In the face of degradation: Planning framework can help safeguard Amazon wetlands

By Dr Vanessa Reis

In the face of dramatic degradation of the Amazon ecosystems, a new conservation planning framework can help safeguard the floodplain wetlands.

Floodplain wetlands are unique ecosystems often highly influenced by seasonal variation in their connection to rivers. They contribute to the Amazons high biodiversity and are used by the local people as their main source of sustenance.

PORTO VELHO, RONDÔNIA, BRAZIL. Aerial view of burned areas in the Amazon rainforest, in the city of Porto Velho, Rondônia state. Photo: Victor Moriyama / Greenpeace

The strong hydrological connection to rivers makes floodplain wetlands highly vulnerable to alterations in the water regime of rivers. While rivers in the Amazon basin remain relatively connected, many dams are planned and this threatens the future persistence of these important ecosystems.

Additionally, the recent dramatic increase in forest burning  and the threat of agricultural expansion  in the region raises great concerns for the conservation of the floodplains. Since fire is not natural in the Amazon ecosystem, the forest fires have strong effects on the local and regional climate. The permanent destruction of forest areas reduces local humidity, and evapotranspiration processes affecting the water cycle which ultimately impacts the water dynamics and water supply for wetlands.


Belo Monte Dam, Brazil. Photo: PAC Ministerio do Planejamento.

It is clear that floodplain wetlands in the Amazon basin are facing increasing and large-scale threats. Adequate protection of Amazon floodplain ecosystems therefore requires action that accounts for the regional-water regime and broader landscape impacts.

While rivers in the Amazon basin remain relatively connected, many dams are planned and this threatens the future persistence of these important ecosystems.

We present a new spatial framework for wetland conservation planning that integrates upriver and adjacent connectivity to safeguard wetland long-term persistence and ecosystem functioning. Our new framework enables higher levels of protection to floodplain wetlands. This framework better protects floodplain wetlands because it is capable of detecting the potential propagation of upriver and broader landscape impacts. Only a spatial framework that incorporates the high connectivity of floodplain wetlands to rivers and their surrounding terrestrial landscape will enable better management practices and policies that leads to effective protection.

This new integrative framework can be applied to other wetlands throughout the world and provides a valuable tool to safeguard wetland ecosystem functioning.

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