How fires weaken Amazon rainforests’ ability to bounce back

Read the full story in The Conversation.

The flames consuming the Amazon rainforest this year have alarmed the world, renewing concerns about one of the planet’s most biodiverse regions and the release of large amounts of carbon into the atmosphere. But there’s another concern that’s been largely overlooked – the eroding capacity of Amazonian ecosystems to recover from repeated burning over the years.

The fires across the Amazon rainforest are due exclusively to human activities. Ranchers, farmers and land grabbers use fire to clear land or renew pastures for ranching, while indigenous and local groups often use it to fertilize and clear fields for traditional agriculture.

Some of these cleared areas are later abandoned and left to regrow – a potentially hopeful twist in the story. But the new forests don’t always simply pick up where the original ones left off. More than 20 years of study at Brazil’s Instituto Nacional de Pesquisas da Amazônia, which we have contributed to, has shown that repeated use of fires to manage land results in forests that grow slowly and lose the capacity to restore biodiversity and store carbon.

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