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Half of Amazon Tree Species Face Extinction

posted: 11/23/15
by: Danny Clemens
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A new study brings both good and bad news for the flora of the Amazonian rainforest.

The bad news: Nearly 60% of the 15,000 tree species found in the Amazon likely qualify as Threatened under criteria set forth by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature.

Upwards of 80,000 acres of rainforest are destroyed across the world each day, taking with them over 130 species of plants, animals and insects. Much of that deforestation has been attributed to the beef and cattle trade; Brazil's $4.4 billion beef industry -- the world's second largest -- is responsible for an estimated two-thirds of all pastures that are erected on deforested land.

Treetop canopy in the Amazon
Adalberto Rios Lanz/Sexto Sol/Getty Images

The good news: More than half of the Amazon basin is now afforded legal protections of some sort, whether as a national park, wildlife sanctuary or indigenous territory. The cattle industry has also proven to be an unlikely ally in the fight to protect the rapidly disappearing rainforest.

In 2009, Brazil's three largest producers of leather and beef bowed to heavy pressure from Greenpeace and local governments, voluntarily agreeing to purchase cattle only from ranchers who ceased destroying rainforest and agreed to have their properties monitored for compliance.

Related: Excess Trees in Japan are Harming the Environment

A recent unrelated study from University of Wisconsin-Madison follows up with those companies, finding that the slaughterhouses are proactively blocking purchases from ranches that are complicit in deforestation. By 2013, almost all of the slaughterhouses' suppliers of cattle were registered with the local government and compliant with anti-deforestation policies. Less than 4% of the suppliers had recent deforestation violations, compared to 40% before the regulations went into effect.

Regardless of recent positive steps, study authors say that continued action must be taken to prevent further deforestation.

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

Published in the academic journal Science Advances, the study was spearheaded by the Field Museum and involved 158 researchers from 21 countries.

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