The Amazon is the world’s largest tropical forest, spanning nine South American countries and housing 10 percent of the world’s living plant and animal species. Its trees absorb about 25 percent of carbon emissions taken in collectively by all forests on Earth, replacing harmful CO2 with the oxygen we breathe. Recent reports indicate the number of fires blazing in the Amazon in late August 2019 is the highest on record, representing an 83 percent increase over the number of fires at the same time last year.
The devastating loss of forest to these fires is displacing people and animals, negatively affecting air quality in the region, changing rain patterns on a continental scale, and reducing the forest’s capacity to clean air for the planet. Meanwhile, the Amazon basin remains severely understudied and poorly understood for its potential value to the health of the planet. It is stunning to consider the fact that on average, a new species of plant from Brazil is published every two days, and thousands more—especially in Amazônia—remain to be discovered. These plants, and their potential benefits, may be lost forever due to the current crisis of deforestation in Brazil.
For most of the past decade, I have focused much of my efforts on a research and training project in the southwestern Amazonian state of Rondônia, which is one of the most deforested areas in the Amazon and is currently suffering the most fires and greatest increase in deforestation. Rondônia is especially important because it is one of the most biodiverse areas of the Amazon, with a wide range of habitat types and topography, but its flora is among the least documented. As thousands of fires burn in Rondônia, the work of myself and my team of Brazilian collaborators is literally under fire. We are extremely anxious to expedite this vital project to train those who manage and monitor the forests and document the native flora of Rondônia before it is permanently compromised.