Low-level fires are a natural but infrequent occurrence in rainforests, but due to industrialization, logging and other deforestation, the severity of forest fires is increasing. This may pose a serious threat to the plants and animals of these regions, and many scientists are concerned for the future of the Amazonian rainforest. The impact of forest fires on local bird populations in Brazil was the focus of a recent study conducted by researchers from the U.K. and Brazil.
The researchers examined the effect of fires on birds living in primary forests that rely on understorey, the layer of tree branches and plant life below the canopy, for their food and shelter. Primary forests are those unchanged by external, often man-made, factors, and they typically have many layers of understorey below the forest canopy. The researchers noted that even a small understorey fire can destroy 50 percent of trees in the affected area. Fires that destroyed a large portion of the canopy and exposed the understorey resulted in fewer remaining primary forest bird species, but the traits of the remaining birds were similar to those that left.
"Our research suggests that functional diversity may be more resilient than you would predict from looking at changes in species composition, which is good news for the recovery of ecosystem functions," said study co-author Dr. Jos Barlow of Lancaster University. "Nevertheless, rainforest fires are still bad news indeed for the birds that depend on the dark understorey found in primary forests."
Rainforest creatures may be numerous enough that if one or two species vacate an area, there are others that perform the same functions and allow the ecosystem to continue without much disruption. However, the loss of species that can only survive in specific habitats versus those that are able to thrive in various conditions could negatively impact the rainforest's ability to recover from fires and other sources of destruction.
This research emphasizes the need to conserve the Amazon rainforest, and ecotourists can embark on Amazon River tours to learn more about the delicate balance of the rainforests firsthand. Experiencing the beauty and diversity of the rainforests in this region can be more than enough to inspire nature travel enthusiasts to take action to protect the diverse ecosystem.
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