Scientists Produce a New Roadmap For Guiding Development & Conservation Efforts in the Amazon

December 8, 2016

See the original press release in the WCS Newsroom here.

  • New river basin classification will help safeguard region’s biodiversity and monitor infrastructure development

NEW YORK (December 8, 2016)—Scientists from WCS (Wildlife Conservation Society), the Nature Conservancy, and several partners in Brazil and Peru have produced a geographic information system (GIS) “roadmap” to help guide conservation efforts at large scale in the Amazon River basin, a region roughly the size of the United States.

The new spatial framework—created with several major data sets and GIS technology—is made up of a new hydrological and river basin classification, along with various spatial analysis tools, that can be used to better understand and mitigate the synergistic effects of deforestation and new or planned highways and dams across the Amazon Basin.

The paper, entitled “An explicit GIS-based river basin framework for aquatic ecosystem conservation in the Amazon,” appears in the most recent edition of the journal Earth System Science Data. The authors are: Eduardo Venticinque of Universidade Federal do Rio Grande do Norte; Bruce Forsberg of the Instituto Nacional de Pesquisas da Amazônia; Ronaldo B. Barthem of the Museu Paraense Emilio Goeldi; Paulo Petry of The Nature Conservancy; Laura Hess of the Earth Research Institute; Armando Mercado, Carlos Cañas, Mariana Montoya, Carlos Durigan, and Michael Goulding of WCS.

See the spatial framework database here, the paper here, and a one-pager on the tool here.


“The new spatial framework provides a dynamic way to map natural resources and possible infrastructure impacts on them at various scalable levels in the Amazon, one prime example being fisheries and fish migrations and the far-flung wetlands that support them,” said Eduardo Venticinque of Universidade Federal do Rio Grande do Norte, the lead author of the study.

“This new tool will enable scientists and governments to monitor development initiatives across the Amazon basin and help guide policy to minimize the environmental impact of these activities,” said WCS scientist Michael Goulding.

The Amazon is home to the most biodiverse rainforest on Earth, as well as the greatest freshwater system in the world. The region also supports what is likely the largest assemblage of wetlands in the world, a mosaic that ranges from seasonally flooded forests that cover most of the floodplains to immense savannas inundated for many months each year. The region is also considering a number of infrastructure development projects that could significantly impact the hydrology of the Amazon Basin and its fauna and flora. Conservation efforts typically focus on creating and strengthening protected areas and indigenous territories in the Amazon, with little focus on the aquatic systems. The new framework will help focus conservation and management efforts on waters and wetlands and the important resources they contain, including more than 2,400 species of fish, to promote a more integrated and large-scale approach to protecting the Amazon Basin.

In order to create a river basin classification system—one that could be used to serve the needs of conservation and monitoring—the scientists divided the river basin into a number of sub-basins defined by 11 different stream orders ranging from tiny streams to the Amazon River itself. Seven distinct levels of basins were defined, with the main Amazon Basin as Level 1, and larger tributary sub-basins such as the Ucayali and the Madeira as Level 2, and so on.

This research was conducted by the Amazon Waters Initiative expert working group supported by Science for Nature and People Partnership (SNAPP), a partnership of The Nature Conservancy, the Wildlife Conservation Society, and the National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis (NCEAS) at the University of California, Santa Barbara.

¿Do you want to understand how to use the watershed management tool created by the Amazon Water Initiative?
Check out this manual that will help you to understand how the geographic basins framework was constructed by AWI scientists and how it can be practically applied. The framework considers the Amazon River’s main stem and adjacent floodplains as separate sub-basin within a hierarchy of interconnected regional basins, which generates an integrated spatial framework that can help scientists and environmentalists achieve conservation of aquatic ecosystems at multiple scales in the Amazon.
Learn more here.

The Amazon Waters Initiative is generously supported by the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation, Mitsubishi Corporation Foundation for the Americas, USAID, and the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation.