Daniel Curtis Nepstad

The Amazon Environmental Resea... · International Program

Publications

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    ABSTRACT: The recent 70% decline in deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon suggests that it is possible to manage the advance of a vast agricultural frontier. Enforcement of laws, interventions in soy and beef supply chains, restrictions on access to credit, and expansion of protected areas appear to have contributed to this decline, as did a decline in the demand for new deforestation. The supply chain interventions that fed into this deceleration are precariously dependent on corporate risk management, and public policies have relied excessively on punitive measures. Systems for delivering positive incentives for farmers to forgo deforestation have been designed but not fully implemented. Territorial approaches to deforestation have been effective and could consolidate progress in slowing deforestation while providing a framework for addressing other important dimensions of sustainable development.
    Science 06/2014; 344(6188):1118-1123. · 31.20 Impact Factor
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    ABSTRACT: Interactions between climate and land-use change may drive widespread degradation of Amazonian forests. High-intensity fires associated with extreme weather events could accelerate this degradation by abruptly increasing tree mortality, but this process remains poorly understood. Here we present, to our knowledge, the first field-based evidence of a tipping point in Amazon forests due to altered fire regimes. Based on results of a large-scale, long-term experiment with annual and triennial burn regimes (B1yr and B3yr, respectively) in the Amazon, we found abrupt increases in fire-induced tree mortality (226 and 462%) during a severe drought event, when fuel loads and air temperatures were substantially higher and relative humidity was lower than long-term averages. This threshold mortality response had a cascading effect, causing sharp declines in canopy cover (23 and 31%) and aboveground live biomass (12 and 30%) and favoring widespread invasion by flammable grasses across the forest edge area (80 and 63%), where fires were most intense (e.g., 220 and 820 kW⋅m(-1)). During the droughts of 2007 and 2010, regional forest fires burned 12 and 5% of southeastern Amazon forests, respectively, compared with <1% in nondrought years. These results show that a few extreme drought events, coupled with forest fragmentation and anthropogenic ignition sources, are already causing widespread fire-induced tree mortality and forest degradation across southeastern Amazon forests. Future projections of vegetation responses to climate change across drier portions of the Amazon require more than simulation of global climate forcing alone and must also include interactions of extreme weather events, fire, and land-use change.
    Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 04/2014; · 9.81 Impact Factor
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    ABSTRACT: Background: The impact of fire on carbon cycling in tropical forests is potentially large, but remains poorly quantified, particularly in the locality of the transition forests that mark the boundaries between humid forests and savannas. Aims: To present the first comprehensive description of the impact of repeated low intensity, understorey fire on carbon cycling in a semi-deciduous, seasonally dry tropical forest on infertile soil in south-eastern Amazonia. Methods: We compared an annually burnt forest plot with a control plot over a three-year period (2009–2011). For each plot we quantified the components of net primary productivity (NPP), autotrophic (R a) and heterotrophic respiration (R h), and estimated total plant carbon expenditure (PCE, the sum of NPP and R a) and carbon-use efficiency (CUE, the quotient of NPP/PCE). Results: Total NPP and R a were 15 and 4% lower on the burnt plot than on the control, respectively. Both plots were characterised by a slightly higher CUE of 0.36–0.39, compared to evergreen lowland Amazon forests. Conclusions: These measurements provide the first evidence of a distinctive pattern of carbon cycling within this transitional forest. Overall, regular understorey fire is shown to have little impact on ecosystem-level carbon fluxes.
    Plant Ecology & Diversity 01/2014; 7. · 0.92 Impact Factor
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    Daniel C. Nepstad
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    ABSTRACT: A report to the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF)
    07/2013;
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    07/2013; Earth Innovation Institute.
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    ABSTRACT: Aumentar la producción terrestre y a la vez reducir la deforestación, degradación forestal, emisión de gases de efecto invernadero y pobreza rural.
    07/2013; Earth Innovation Institute.
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    ABSTRACT: Tropical rainforest regions have large hydropower generation potential that figures prominently in many nations' energy growth strategies. Feasibility studies of hydropower plants typically ignore the effect of future deforestation or assume that deforestation will have a positive effect on river discharge and energy generation resulting from declines in evapotranspiration (ET) associated with forest conversion. Forest loss can also reduce river discharge, however, by inhibiting rainfall. We used land use, hydrological, and climate models to examine the local "direct" effects (through changes in ET within the watershed) and the potential regional "indirect" effects (through changes in rainfall) of deforestation on river discharge and energy generation potential for the Belo Monte energy complex, one of the world's largest hydropower plants that is currently under construction on the Xingu River in the eastern Amazon. In the absence of indirect effects of deforestation, simulated deforestation of 20% and 40% within the Xingu River basin increased discharge by 4-8% and 10-12%, with similar increases in energy generation. When indirect effects were considered, deforestation of the Amazon region inhibited rainfall within the Xingu Basin, counterbalancing declines in ET and decreasing discharge by 6-36%. Under business-as-usual projections of forest loss for 2050 (40%), simulated power generation declined to only 25% of maximum plant output and 60% of the industry's own projections. Like other energy sources, hydropower plants present large social and environmental costs. Their reliability as energy sources, however, must take into account their dependence on forests.
    Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 05/2013; · 9.81 Impact Factor
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    ABSTRACT: Anthropogenic understorey fires affect large areas of tropical forest, yet their effects on woody plant regeneration post-fire remain poorly understood. We examined the effects of repeated experimental fires on woody stem (less than 1 cm at base) mortality, recruitment, species diversity, community similarity and regeneration mode (seed versus sprout) in Mato Grosso, Brazil. From 2004 to 2010, forest plots (50 ha) were burned twice (B2) or five times (B5), and compared with an unburned control (B0). Stem density recovered within a year after the first burn (initial density: 12.4-13.2 stems m(-2)), but after 6 years, increased mortality and decreased regeneration-primarily of seedlings-led to a 63 per cent and 85 per cent reduction in stem density in B2 and B5, respectively. Seedlings and sprouts across plots in 2010 displayed remarkable community similarity owing to shared abundant species. Although the dominant surviving species were similar across plots, a major increase in sprouting occurred-almost three- and fourfold greater in B2 and B5 than in B0. In B5, 29 species disappeared and were replaced by 11 new species often present along fragmented forest edges. By 2010, the annual burn regime created substantial divergence between the seedling community and the initial adult tree community (greater than or equal to 20 cm dbh). Increased droughts and continued anthropogenic ignitions associated with frontier land uses may promote high-frequency fire regimes that may substantially alter regeneration and therefore successional processes.
    Philosophical Transactions of The Royal Society B Biological Sciences 01/2013; 368(1619):20120157. · 6.23 Impact Factor
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    ABSTRACT: Land-use regulations are a critical component of forest governance and conservation strategies, but their effectiveness in shaping landholder behaviour is poorly understood. We conducted a spatial and temporal analysis of the Brazilian Forest Code (BFC) to understand the patterns of regulatory compliance over time and across changes in the policy, and the implications of these compliance patterns for the perceived costs to landholders and environmental performance of agricultural landscapes in the southern Amazon state of Mato Grosso. Landholdings tended to remain in compliance or not according to their status at the beginning of the study period. The perceived economic burden of BFC compliance on soya bean and beef producers (US$3-5.6 billion in net present value of the land) may in part explain the massive, successful campaign launched by the farm lobby to change the BFC. The ecological benefits of compliance (e.g. greater connectivity and carbon) with the BFC are diffuse and do not compete effectively with the economic benefits of non-compliance that are perceived by landholders. Volatile regulation of land-use decisions that affect billions in economic rent that could be captured is an inadequate forest governance instrument; effectiveness of such regulations may increase when implemented in tandem with positive incentives for forest conservation.
    Philosophical Transactions of The Royal Society B Biological Sciences 01/2013; 368(1619):20120160. · 6.23 Impact Factor
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    ABSTRACT: Climate change and rapidly escalating global demand for food, fuel, fibre and feed present seemingly contradictory challenges to humanity. Can greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from land-use, more than one-fourth of the global total, decline as growth in land-based production accelerates? This review examines the status of two major international initiatives that are designed to address different aspects of this challenge. REDD+ is an emerging policy framework for providing incentives to tropical nations and states that reduce their GHG emissions from deforestation and forest degradation. Market transformation, best represented by agricultural commodity roundtables, seeks to exclude unsustainable farmers from commodity markets through international social and environmental standards for farmers and processors. These global initiatives could potentially become synergistically integrated through (i) a shared approach for measuring and favouring high environmental and social performance of land use across entire jurisdictions and (ii) stronger links with the domestic policies, finance and laws in the jurisdictions where agricultural expansion is moving into forests. To achieve scale, the principles of REDD+ and sustainable farming systems must be embedded in domestic low-emission rural development models capable of garnering support across multiple constituencies. We illustrate this potential with the case of Mato Grosso State in the Brazilian Amazon.
