The tropical climate of the Amazon forest allows for a very biodiverse wildlife, which attracts millions of tourists every year and contributes greatly to the local economy1. Aside from the growing threat of deforestation2, this year the Amazon forest faced an increasing threat from a rising number of wildfires3. There are many elusive species that are yet to be discovered in the Amazon’s ecosystems, many of which may silently become extinct due to the incessant, ever-increasing and utterly destructive human activity, including the intentional setting off of fires to make space for more agriculture and farming4.
It’s too early to assess how wildlife is coping with the fires in the Amazon, as the fires are still largely ongoing4. Most likely to suffer serious conservation consequences – including population declines and a greater extinction risk – are the slowest, smallest and already endangered species. While larger and flying animals might be able to escape the flames, they might still leave behind their eggs and young, or even panic and fail to make it out of danger zone alive.
While generally wildlife and ecosystems developed evolutionary responses to fires, which are a natural phenomenon and part of the natural succession of ecosystems5, here the issue is the rate at which the fires are happening, fostered by human activity. It’s similar to the issue of climate change. While climate change has happened throughout the planet’s long history, it is the many-fold greater rate at which it is happening nowadays, influenced by human activity, that makes it such a huge problem6.
Image credits https://fires.globalforestwatch.org/home/
Even the wildlife that makes it out alive, might suffer greatly from the scarcity of food resulting from the fires. For instance, medium-sized species that feed on smaller mammals, amphibians or reptiles would lose a big chunk of their food source to the fires, and would have to look for other territories where to hunt, which would likely be already occupied, leading to deadly intra- and interspecific encounters. These animals might also become the main target of the indigenous tribes that are similarly losing a lot of their food to the fires and will thus need to increasingly rely on anything that they can get their hands on.
Large carnivore species, such as the jaguar, may initially benefit from the fire as they may take advantage of the state of shock of their prey to ambush them. However, in the longer term, the loss of the forest cover may lead these animals to get closer and closer to human settlements, possibly leading to increasing levels of human-wildlife conflicts and ultimately to poaching.
Image credits: https://bit.ly/2Ld9yp2
The wildfires in Amazonia led to a social media outcry7 and to the rise of new environmental groups8. Nonetheless, increasing fires are being recorded across regions of the world4. The threat to wildlife conservation is a global and urgent one. Losses won’t be undone.
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- Wunder, S., 2000. Ecotourism and economic incentives—an empirical approach. Ecological economics, 32(3), pp.465-479. https://doi.org/10.1016/S0921-8009(99)00119-6
- Malhi, Y., Roberts, J.T., Betts, R.A., Killeen, T.J., Li, W. and Nobre, C.A., 2008. Climate change, deforestation, and the fate of the Amazon. science, 319(5860), pp.169-172. https://doi.org/10.1126/science.1146961
Cover image credits: https://bit.ly/2ZEtwxY