The Amazon rainforest—home to one in 10 species on Earth—is on fire. As of last week, 9,000 wildfires were raging simultaneously across the vast rainforest of Brazil and spreading into Bolivia, Paraguay, and Peru. The blazes, largely set intentionally to clear land for cattle ranching, farming, and logging, have been exacerbated by the dry season. They’re now burning in massive numbers, an 80 percent increase over this time last year, according to Brazil’s National Institute for Space Research (INPE). The fires can even be seen from space.
For the thousands of mammal, reptile, amphibian, and bird species that live in the Amazon, the wildfires’ impact will come in two phases: one immediate, one long-term.
“In the Amazon, nothing is adapted to fire,” says William Magnusson, a researcher specializing in biodiversity monitoring at the National Institute of Amazonian Research (INPA) in Manaus, Brazil.
In some forests, including many across the U.S., wildfires are essential for maintaining healthy ecosystems. Animals are adapted to cope with it; many even rely on it to thrive. The black-bellied woodpecker, for example, native to the American West, only nests in burnt-out trees and eats the beetles that infest burned wood.
But the Amazon is different.
The rainforest is so uniquely rich and diverse precisely because it doesn’t really burn, says Magnusson. While fires do sometimes happen naturally, they’re typically small in scale and burn low to the ground. And they’re quickly put out by rain.
“Basically, the Amazon hadn’t burnt in hundreds of thousands or millions of years,” says Magnusson. It’s not like in Australia, for instance, where eucalyptus would die out without regular fires, he says. The rainforest is not built for fire…..Read more>>