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Partnerships for enhanced engagement in research (PEER) SCIENCE
Cycle 3 (2014 Deadline)

Biodiversity and climate change in the "Arc of Deforestation" of Brazilian Amazon

PI: Guarino Colli (, Universidade de Brasília, with co-PIs Ben Hur Marimon Junior, Universidade do Estado de Mato Grosso (UEMG), and Fernanda de Pinho Werneck, Instituto Nacional de Pesquisas da Amazônia (INPA)
U.S. Partner: Barry Raymond Sinervo, University of California, Santa Cruz
Project Dates: September 2014 to May 2018
3-121  Rubber tree with flowing latex
A native rubber tree with latex flowing from its trunk (photo courtesy of Dr. Colli).
The expansion of agriculture poses serious threats to natural landscapes across the globe, and tropical forests are among the most affected ecosystems. They have declined to about 65% of their original cover worldwide and are expected to continue to dwindle this century. Biodiversity is concentrated in tropical forests, and the combined effects of habitat loss and climate change are presumably the primary drivers of the global biodiversity crisis. To reduce extinction threats due to climate change and expansion of agricultural frontiers, studies that quantify the extinction risk of populations/species must be a high priority. This research project focuses on the integrative approach to investigate the ecology, evolution, and conservation of the Amazon-Cerrado transition (ecotone) in Brazil, one of the most critical areas in the "Arc of Deforestation." This region provides a unique model system to investigate the origins and maintenance of high Neotropical biodiversity and the combined effects of climate change and habitat loss on the biota. In this collaborative project, the research team will characterize the herpetofauna (amphibians and reptiles) and assess its vulnerability to climate change and habitat loss. The goals of the project are: (1) to assess whether the biota of the Amazon-Cerrado ecotone is simply a filtered blend of species from the two neighbor biomes, or whether it also harbors unique (endemic) species; (2) to determine the importance of differentiation along this ecotone during evolutionary time and climatic cycles as a source of biodiversity; (3) to predict and test for contemporary extinctions arising from the combined impacts of habitat loss and climate change using ecophysiological models; (4) to identify evolved traits that enhance the extinction risk induced by habitat loss and climate change; and (5) to assess the role of indigenous land management practices, which resulted in "black earth" (Terra Preta), upon biodiversity levels and extinction risk. 

The project will be led by an interdisciplinary team of Brazilian and U.S. researchers. The Brazilian team will conduct fieldwork at the selected sites to obtain biodiversity data, including species composition and abundances, ecological traits, tissue samples and ecophysiological data. In the lab, the researchers will obtain additional ecophysiological data and molecular data for phylogeographic and phylogenetic analyses. Ultimately, the goal is to develop the critical knowledge for scientists, policy makers, and the public to make informed decisions about how human activities are and will influence the biota and biosphere processes. The results of this research project are expected to increase public awareness of the combined impacts of climate warming and habitat loss on biodiversity at the "Arc of Deforestation" and forest-savanna ecotones and aid policy makers and landowners to make informed decisions about the creation and operation of reserves in the region. A webpage will be developed to integrate the results from several projects coordinated by the PI. Web-based tools will also be created, allowing conservation biologists to upload georeferenced data and obtain extinction forecasts for their species, based on validated extinction models. Data collected during this project will also facilitate a more precise calibration of existing global extinction models in under-sampled regions of the world that are at a high risk of biodiversity loss.

Summary of Recent Activities

3-121 Caxiuana National Forest
A view of one of the study areas, Caxiuanã National Forest (photo courtesy of Dr. Colli).
At the Universidade de Brasília, PI Dr. Guarino Colli worked on manuscripts and projects with his U.S. and Brazilian partners in the second quarter of 2017. He is coordinating a special issue of the journal Biodiversity and Conservation devoted to the Cerrado, including the Cerrado-Amazon transition, and is organizing the 2017 project integration workshop, field expedition, and field ecology course, to take place in July-August 2017. Also during this period, his students and postdocs collected and analyzed lizard ecophysiological and demographic data from the Cerrado and transitional areas. In particular, PEER-funded postdoc Dr. Fabricius Domingos is working on the genetics of Ameiva ameiva populations in the ecotone. Dr. Maria Florencia Breitman, a postdoc funded by the Brazilian government research funding agency CAPES, is analyzing molecular data for the three species in her project: Salvator merianae, Rhinella schneideri, and Iguana iguana.

