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"The cumulative impact of widespread burning is catastrophic, as fire recurrence may lead to the impoverishment of ecosystems and the disruption of their functioning," scientists recalled.
On Thursday, Scientific Reports magazine published a report that claims that some 16.9 million lizards, birds, primates, rodents, and other vertebrates died due to wildfires that took place in the Pantanal.
Between January and November 2020, wildfires caused an enormous damage to the world's largest tropical wetland. To reach this conclusion, scientists Walfrido Moraes Tomas (Embrapa Pantanal) and Ronaldo Morato (Sao Paulo’s Conservation & Biodiversity Institute) made a statistical estimate of animal mortality by taking 302 skeleton samples along 114,43 kilometers in burned areas.
Using these field data, they estimated that between 13.2 million and 18.8 million small vertebrate animals died in the 39,030 square kilometers burned. Moraes and Morato also estimated that fires killed between 691,090 and 1,2 million medium and large vertebrates.
These estimates, however, do not reflect the wildfires’ full impact since data do not include the subsequent death of animals caused by the loss of their ecosystems. Nor do the figures include species such as jaguars, pumas, and tapirs, which also died in the fires.
#NewsAlert: In an astonishing loss for the wildlife of the Brazilian Pantanal — the world's largest wetland — a recent study involving Panthera estimates that 17 MILLION animals were killed immediately by wildfires in 2020, with over half being snakes like this #anaconda. pic.twitter.com/4WbVRPjOIW
Scientists recalled that the frequency, duration and intensity of meteorological drought have increased significantly in many regions of the world. These processes, however, are not spontaneous. The increase in the frequency of wildfires is one of the most visible consequences of the human-driven global climate change.
"The Pantanal case also reminds us that the cumulative impact of widespread burning would be catastrophic, as fire recurrence may lead to the impoverishment of ecosystems and the disruption of their functioning," Moraes and his collegues stressed.
"To overcome this unsustainable scenario, it is necessary to establish proper biomass fuel management to avoid cumulative impacts caused by fire over biodiversity and ecosystem services."