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By Andrew Follett
Amazon rainforests are more resilient to deforestation than previously thought, according to a new study by scientists from the University of Bristol.
The study, published Tuesday, used satellite data of tree cover in rainforests to conclude “the Amazon rainforest is not as fragile as previously thought.”
Scientists used to believe Amazon rainforests were extremely vulnerable to deforestation, mostly relying on satellite data showing areas of rainforests and savannah coexisted under the same environmental conditions.
This so-called “bistability” was thought to mean that dramatic events like a forest clearance or drought would start a feedback loop of fires, rapidly converting rainforest into savannah. This process was thought to be irreversible.
“I decided to take a fresh look at the data and a very different picture emerged when I controlled for seasonality and took out all the data points from satellite images that represented locations that had been subjected to human influence,” Bert Wuyts, a doctoral student and lead author on the paper, said in a statement. “Suddenly the property of bistability disappeared almost completely.”
Previous research failed to take into account factors like seasons, forest fires, differences in the extent of logging and boundaries between rainforests and savannah. When Wuyts factored these in, the rainforests become vastly more resistant to deforestation. The study also indicated that some natural distinctions exist between rainforest land and savannah land, meaning that a feedback loop is far less likely to start.
Wuyts concluded that although human activities do have an impact on Amazon rainforests, it is likely significantly less than previous research suggested.