Conserving Key Biodiversity Sites in the Amazon Rainforest

Amazonia near Manaus. Photo: LecomteB; Wikimedia
Amazonia near Manaus. Photo: LecomteB; Wikimedia

Amazonia is the ultimate biodiversity-rich tropical wilderness, encompassing more than 6 million km² in nine South American countries. Within its borders lie the largest river system on Earth, and more than half the world’s remaining tropical rainforest. Recent surveys indicate more than 1300 bird species, 263 of them endemic. The Amazon is also home to a wealth of indigenous human cultures. 

In the Brazilian Amazon alone, deforestation has averaged 1.8 million hectares per year since 1998, the highest rate for any tropical forest area. Major drivers include agricultural expansion policies and transboundary road developments. Forecasts indicate that up to 40% of the forest may be lost by the middle of the century, and BirdLife has raised the threat status of 100 bird species likely to be affected.

These threats arise from insufficient consideration of biodiversity conservation in the plans and policies of other sectors. The Aage V Jensen Charity Foundation approved a grant to support BirdLife International and national Partner SAVE Brasil in the development of a simple but effective blueprint for conservation of Amazonian biodiversity. 

The project set out to identify the highest priority Amazonian sites, using BirdLife’s Important Bird and Biodiversity Area criteria, and integrate them into other national and regional policy sectors, particularly agriculture, forestry, mining, transport and urban development.

At the start of the project, full national IBA inventories had been prepared only for the five countries of the Tropical Andes. Over the next few years, a total of 130 IBAs were identified in the Amazon basin: 14 in Bolivia, 42 in Brazil, ten in Colombia, seven in Ecuador, nine in French Guiana, eight in Guyana, 13 in Peru, nine in Suriname and 18 in Venezuela

The results of this work were incorporated in the Brazil’s second IBA directory, and in the regional directory, Important Bird Areas Americas - Priority sites for biodiversity conservation. (The IBA data is fully accessible via BirdLife’s World Bird Database). 

All IBAs are priorities for conservation. But with limited time and resources, action to minimise biodiversity loss is more urgent for some than others. Priorities were set by combining measures of threat with a measure of biological importance based on IBA criteria. Each national Partner organisation held a series of workshops with local people and researchers from NGOs and government, to obtain first hand information about threats to IBAs. To identify the highest priority IBAs for conservation action at a basin-wide level, an analysis of satellite imagery was conducted by the remote sensing laboratory of BirdLife Partner Guyra Paraguay.

Back in 2010, the project published a brochure providing an overview of the Amazonian IBAs in each country, the highest national and regional priority sites, and the threats posed by regional development projects. The brochure is available in Spanish, Portuguese, French and Dutch, and has been distributed to governments, development and multilateral funding agencies, and NGOs. 

Each national BirdLife Partner has been invited to develop a conservation plan for one of their highest priority IBAs, using the standard format BirdLife has developed for its “Forests of Hope” initiative.

The project and resulting publications have raised the profile of IBAs as a conservation planning tool within the Amazon Basin, and of BirdLife Partners as key players in Amazon conservation. For example, in Brazil, IBA data has been used to identify gaps in the protected area network, and the IBA directory is a reference document for the Ecological-Economic Macro-zoning of the Brazilian Amazon. At a regional level, the World Bank and other multilateral development banks are increasingly looking to IBAs to help with the application of their environmental safeguards to development projects in the Amazon.