After surveying 2,000 species of plants, birds, beetles, ants and bees across more than 300 diverse sites in the Brazilian Amazon, researchers say that deforestation has, without a doubt, caused a strong loss of biodiversity. They also say that setting aside a network of preserved forest may make it possible to maintain different populations of plants and animals. Their findings were recently published in the journal Ecology Letters

"Pre-existing differences in the undisturbed forests plus the way in which they had been altered by human activity had an impact on which species survived." Dr. Ricardo Solar, lead author of the study and a research fellow at Brazil´s Universidade Federal de Viçosa, said a statement. "Some of the disturbed forests were able to maintain up to 80 percent of the species found in pristine forests -- this gives us hope. It is vitally important that reserves should not be concentrated in a single part of a region, but as a widespread network of forest reserves."

Other findings indicated that logging, fire and farming have resulted in major deforestation in the area, which had inadvertently affected species loss and simplification. Also, natural differences between pristine forests and variation in forms of forest disturbance result in unequal simplification of species.

"The lower species diversity in degraded forests also indicates that many species are restricted to undisturbed forests." Co-author Professor Jos Barlow, from Lancaster University, explained in a release. "This demonstrates the importance of controlling selective logging and preventing wildfires in all forests, including those on private lands that have already been disturbed."
Even species that are different can help sustain one another if areas containing such differing populations are maintained, the release notes.

"There remains a widespread assumption that concentrating conservation efforts on the protection of isolated reserves is the best way we can safeguard biodiversity. But our work shows that in areas of private land that have already been disturbed -- which dominate much of the tropics -- we need to maintain and protect a wide network of forest areas. Without such a landscape-scale approach we can expect many species to go regionally extinct," said fellow co-author Dr. Toby Gardner, researcher at the Stockholm Environment Institute, in the release.

Since Brazil recently revised its environmental laws regulating forests, allowing a trading system for private reserves and designing plans for environmental restoration, Dr. Joice Ferreira, co-author from the Brazilian Agricultural Research Center explained in the release that these findings are very timely.

"For example, the high variation in biodiversity found in secondary forests indicates the role these ecosystems play in regional conservation," said Dr. Ferreira in the release. "For many areas of the Amazon, conserving existing secondary forests may be much cheaper and even more efficient than planting trees."

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