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  1. Free, publicly-accessible full text available November 1, 2023
  2. Abstract The Amazon biome is being pushed by unsustainable economic drivers towards an ecological tipping point where restoration to its previous state may no longer be possible. This degradation is the result of self-reinforcing interactions between deforestation, climate change and fire. We assess the economic, natural capital and ecosystem services impacts and trade-offs of scenarios representing movement towards an Amazon tipping point and strategies to avert one using the Integrated Economic-Environmental Modeling (IEEM) Platform linked with spatial land use-land cover change and ecosystem services modeling (IEEM + ESM). Our approach provides the first approximation of the economic, natural capital and ecosystem services impacts of a tipping point, and evidence to build the economic case for strategies to avert it. For the five Amazon focal countries, namely, Brazil, Peru, Colombia, Bolivia and Ecuador, we find that a tipping point would create economic losses of US$256.6 billion in cumulative gross domestic product by 2050. Policies that would contribute to averting a tipping point, including strongly reducing deforestation, investing in intensifying agriculture in cleared lands, climate-adapted agriculture and improving fire management, would generate approximately US$339.3 billion in additional wealth and a return on investment of US$29.5 billion. Quantifying the costs, benefits and trade-offsmore »of policies to avert a tipping point in a transparent and replicable manner can support the design of regional development strategies for the Amazon biome, build the business case for action and catalyze global cooperation and financing to enable policy implementation.« less
    Free, publicly-accessible full text available December 1, 2023
  3. Abstract The contemporary fire regime of southern Amazonian forests has been dominated by interactions between droughts and sources of fire ignition associated with deforestation and slash-and-burn agriculture. Until recently, wildfires have been concentrated mostly on private properties, with protected areas functioning as large-scale firebreaks along the Amazon’s agricultural frontier. However, as the climate changes, protected forests have become increasingly flammable. Here, we have quantified forest degradation in the Território Indígena do Xingu (TIX), an iconic area of 2.8 million hectares where over 6000 people from 16 different ethnic Indigenous groups live across 100 villages. Our main hypothesis was that forest degradation, defined here as areas with lower canopy cover, inside the TIX is increasing due to pervasive sources of fire ignition, more frequent extreme drought events, and changing slash-and-burn agricultural practices. Between 2001 and 2020, nearly 189 000 hectares (∼7%) of the TIX became degraded by recurrent drought and fire events that were the main factors driving forest degradation, particularly in seasonally flooded forests. After three fire events, the probability of forest loss was higher in seasonally flooded areas (63%) compared to upland areas (41%). Given the same fire frequency, areas that have not suffered with extreme droughts showed amore »24% lower probability of forest loss compared to areas that experienced three drought events. Distance from villages and human density also had a marked effect on forest cover loss, which was generally higher in areas close to the largest villages. In one of the most culturally diverse Indigenous lands of the Amazon, in a landscape highly threatened by deforestation, our findings demonstrate that climate change may have already exceeded the conditions to which the system has adapted.« less
  4. Carbon losses from forest degradation and disturbances are significant and growing sources of emissions in the Brazilian Amazon. Between 2003 and 2019, degradation and disturbance accounted for 44% of forest carbon losses in the region, compared with 56% from deforestation (forest clearing). We found that land tenure played a decisive role in explaining these carbon losses, with Undesignated Public Forests and Other Lands (e.g., private properties) accounting for the majority (82%) of losses during the study period. Illegal deforestation and land grabbing in Undesignated Public Forests widespread and increasingly are important drivers of forest carbon emissions from the region. In contrast, indigenous Territories and Protected Natural Areas had the lowest emissions, demonstrating their effectiveness in preventing deforestation and maintaining carbon stocks. These trends underscore the urgent need to develop reliable systems for monitoring and reporting on carbon losses from forest degradation and disturbance. Together with improved governance, such actions will be crucial for Brazil to reduce pressure on standing forests; strengthen Indigenous land rights; and design effective climate mitigation strategies needed to achieve its national and international climate commitments.
  5. Intensive agriculture alters headwater streams, but our understanding of its effects is limited in tropical regions where rates of agricultural expansion and intensification are currently greatest. Riparian forest protections are an important conservation tool, but whether they provide adequate protection of stream function in these areas of rapid tropical agricultural development has not been well studied. To address these gaps, we conducted a study in the lowland Brazilian Amazon, an area undergoing rapid cropland expansion, to assess the effects of land use change on organic matter dynamics (OM), ecosystem metabolism, and nutrient concentrations and uptake (nitrate and phosphate) in 11 first order streams draining forested (n = 4) or cropland (n = 7) watersheds with intact riparian forests. We found that streams had similar terrestrial litter inputs, but OM biomass was lower in cropland streams. Gross primary productivity was low and not different between land uses, but ecosystem respiration and net ecosystem production showed greater seasonality in cropland streams. Although we found no difference in stream concentrations of dissolved nutrients, phosphate uptake exceeded nitrate uptake in all streams and was higher in cropland than forested streams. This indicates that streams will be more retentive of phosphorus than nitrogen and thatmore »if fertilizer nitrogen reaches streams, it will be exported in stream networks. Overall, we found relatively subtle differences in stream function, indicating that riparian buffers have thus far provided protection against major functional shifts seen in other systems. However, the changes we did observe were linked to watershed scale shifts in hydrology, water temperature, and light availability resulting from watershed deforestation. This has implications for the conservation of tens of thousands of stream kilometers across the expanding Amazon cropland region.« less
  6. Droughts can exert a strong influence on the regional energy balance of the Amazon and Cerrado, as can the replacement of native vegetation by croplands. What remains unclear is how these two forcing factors interact and whether land cover changes fundamentally alter the sensitivity of the energy balance components to drought events. To fill this gap, we used remote sensing data to evaluate the impacts of drought on evapotranspiration (ET), land surface temperature (LST), and albedo on cultivated areas, savannas, and forests. Our results (for seasonal drought) indicate that increases in monthly dryness across Mato Grosso state (southern Amazonia and northern Cerrado) drive greater increases in LST and albedo in croplands than in forests. Furthermore, during the 2007 and 2010 droughts, croplands became hotter (0.1–0.8 °C) than savannas (0.3–0.6 °C) and forests (0.2–0.3 °C). However, forest ET was consistently higher than ET in all other land uses. This finding likely indicates that forests can access deeper soil water during droughts. Overall, our findings suggest that forest remnants can play a fundamental role in the mitigation of the negative impacts of extreme drought events, contributing to a higher ET and lower LST.
  7. Abstract

