Editor’s note: Between now and March, Human Nature is exploring the complexities of living in, using and protecting one of the planet’s most valuable types of ecosystems — tropical forests — in a series we’re calling “No forests, no future.” This is the first post in this series.
If you have never visited it, the world’s most famous forest may inspire visions of dense, pristine forest, thundering waterfalls — and very few humans.
In fact, the Amazonia region — which encompasses parts of nine countries in South America and includes both the Amazon rainforest and the water-rich Guiana Shield — is home to 30 million people, including 375 indigenous groups. It contains the largest tropical forest in the world, the richest biodiversity on the planet, almost one-third of the world’s tropical forest carbon and one-fifth of the planet’s fresh water that flows into the ocean.
People near and far rely on Amazonia’s ecosystems for everything from climate regulation to fisheries and food security. But despite these crucial services, ongoing deforestation and climate change impacts threaten to permanently alter this massive system — drying it up, decimating its biodiversity and slowing the flow of benefits to its people to a trickle.
If we want to prevent irreversible damage, we must first figure out what parts of Amazonia we can’t afford to lose.