Reserves Effective at Reducing Fires in Brazilian Rainforests

By Sheril Kirshenbaum | April 8, 2009 1:25 pm

waterfall-in-amazon-forest-080801.jpgAn encouraging article just published in PLoS ONE shows that reserves in the Brazilian Amazon Rainforest serve to provide an important buffer against fires.  Why important?  Fires can be devastating to the region since the trees have no natural protection.  It’s a primary cause of deforestation which also contributes to climate change.  According Dr. Marion Adeney of Duke’s Nicholas School of the Environment:

“reserves are making a difference even when they are crossed by roads.  We already knew, from previous studies, that there were generally fewer fires inside reserves than outside – what we didn’t know was whether this holds true when you put a road across the reserve.”

Along with co-authors Stuart Pimm and Norm Christensen, she has analyzed ten years of satellite data from the entire Brazilian Amazon.  Together they found that location and timing were much more important factors than type of reserve in terms of where fires occurred.  Highly impacted areas experienced more disturbances than those in remote locations which is not surprising since fires in humid tropical forests are mainly caused by people.  Today’s accelerated pace of road-building in the region has caused concern given ninety percent of fires occur within 10 kilometers of a road. This study matters because it demonstrates reserves are effective at protecting forest cover even after you account for roads and rainfall variation.

On March 26, the Brazilian government announced plans to establish a series of reserves covering 23,000 square kilometres along BR-319 from Manaus in the state of Amazonas to Porto Velho in Rondônia.  This road is currently unpaved and often impassable so fires are rare (as you can see on the map below), but it will be developed over time.  The good news–as Nature reports–is that roads or not, efforts to protect parts of the Brazilian Amazon Rainforest appear to be working…and will continue.


CATEGORIZED UNDER: Conservation, Global Warming

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About Sheril Kirshenbaum

Sheril Kirshenbaum is a research scientist with the Webber Energy Group at the University of Texas at Austin's Center for International Energy and Environmental Policy where she works on projects to enhance public understanding of energy issues as they relate to food, oceans, and culture. She is involved in conservation initiatives across levels of government, working to improve communication between scientists, policymakers, and the public. Sheril is the author of The Science of Kissing, which explores one of humanity's fondest pastimes. She also co-authored Unscientific America: How Scientific Illiteracy Threatens Our Future with Chris Mooney, chosen by Library Journal as one of the Best Sci-Tech Books of 2009 and named by President Obama's science advisor John Holdren as his top recommended read. Sheril contributes to popular publications including Newsweek, The Washington Post, Discover Magazine, and The Nation, frequently covering topics that bridge science and society from climate change to genetically modified foods. Her writing is featured in the anthology The Best American Science Writing 2010. In 2006 Sheril served as a legislative Knauss science fellow on Capitol Hill with Senator Bill Nelson (D-FL) where she was involved in energy, climate, and ocean policy. She also has experience working on pop radio and her work has been published in Science, Fisheries Bulletin, Oecologia, and Issues in Science and Technology. In 2007, she helped to found Science Debate; an initiative encouraging candidates to debate science research and innovation issues on the campaign trail. Previously, Sheril was a research associate at Duke University's Nicholas School of the Environment and has served as a Fellow with the Center for Biodiversity and Conservation at the American Museum of Natural History and as a Howard Hughes Research Fellow. She has contributed reports to The Nature Conservancy and provided assistance on international protected area projects. Sheril serves as a science advisor to NPR's Science Friday and its nonprofit partner, Science Friday Initiative. She also serves on the program committee for the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS). She speaks regularly around the country to audiences at universities, federal agencies, and museums and has been a guest on such programs as The Today Show and The Daily Rundown on MSNBC. Sheril is a graduate of Tufts University and holds two masters of science degrees in marine biology and marine policy from the University of Maine. She co-hosts The Intersection on Discover blogs with Chris Mooney and has contributed to DeSmogBlog, Talking Science, Wired Science and Seed. She was born in Suffern, New York and is also a musician. Sheril lives in Austin, Texas with her husband David Lowry.Interested in booking Sheril Kirshenbaum to speak at your next event? Contact Hachette Speakers Bureau 866.376.6591 info@hachettespeakersbureau.comFor more information, visit her website or email Sheril at


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