Insight: What the Amazon’s fires mean for its animals

What the Amazon’s fires mean for its animals

As flames burn through Brazil’s rainforest, its inhabitants are at risk of losing their homes. The fires pose a serious threat to the Amazon’s delicate balance of ecosystems, putting pressure on already endangered species of animals.

Expect a significant loss of wildlife, says Roberto Troya, Vice President for Latin America and the Caribbean at the World Wildlife Fund (WWF). The Amazon contains one in 10 known species on earth, including at least 40,000 plant species and more than 400 mammal, 300 reptile, 400 amphibian and 3,000 freshwater fish species, according to the WWF.

“We know (the Amazon fires) will have a large effect on multiple populations of different animals,” Sullivan tells CNN, adding that the fires could put pressure on species that are already endangered, such as the white-cheeked spider monkey, Milton’s titi monkey and Mura’s saddleback tamarin.

“There are more fish in a few hundred square kilometers in the Amazon than there are in the whole of Australia,” Magnusson says. “You might not see it so much this year, but in a few years, you’ll see the effects of this cutting and burning, on the aquatic fauna.”

“You can shift the amount of dissolved oxygen for fish,” Sullivan says, explaining that the fires can alter the chemistry of the water in the Amazon. The increased erosion and sedimentation, altered nutrients, water temperature and dissolved oxygen can alter the chemistry of the water, which can have profound effects on aquatic organisms.

When the vegetation that otherwise provides shade is gone, plants that are otherwise not exposed to increased levels of light will experience a dramatic shift in their environment. This shifts the entire base of the food chain, Sullivan says, with lots of native trees being lost, and the drier landscape driving out some kinds of organisms that currently reside within the forest.

An animal exodus would create a cyclical impact on the life cycle of plants and trees. About 80% of trees in the Amazon are dependent on animals for their regeneration through seed dispersal, Sullivan says. “When you take away those animals, all of a sudden you are taking away the ability of those trees to regenerate.”

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