    Philosophical Transactions of The Royal Society B Biological Sciences 01/2013; 368(1619):20120167. · 6.23 Impact Factor
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    ABSTRACT: Changes in climate and land use that interact synergistically to increase fire frequencies and intensities in tropical regions are predicted to drive forests to new grass-dominated stable states. To reveal the mechanisms for such a transition, we established 50 ha plots in a transitional forest in the southwestern Brazilian Amazon to different fire treatments (unburned, burned annually (B1yr) or at 3-year intervals (B3yr)). Over an 8-year period since the commencement of these treatments, we documented: (i) the annual rate of pasture and native grass invasion in response to increasing fire frequency; (ii) the establishment of Brachiaria decumbens (an African C4 grass) as a function of decreasing canopy cover and (iii) the effects of grass fine fuel on fire intensity. Grasses invaded approximately 200 m from the edge into the interiors of burned plots (B1yr: 4.31 ha; B3yr: 4.96 ha) but invaded less than 10 m into the unburned plot (0.33 ha). The probability of B. decumbens establishment increased with seed availability and decreased with leaf area index. Fine fuel loads along the forest edge were more than three times higher in grass-dominated areas, which resulted in especially intense fires. Our results indicate that synergies between fires and invasive C4 grasses jeopardize the future of tropical forests.
    Philosophical Transactions of The Royal Society B Biological Sciences 01/2013; 368(1619):20120427. · 6.23 Impact Factor
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    ABSTRACT: Large-scale wildfires are expected to accelerate forest dieback in Amazônia, but the fire vulnerability of tree species remains uncertain, in part due to the lack of studies relating fire-induced mortality to both fire behavior and plant traits. To address this gap, we established two sets of experiments in southern Amazonia. First, we tested which bark traits best predict heat transfer rates (R) through bark during experimental bole heating. Second, using data from a large-scale fire experiment, we tested the effects of tree wood density (WD), size, and estimated R (inverse of cambium insulation) on tree mortality after one to five fires. In the first experiment, bark thickness explained 82% of the variance in R, while the presence of water in the bark reduced the difference in temperature between the heat source and the vascular cambium, perhaps because of high latent heat of vaporization. This novel finding provides an important insight for improving mechanistic models of fire-induced cambium damage from tropical to temperate regions. In the second experiment, tree mortality increased with increasing fire intensity (i.e. as indicated by bark char height on tree boles), which was higher along the forest edge, during the 2007 drought, and when the fire return interval was 3 years instead of one. Contrary to other tropical studies, the relationship between mortality and fire intensity was strongest in the year following the fires, but continued for 3 years afterwards. Tree mortality was low (≤20%) for thick-barked individuals (≥18 mm) subjected to medium-intensity fires, and significantly decreased as a function of increasing tree diameter, height and wood density. Hence, fire-induced tree mortality was influenced not only by cambium insulation but also by other traits that reduce the indirect effects of fire. These results can be used to improve assessments of fire vulnerability of tropical forests.
    Global Change Biology 02/2012; 18(2). · 8.22 Impact Factor
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    ABSTRACT: Fed by demand for beef within Brazil and in global markets, the Brazilian herd grew from 147 million head of cattle in 1990 to ≈200 million in 2007. Eighty-three percent of this expansion occurred in the Amazon and this trend is expected to continue as the industry bounces back from a recent agricultural downturn. Intensification of the cattle industry has been suggested as one way to reduce pressure on forest margins and spare land for soybean or sugarcane production, and is the cornerstone of Brazil's plan for mitigation of greenhouse gas emissions. To this end, federal credit programs and research and development activities in Brazil are aligning to support intensification goals, but there is no guarantee that this push for intensification will decrease the demand for land at the forest margin and as result curb CO2 emissions from deforestation. In this paper we use a spatially explicit rent model which incorporates the local effects of biophysical characteristics, infrastructure, land prices, and distance to markets and slaughterhouses to calculate 30-year Net Present Values (NPVs) of extensive cattle ranching across the Brazilian Amazon. We use the model to ask where extensive ranching is profitable and how land acquisition affects profitability. We estimate that between 17% and 80% of land in the Amazon would have moderate to high NPVs when ranched extensively if it were settled, i.e. if the rancher does not buy the land but acquires it through land grabbing. In addition, we estimate that between 9% and 13% of land in the Amazon is vulnerable to speculation (i.e. areas with positive NPVs only if land is settled and not purchased), which suggests that land speculation is an important driver of extensive ranching profitability, and may continue to be in the future. These results suggest that pro-intensification policies such as credit provision for improved pasture management and investment in more intensive production systems must be accompanied by implementation and enforcement of policies that alter the incentives to clear forest for pasture, discourage land speculation, and increase accountability for land management practices if intensification of the cattle sector is to deter new deforestation and displace production from low-yield, extensive cattle production systems in frontier regions of the Brazilian Amazon.
    Land Use Policy 01/2012; 29(3):558-568. · 3.13 Impact Factor
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    Conservation Biology 12/2011; 25(6):1113-6. · 4.36 Impact Factor

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