    The expansion of cattle in central western Brazil has been under scrutiny because of the region’s historic reliance on Amazon and Cerrado deforestation for cropland and pastureland expansion. In this study, we determined the volumetric water footprint (VWF) and the land footprint (LF) of cattle in Mato Grosso state for the years 2000, 2005, 2010 and 2014 using official statistics and remote sensing imagery. We found the average VWF of cattle for the time period to be 265–270 l kg−1LW−1(LW as live weight of cattle) and a LF which decreased from 71 to 47 m2kg−1LW−1. The largest contribution to VWF came from farm impoundments whose total area increased from roughly 46 000 to 51 000 ha between 2000 and 2014, leading to a total evaporation as high as 7.31 × 1011l yr−1in 2014. Analysis at the municipality level showed a tendency towards greater density of cattle with respect to both pasture area and impoundments. While cattle intensification on current pastureland is commonly viewed as a means to prevent further deforestation and greenhouse gas emissions, we stress the need to also consider the increasing demand for water associated with a growing cattle herd and the potential appropriation of additional resources for feedmore »for feedlot finishing. Land and water resource management need to be considered together for future planning of cattle intensification at the Brazilian agricultural frontier as illustrated by the footprints reported here.

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  8. Abstract

    Agricultural impacts on aquatic ecosystems are well studied; however, most research has focused on temperate regions, whereas the forefront of agricultural expansion is currently in the tropics. At the vanguard of this growth is the boundary between the Amazon and Cerrado biomes in Brazil, driven primarily by expansion of soybean and corn croplands. Here we examine the impacts of cropland expansion on receiving lowland Amazon Basin headwater streams in terms of dissolved organic carbon (DOC) concentration and dissolved organic matter (DOM) composition via ultrahigh‐resolution mass spectrometry. Streams draining croplands had lower DOC concentrations and DOM molecular signatures enriched in N‐ and S‐containing formula in comparison to forested streams. Cropland streams were also enriched in aliphatic, peptide‐like, and highly unsaturated and phenolic (low O/C) compound categories in comparison to forest streams (enriched in polyphenolics, condensed aromatics, and highly unsaturated and phenolic [high O/C] compound categories) indicative of the shifting of sources from organic‐rich surface soils and litter layers to autochthonous and more microbial biomass. Distinct molecular assemblages were strongly correlated with cropland and forest catchments, highlighting headwater streams as sentinels for detecting change. On investigation of unique molecular formulae present in only cropland sites, four cropland markers provided the abilitymore »to track agricultural impacts in the region. Overall, these patterns indicate reduced organic matter inputs in croplands and greater microbial degradation at these sites leading to declining DOC concentrations, and DOM of more microbial character in receiving streams that is more biolabile, with clear ramifications for downstream ecology and biogeochemical cycles.

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