Understanding Threatened Ecosystems And Training The Conservation Army

Creative Commons: Neil Palmer

Habitat fragmentation is one of the leading causes of species extinction. For example, it has been shown that forest fragments can lose up to fifty percent of their bird species in just 15 years. Also, in recent years, scientists have discovered that forest fragmentation can actually alter rainfall. Deforestation in the headwaters of one region can have a significant impact on precipitation levels across many others. It is for these reasons that conservation scientists like Dr. Thomas Lovejoy believe it is imperative to manage habitats as entire systems - focusing not only on protection but also connectivity.  

In 1979, Dr. Lovejoy started the  Biological Dynamics of Forest Fragmentation Project (BDFFP) in the Amazon rainforest in Brazil. Strategically located within a large hotspot for deforestation, the BDFFP area encompasses approximately 620 square miles and includes a series of forest fragments of varying size. Through the prolonged study of these fragments, Dr. Lovejoy has been able to learn about the impacts of habitat isolation, edge effects, and movement corridors on a diverse array of Amazonian plants, animals and ecological processes. The BDFFP is now considered the longest running study of habitat fragmentation in the world.

Dr. Lovejoy has also expanded the project to include conservation training and capacity building for Amazonian undergraduates, graduates, environmental decision makers and conservation managers. As a result, the project has trained hundreds of scientists, who have in turn published more than six hundred articles in scientific journals and replicated the study in dozens of other areas around the world. Additionally, many students from this “living classroom” are now in leading positions in Brazilian state and federal governments, research institutes and nongovernmental organizations and are working to protect the biodiverse ecosystems of the Amazon. 

In order to incorporate all of these initiatives into one entity, the BDFFP formally became the Amazon Biodiversity Center (ABC) in 2013. The goal of the ABC is to bridge the gap between conservation science and land management policy and create a coordinated approach to biodiversity and habitat protection across the Amazon Basin. Using this interdisciplinary approach and lessons learned from over 40 years of research, Dr. Lovejoy hopes the ABC will play a pivotal role in protecting and connecting the rainforest in the Amazon in order to preserve its biological integrity.

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