Home > Biodiversity, Climate Change > Great Rainforest or the Greatest Rainforest?

Great Rainforest or the Greatest Rainforest?

By Amanda Kistler

On Thursday, January 12th, 2012 CIEL scientist Matt Finer presented as part of Amazon Watch’s GreenBag Lunch series with this auspicious title, riffing off Stephen Colbert’s rhetorical question he poses to anyone that might not agree with his hyperbolic categorization. However, even Colbert would find few, if any, who would call the region of Loreto, Peru, anything but great

According to Matt, Loreto is a huge land area but not unmanageable. It is primarily flat except for the western areas that are the last bit of lowland forest before the Andes Mountains. Endemic species, or species that cannot be found anywhere else, live in these elevation gradients. Loreto is also home to the start of the Amazon River.

Loreto region of Peru outlined in black.

Map shows elevation levels in Loreto. Red dot indicates what is widely recognized as the technical start of the Amazon River.

Loreto is located in an extremely rare quadruple richness center – where mammals, amphibians, birds and plants all reach peak biodiversity in the same place.

Map (left) shows peak diversity areas in the Western Hemisphere. Map (right) zooms in on Quadruple Richness Center in the Northwest Amazon.(1)

Loreto is also home to one of the most intact forests in the world, due in large part to the fact that to date there are no major roads that cut across large swaths of forests. These cross-cutting roads inevitably are accompanied by massive deforestation.

Loreto has also been identified as a refugia (area where climate change or its effects will be less pronounced) for moderate projected climate change impacts.

Map shows areas of deforestation. Yellos are áreas of high defrostation. Green is intact forest. Note the straight yellow lines that follow cross-cutting highways. Notice that Loreto is almost completely intact.(2)

According to Matt, between its incredible biodiversity, its refugia for moderate climate change impacts, and its vast intact forest as yet not greatly affected by deforestation, Loreto is “the Northwest Amazon Trifecta.” (That phrase is coined by Matt; you heard it here first!)

But Loreto faces a number of development challenges in its near-, medium- and long-term future. It will be critical to analyze how these plans not only have project-specific impacts on the environment and ecosystems, but also how these plans – in combination – will have interacting impacts on Loreto’s Great Rainforest (or Greatest Rainforest?!).

In the coming months, CIEL, with Peruvian partner DAR, will be analyzing the various development projects planned for Loreto with particular focus on the synergistic impacts of projects on biodiversity. This project is funded by the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation.

Stay tuned for more information, news and analysis regarding this important work!

1. Bass et al. (2010) Global Conservation Significance of Ecuador’s Yasuní National Park. PLoS ONE 5(1): e8767.

2. Nepstad et al. (2008) Interactions among Amazon land use, forests and climate: prospects for a near-term forest tipping point. Phil. Trans. R. Soc. B. 363: 1737-1746.

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  1. February 29, 2012 at 4:35 am

    Follow the money, like the area of Loreto much of the Amazon is being impacted by the interests of short term greed. When roads are suggested usually it is important to follow the money to see who plans to financially benefit from creating access into a pristine area like Loreto or any area of the Amazon.

    The biodiversity will only last as long as the forest remains relatively untouched. There is no doubt that Amazon Rainforest is far more ultimately valuable alive and thriving. Sustainability
    for the rainforest is only possible by leaving it alone as much as possible.
    The plant life of the Amazon is a treasure to the world if it is allowed to thrive and be sustainable and carefully managed.

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