Reserves Protect against Deforestation Fires in the Amazon

Reserves are the principal means to conserve forests and biodiversity, but the question of whether reserves work is still debated. In the Amazon, fires are closely linked to deforestation, and thus can be used as a proxy for reserve effectiveness in protecting forest cover. We ask whether reserves in the Brazilian Amazon provide effective protection against deforestation and consequently fires, whether that protection is because of their location or their legal status, and whether some reserve types are more effective than others.

Previous work has shown that most Amazonian fires occur close to roads and are more frequent in El Niño years. We quantified these relationships for reserves and unprotected areas by examining satellite-detected hot pixels regressed against road distance across the entire Brazilian Amazon and for a decade with 2 El Niño-related droughts. Deforestation fires, as measured by hot pixels, declined exponentially with increasing distance from roads in all areas. Fewer deforestation fires occurred within protected areas than outside and the difference between protected and unprotected areas was greatest near roads. Thus, reserves were especially effective at preventing these fires where they are known to be most likely to burn; but they did not provide absolute protection. Even within reserves, at a given distance from roads, there were more deforestation fires in regions with high human impact than in those with low impact. The effect of El Niño on deforestation fires was greatest outside of reserves and near roads. Indigenous reserves, limited-use reserves, and fully protected reserves all had fewer fires than outside areas and did not appear to differ in their effectiveness.

Taking time, regional factors, and climate into account, our results show that reserves are an effective tool for curbing destructive burning in the Amazon.

Read the full article in PDF format by clicking here.

Citation: Adeney JM, Christensen NL Jr, Pimm SL (2009) Reserves Protect against Deforestation Fires in the Amazon. PLoS ONE 4(4): e5014. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0005014

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