing mining in 52 forest concessions. Image courtesy of the Goldman Environmental Prize.

The study emphasizes the role of Indigenous peoples and local communities in conservation. Indigenous territories cover 16% of the total land area of the nine Amazonian countries, while other community-managed conservation areas add another 3.5%. Large conservation gains came from Indigenous lands, especially where communities have been granted robust land rights.

Sustainable use reserves and community-managed forests also encompassed significant areas. While not all of these lands are managed solely for strict conservation, the authors note their importance for maintaining ecosystem services and sustainable livelihoods.

Globally, the study estimates that 45% or more of the world’s lands are customarily held by Indigenous peoples and local communities (IPLCs), though not all of these lands are formally recognized or managed primarily for conservation.

Indigenous territories in the Amazon face numerous and growing threats, including illegal logging, mining and agricultural expansion. Many communities struggle with lack of legal recognition of their land rights, making it difficult to defend their territories against external pressures.

In Brazil (which holds 60% of the Amazon Rainforest) there is a strong movement to ensure Indigenous lands are recognized by the government, a process known as demarcation.

Brazilian National Indigenous Mobilization 2018
Over 3,000 Indigenous from over 100 different communities marched in front of Brazilian Ministries in 2018 to bring a message to the government: “No more indigenous genocide – Demarcation Now!” Image by 350 .org via Flickr (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0).

“If the forest is still standing, it is thanks to the presence of Indigenous peoples. And today, this is the most important mission of our planet. Because it is a mission that not only guarantees our lives but guarantees the lives of all people,” Txai Suruí, activist of the Paiter Suruí people and coordinator of the Indigenous youth movement of Rondônia, Brazil, said in a statement.

According to a 2023 report by the Monitoring of the Andean Amazon Project (MAAP), Indigenous territories in the Amazon Rainforest experienced just one-third the loss of primary forest compared with unprotected areas.

“Empowering historically marginalized communities and ensuring their role as protectors of nature is fundamental in areas lacking public services,” Vilisa Morón Zambrano, a biologist from the Universidad Simón Bolívar in Venezuela and study co-author, told Mongabay. She explained that it gives these communities a chance to show how important they are in protecting nature and environmental services beyond their own territories.

Brooke Williams, a research fellow at Queensland University of Technology who wasn’t involved in the study, commented on the importance of properly identifying and classifying different types of conservation efforts. She noted that all area-based conservation measures should provide lasting benefits to biodiversity to contribute to global targets.

Qin noted that even with more than 30% of the area under some form of conservation, the Amazon Rainforest remains at risk from deforestation and fire. Climate change exacerbates these issues, altering rainfall patterns and increasing the frequency of droughts and wildfires moving from agricultural lands into standing forests.

Scientists warn that the Amazon is approaching a tipping point beyond which it would begin to transition from a lush tropical forest into a dry, degraded savanna

Cattle in a deforested patch of Amazon rainforest. Photo by Rhett A. Butler for Mongabay.
Cattle in a deforested patch of Amazon rainforest. Cattle ranching is the primary driver of deforestation in the Amazon. Photo by Rhett A. Butler for Mongabay.

Given these threats, Qin questioned whether the global “30×30” target (protecting 30% of Earth’s land and water by 2030) is sufficient, especially for critically important ecosystems such as the Amazon. Some experts are calling for much greater protections for the world’s largest rainforest.

“Thirty percent of land is not in reality an ambitious number, because if we add up the already existing recognized protected areas and the Indigenous peoples’ territories where biodiversity is de facto preserved and sustainably used, the global number is already above 30%,” says Avaaz, a NGO activist organization.

In April, hundreds of organizations endorsed a declaration to protect 80% of the Amazon by 2050.

“Our data show that the protection of 80% of the Amazon is necessary and possible, but above all, urgent. If the current trend of deforestation continues, the Amazon as we know it today would not reach 2025,” said a 2022 report based on analysis of deforestation data from 1985-2020.

Rates of illegal deforestation have dropped over the past year, since President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva’s commitment to curb the escalating forest loss in Brazil. Fires, however, are on the rise.

Fire near the Manicoré River in Amazonas state in August 2022. Photo © Christian Braga / Greenpeace
Fire near the Manicoré River in Amazonas state in August 2022. Typically, fires in the Amazon are set by people to burn already cleared and dried vegetation and prepare the land for agriculture. However, in recent years, drier conditions have allowed fires to escape into standing forests. Photo © Christian Braga / Greenpeace

Study co-author Clara L. Matallana-Tobón said that while many conservation strategies exist in the Amazon, many also need strengthening in terms of governance, monitoring and funding.

To strengthen already conserved areas, experts suggest improving governance structures, enhancing biodiversity monitoring systems, increasing funding and basing management decisions on solid research. There’s also a strong emphasis on involving local communities more in conservation efforts, as their participation can significantly boost effectiveness.

Money for protecting nature should go to more than just national parks and reserves, the authors say. Eddy Mendoza, a co-author who works in conservation in Peru, said he thinks there should be more funding for different types of conservation areas, especially those where local people are involved.

Overall, each conservation area has unique challenges and may require tailored strategies for improvement. However, the goal is to create well-managed protected areas that can better withstand environmental pressures and effectively preserve biodiversity in the long term.

“We hope this inventory approach will serve as a starting point for conservation planning efforts,” said Yifan He, a lead author from the University of California, Santa Barbara. “Before deciding where to create new conservation areas or how to prioritize limited resources, we first need to understand what is already out there and how these sites are governed.”

Correction 7/1/24: The word “protected” was replaced by “conserved” in several locations for clarification after receiving the following note from study author Yifan He: “In the paper, we emphasized that our approach identifies sites with ‘conservation intent or potential,’ and many of these sites are not currently recognized by official databases. Presently, the dominant terminology in discussions of area-based conservation distinguishes between ‘protected,’ which refers to (usually government-designated) protected areas (PAs), and ‘conserved,’ which encompasses a broader range of governance systems including private and communal governance. Therefore, using the word ‘protected’ may mislead readers into thinking these sites are already recognized as protected areas.”

Banner image of Pinipini river in the Peruvian Amazon. Photo by Rhett A. Butler.


Qin, S., He, Y., Kroner, R. E. G., Shrestha, S., Coutinho, B. H., Karmann, M., … & Mascia, M. B. (2024). An inclusive, empirically grounded inventory facilitates recognition of diverse area-based conservation of nature. One Earth.

More evidence backs Indigenous territories as best safeguard against Amazon deforestation

Liz Kimbrough is a staff writer for Mongabay and holds a Ph.D. in ecology and evolutionary biology from Tulane University, where she studied the microbiomes of trees. View more of her reporting here.

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