Plant-Animal Impact on Amazon's Degrading Forests

In the agricultural frontier between Amazonia, which covers about 40% of the South American continent, and Cerrado in the South American savannas, climate change, defaunation, and fragmentation are degrading forests.  One factor in the types of forests that will survive these threats is the interaction between animals and plants. A YSE-led team of scientists was awarded a $2.45 million grant from the National Science Foundation to study to these critical plant-animal interactions and how they impact the resilience of tropical forests.

As part of the study, the team, which includes Paulo Brando, associate professor of ecosystem carbon capture; Liza Comita, professor of Tropical Forest Ecology and co-director of the Yale Center for Natural Carbon Capture; Craig Brodersen, professor of plant physiological ecology; and scientists from 13 institutions, will produce Amazon-wide modeling projections of how fragmentation and defaunation may impact the future trajectory of forests in the region.

The Amazon, home to 25% of the world’s terrestrial biodiversity, has already lost about 20% of its original area.

“If the animals were to disappear from tropical forests, how would that shape the future of those forests, as well as their capacity to provide key ecosystem services such as carbon storage and water cycling?” Brando said.

The findings of the study will have broader implications, including better quantification of the services that animal species provide in keeping forests healthy; the consequences of forest collapse on forest-dependent peoples; and how future development in the region may impact the biodiversity of Amazonian forests, Brando said.

An ant in the rainforest

Animal-plant interactions in the Amazon, which is home to 25% of the world's terrestrial biodiversity, play a significant role in the resilience of the tropical forests.

Paulo Brando

Associate Professor of Ecosystem Carbon Capture

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Jaye Wilson Honored with Rising Black Scientist Award

Through her research, YSE student and National Science Foundation graduate research fellow Jaye Wilson aims to improve recycling systems to increase yield for high-value products and help industries develop more sustainable business practices. She shared her scientific goals and how her family, community, and STEM experiences sparked her interest in the field in the essay “Resilient wings, tangible impact: My journey from chrysalis to change-maker in STEM,” which earned her a Rising Black Scientists Award.

“The RBSA is a deeply personal achievement that represents a collective aim for a future where diversity in thought and background is not just recognized but celebrated as the bedrock of academic and societal advancement,” Wilson said. “For me, it is a beacon of encouragement to continue being a restorative force in my field, fostering creativity and innovative thinking.”

The award, first established in 2020 and given by Cell Press, Cell Signaling Technology (CST), and the Elsevier Foundation, provides funds to support professional development for talented and motivated Black Scientists. Winners have their essays published in iScience and receive $10,000 to support their research as well as a $500 travel grant.

“Through their stories and accomplishments, this year’s winners of the Rising Black Scientists Awards are examples of excellence to us all,” said John Pham, editor-in-chief of Cell. “My colleagues and I at Cell Press are inspired by them, and we are proud to be sharing their stories.”

Wilson and her fellow honorees, Kevin Brown Jr. of California State University San Marcos; Senegal Mabry of Cornell University; and Akorfa Dagadu of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, were chosen from more than 350 applicants from across the life, health, physical, and earth, environmental, and data sciences.

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Jaye Wilson

Saving Tropical Forests

About 60% of the world’s tropical forests, which store 25% of the world’s total carbon, are degrading, according to the Wildlife Conservation Society. Less than half remain at high integrity. At the 30th annual International Society of Tropical Foresters conference held at YSE’s Kroon Hall February 2-3, conservationists examined the drivers of deforestation, how carbon and diversity markets can sustain them, and progress in protecting them.

At the first day of the conference, which convened academics, practitioners, policy makers and community leaders from around the world, Marthe Tollenaar, ESG director at SAIL Ventures, a boutique investment firm based in The Hauge and Sao Paulo, noted how &Green Fund is helping to create returns on biodiversity credits, which she said are as attractive as conventional investments. Currently, she said, companies fund credits through their foundations instead of integrating them into their balance sheets and anticipating a return on investment.

While deforestation has slowed in the Amazon under President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva’s presidency, Ane Alencar, science director for IPAM, a research based environmental NGO in Brazil, said that more than half of deforestation occurred on public lands in 2021-2022 where forest clearance went unpunished. She said that land tenure, not agriculture is the biggest driver of clearing forests. In Indonesia, which has the largest expanse of rainforests in Asia, a drop in palm oil prices may have been a larger factor in slowing deforestation than government regulation, increased land security, sustainability efforts, and corporate commitments to conservation, said Kimberley Carlson, a land systems scientist and associate professor at New York University.

The Yale chapter of ISTF was established in 1992 and is housed at The Forest School at YSE. The annual conference is the longest running student-led conference at Yale.

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ISTF 2024 Conference

Puerto Ricans Are Among the Most Worried About Climate Change

Residents of Puerto Rico are among the most worried in the world about climate change according to a new study by the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication (YPCCC). 

The study, conducted in partnership with Rare and Data for Good at Meta, found that 93% of Puerto Ricans said they are “very worried” or “somewhat worried” about climate change; 84% said climate change will harm future generations “a great deal”; and 61% said climate change will harm them personally “a great deal.” Puerto Rico also had the highest number of respondents in the world who believe that climate change should be a high government priority.

"This says that the population seems highly attuned to climate change, potentially because of their exposure and experiences with extreme weather that have accumulated over the decades,” said Marija Verner, a postdoctoral associate at the Yale School of the Environment. “The second takeaway is that personal experience matters in how people approach these issues, and the third is really underscoring community resilience. Puerto Rico has built pretty strong adaptive capacity and strong support networks.”

The report, “International Public Opinion on Climate Change: 2023,” describes climate change beliefs, attitudes, policy preferences, and behaviors among Facebook users in 100 countries, territories, and geographic groups representing 187 countries and territories worldwide.  It is one of a series of reports that YPCC has been conducting across the world in order to understand climate change attitudes, fears and behaviors. The survey was conducted by Meta from August 3 – September 3, 2023. Researchers at YPCCC are using the survey data to release findings related to public views on the links between climate change and extreme weather in the Global South and adoption of, and barriers to, behaviors that can reduce personal and household carbon dioxide emissions in the Global North.

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