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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 (UNB), with co-PIs Ben Hur Marimon Junior, Universidade do Estado de Mato Grosso (UNEMAT), 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).
As of April 2018, with the project scheduled for completion at the end of May, researchers and students at all three Brazilian partner institutions involved were wrapping up their activities. The PI Dr. Guarino Colli of the Universidade de Brasília (UNB) is currently a visiting scholar at Brigham Young University through August 2018, where he has worked on several manuscripts and a special issue of Biodiversity and Conservation on the Cerrado. Back in Brazil, his students collected and analyzed lizard ecophysiological and demographic data from Cerrado and transitional areas. They also installed traps for long-term monitoring of amphibian, reptile, and velvet-ant populations and communities at Lajeado State Park (Parque Estadual do Lajeado) in Palmas, Tocantins state.

Co-PIs Dr. Ben Hur Marimon Junior and Dr. Beatriz Marimon at the Universidade do Estado do Mato Grosso (UNEMAT) concluded data collection, preparation, and analysis of the last field experiment on drought resistance of dominant tree species of the Amazonian Dark Earth (ADE) and non-ADE sites at the Amazonia-Cerrado transition. This experiment formed part of the Master’s thesis work of student Eder Carvalho das Neves. The group is now analyzing the results together with functional plant traits and wood anatomy provided by PhD student Norberto Gomes Ribeiro Junior as an attempt to reveal the anatomic indication of drought sensitivity of the main tree species.

At the Instituto Nacional de Pesquisas da Amazônia, co-PI Dr. Fernanda Werneck and her team worked on taxonomic identification, incorporation of specimens and samples at the INPA Scientific Collections, data organization, and report preparation for material and data collected during fieldwork in late 2017 on the Solimões River and in Campos Amazônicos and Mapinguari National Parks. They also obtained permits and made logistical arrangements for a final field trip to be conducted in late April/May in the RESEX Lower Juruá, Amazonas. Dr. Werneck has had three papers published so far in 2018 directly related to the PEER project, with two more accepted and several more under review.

Several project members and their work have recently been featured in international publications. As one example, Dr. Marimon-Junior and Dr. Marimon worked to integrate this project into an international collaboration with the University of Exeter (UK) in collaboration with the team of Prof. Jose Iriarte and Ted Ronald Feldpausch. The goal was to integrate the PEER ADE sites into a paleo study of Amazonia/Cerrado boundary vegetation during the late Holocene as it related to the expansion of an indigenous people (the Tupi). The joint Brazilian-UK team discovered new sites of indigenous people related to ADE sites in Mato Grosso State and described their findings in a paper in the scientific journal Nature Communication entitled “Pre-Columbian earth-builders settled along the entire southern rim of the Amazon.” The paper describes for the first time a population estimated between 500,000 to 1 million living along the Amazonia-Cerrado boundary before Columbus, thus challenging the traditional understanding that the Amazon was almost untouched in the past, with only a few indigenous villages scattered in the forest. This publication reached a worldwide audience after being picked up by a wide range of news and online media sources:

On the outreach and policy side, Dr. Colli 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) on two key objectives. The first is to 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. The second is 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 for biodiversity, in accordance with the National Biodiversity Policy Guidelines.

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