At the Universidade do Estado de Mato Grosso, the team headed by co-PI Dr. Ben Hur Marimon Junior has been working on botanical experiments. Their evaluation of the initial results of fertility and plant growth experiments is ongoing, processed by MSc student Eder Carvalho das Neves. Controlled irrigation experiments in the greenhouse are also being conducted to evaluate the ecophysiological plant-response to pyrolytic carbon in the substrate and water deficit of Amazonian Dark Earth (ADE) and non-ADE predominant tree species. The researchers are analyzing the hydraulic performance of saplings using a Scholander chamber, porometer, chlorophyll analyzer, and hydraulic resistance of the leaf and wood-vessels anatomy in the laboratory. PhD student Norberto G. Ribeiro Junior has just completed the initial dataset on xylem anatomy, while other students are focusing on nursery-based experiments on the growth performance of ADE and non-ADE species.

At the Instituto Nacional de Pesquisas da Amazônia (INPA), co-PI Dr. Fernanda Werneck attended the “Origins of Biodiversity” Workshop on Phylogenomics and Phylogeography in Gothenburg, Sweden, May 13-21, 2017. She presented the project results and discussed a cross-disciplinary thematic program on genome evolution and speciation. Back at INPA, her students advanced on molecular data collection and analysis of several Amazonian and dry diagonal herp groups and prepared for the 2017 field season (including expeditions to Alta Floresta and Campos Amazônicos). Dr. Werneck and her team have six manuscripts under review with various journals and three papers already accepted for publication.

As for broader development impacts of the project, Dr. Colli reports that he and his colleagues are collaborating with the Brazilian Ministry of Science, Technology, Innovations and Communications (Ministério da Ciência, Tecnologia, Inovações e Comunicações – MCTIC) and Ministry of Environment, Water Resources, and Legal Amazonia (Ministério do Meio Ambiente, dos Recursos Hídricos e da Amazônia Legal – MMA) to (1) implement a program aimed at defining priority areas and ecosystems for ecological restoration in Brazil, along with reference systems for different ecosystems and parameters to assess restoration success and (2) to review and relaunch a program (Programa de Pesquisa em Biodiversidade – PPBio) aimed at promoting the development of research, training and capacity building of human resources and institutional strengthening in the area of research and development of biological diversity, in accordance with the National Biodiversity Policy Guidelines. They received a grant of R$ 200,000.00, in the form of fellowships, to assemble a database on species distributions and prioritize areas for ecological restoration in the Cerrado.

With the project scheduled to be completed at the end of May 2018 under a no-cost extension, this multi-institutional group of researchers has a busy schedule planned in the coming months. After the 2017 Integration Workshop, which will take place in late July on the UNEMAT campus in Alta Floresta, Dr. Colli will lead a field expedition to collect more ecophysiological data, most likely in the Cristalino State Park or the Cristalino Private Natural Heritage Reserve, in Alta Floresta. Dr. Marimon and his team will focus on exploring the effects of El Niño across the Amazonia/Cerrado transition by conducting a field collection in a rainfall gradient from Nova Xavantina (less rainfall), Gaúcha do Norte (intermediate rainfall), and Alta Floresta (full rainfall) forest sites. They will also collect aerial images from these areas to check the effect of 2016 El Niño event, including ADE sites, and then they will combine this dataset with a model of species extinction risks. Dr. Marimon will visit U.S. partner Dr. Barry Sinervo at the University of California, Santa Cruz, in September. Dr. Werneck and her group at INPA will the final months of the project collecting additional molecular and ecophysiological data, organizing and analyzing the data collected, and working on manuscripts. They will also make arrangements for upcoming 2017 field activities in Alta Floresta, Campos Amazônicos and Mapinguari National Parks, and Rio Pardo/Presidente Figueiredo-Amazonas. In July, Dr. Werneck will travel to Quito, Ecuador, to participate as an invited speaker at the XI Latin-American Congress of Herpetology and in August she will be in Campo Grande, Brazil, as an invited speaker at the VIII Brazilian Congress of Herpetology. She will also offer an intensive two-week workshop on statistical phylogeography at INPA September 15-22. Her postdoc Dr. Domingos will travel to the United States to participate on the 2017 Population Genomics Conservation Genetics Course, to be held by the University of Montana, to learn data analysis techniques relevant to the project (September 23-October 1). Around that same time, Dr. Werneck will travel to Belem to participate in a workshop organized by the Brazilian Environment Ministry (MMA) to update the priority areas and actions for conservation of Amazonian biodiversity (September 26-28).

Recent media coverage for the project is available through the following links:

BBC News:
Planeta: and


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