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Discoveries & Contributions

The impact of animals on carbon concentration in the soils of tropical forests:

Without carbon, life as we know it would not exist. We, and the plants and animals around us, contain carbon in our tissues and generate carbon when we breathe. This element connects us to the world and air around us.

What we found: Forests with higher diversity of mammals—that is, with more mammal species—have higher carbon concentrations in their soil.  Somehow, these animals affect the function of the carbon cycle and influence the forest’s ability to store carbon. With higher tree and mammal diversity, the forest’s efficiency of capturing resources and producing biomass also increases, further influencing the cycle.

What it means for the world: The loss of this biodiversity may affect the carbon cycle, and carbon retention in the biosphere, with negative consequences for soil fertility and climate regulation.

The Solution: By protecting and sustainably managing biodiversity, humans can help secure services provided by nature such as recreation, food, fiber and timber, and climate regulation through the retention of carbon in the biosphere.

The impact of religion on the biodiversity of the amazon

Originally, indigenous communities followed the guidance of Shamans and other healers with strong knowledge of and relationships with nature. However with the influx of Christian missionaries and colonists, communities began adopting new religions and discarding the knowledge of shamans as well as other spiritual beliefs and practices.

What we found: Animal consumption was altered due to new religious beliefs and taboos. For example, the Makushi and Wapishana tribes initially consumed a mammal called the low land Tapir. Although it was thought to make them sick, the ability of their shaman to rid them of their potential illness made it acceptable to consume. However, indigenous communities that converted to Sabbatarian faiths, such as Seventh-Day Adventism, began to reject shamanism and no longer consumed the low land tapir.

What it means for the world: Although in this case fewer tapirs are killed, the overall impact of this religious conversion means less protection for animals overall, since shamans often guarded and discouraged hunting in specific areas of land and at certain times, such as during an animals’ breeding season.

The Solution: Since the elimination of Shamanism may have translated into more animal killings overall, the preservation of shamanism in the Amazon could be crucial for maintaining its biodiversity.

The impact of food aid on Amazonian wildlife

Although humanity has attempted to improve the world through industrialized food production, the arrival of food aid in the Amazon has negatively impacted its people and ecosystems.

What we found: Biodiversity and ecosystems can survive if modest amounts of forests are converted to farmland inside and outside the reserves. However, clearing large amounts of forest outside of the reserves can cause villages to double in size over short periods of time, exceeding the reserve’s capacity to sustain them.

What it means for the world: If indigenous communities in the Amazon transition rapidly to a reliance on food aid or other external food sources, changes in their populations could also occur rapidly, preventing a gradual co-adaptation of communities and their environments to the new dynamic and reducing the resilience of both the communities and the ecosystems they rely on.

The Solution: Rather than bringing in outside food, we can value and promote local foods and work with communities to identify, protect and increase local food sources such as family agriculture, fish from local rivers and game, thus ensuring their self-sufficiency and capacity to respond to external shocks.

gathering data on plants and animals in the amazon basin

The Amazon basin is about the size of the continental United States and is made up of rainforests, natural savannahs, mountains with cloud forests on top, and flooded forests. We wanted to learn more about how the indigenous peoples of this land interact with the the surrounding plants and animals, both spiritually and economically.

What we found: We collected huge amounts of data over 20,000sq miles, and found that many of these species, including the white-lipped peccary, and probably the tapir, tend to be most common nearer to the communities then in remote areas where no people live. The traditional religion, Shamanism, is also very important as a means of managing these plants and animals.

What it means for the world: There are certain rules that come out of Shamanism that determine which animals can be hunted by whom, and where. We were able to gather quantitative proof that these spiritual areas are actually functioning as sort of reservoirs for animals. From a scientific perspective we would say that this is management, creating protected areas where animals are not hunted.

The Solution: Support indigenous peoples and cultures, and their rights to land.


Dr. José MV Fragoso is a leading ecologist and researcher in his field and has dedicated his life and work to the conservation of wildlife, and working with indigenous peoples across the globe. He is currently a visiting professor at the University of Brasilia, a professor (by courtesy) at San Francisco State University,  and is an affiliated researcher with the Institute for Biodiversity Science and Sustainability at the California Academy of Sciences in San Francisco, and the Center for Biodiversity Studies in the Amazon (CENBam) in Manaus, Brazil. He is a long-time member of the Association for Tropical Biology and Conservation – ATBC, and in 2016 was recognized for outstanding service as Chair and co-Chair of the ATBC Conservation Committee. He has also been recognized for his contributions by the International Congress of Wildlife Management and Conservation in Amazonia and South America.

He is co-editor of the book People in Nature: Wildlife Conservation in the Neotropics; of the case study Wildlife Management at the Rio das Mortes Xavante Reserve, Mato Grosso, Brazil: Integrating Indigenous Culture and Scientific Method for Conservation, as well as multiple articles in international journals such as Nature-Ecology and Evolution, Ecology, Journal of Ecology and Conservation Biology.  His body of work makes a significant contribution to our present day understanding of ecology and wildlife conservation.

His work has been featured on NBC, National Public Radio (NPR) USA, Fox News, O Globo  (Brazil), The Australian, Stanford University News, The Times, Science Daily, The Smithsonian Magazine and more.  To view a list of his features, click here.

To view Dr. Fragoso’s publications, click here.

When he’s not doing research, he loves to photograph the wildlife and peoples of the villages he visits. To view José’s photography, please visit his Instagram page:


PPBIO Amazonia

Monitoring biodiversity and the environment is extremely challenging, especially in the tropics. Brazil’s Center for Biological Research’s (CENBam) PPBio program is a novel, versatile and extremely ambitious approach to enhance the study of biodiversity in the tropics. The program presents a systematic approach to sampling that was first deployed across the Amazon basin. It now …

National REDD+ Implications for Tenured Indigenous Communities in Guyana, and Communities’ Impact on Forest Carbon Stocks: New Publication in “Forests”

We used a technically approved United Nations Forest Reference Emission Level (FREL) submission and Opt-In Mechanism to assess how fifteen indigenous communities with tenured forestland may financially benefit from national REDD+. We provide a first-time assessment whether field estimates of the average carbon density of mature forests managed by fifteen forest-dependent communities equals that of …


2017. FM Radio BMF 89.9 Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia: Maintaining Peopled Forests:

2017. BioScience. Counting whales in the seas, trees in the forests, and mountain lines on the ridges: biologists test new ways of estimating population numbers:

2015. Mongabay.com. Assessing carbon stock value of forests is tricky business, study finds:

2014. The Australian: Tropical biology scientists pen letter to Abbott:

2014. Stanford University News: Stanford scientists develop computer model to examine fate of indigenous peoples:

2014. Mongabay. A fine line: new program predicts when human impact becomes too much:

2014. Mongabay: The future of tropical biology research and conservation:

2013. Fair Observer: At risk: Brazil’s most important barrier to Amazon deforestation:

2013. The Times (London) Faith News in Brief:

2013. NBC News: Religious norms may alter animal life in Amazon:

2013. Fox News: Christianity may alter animal life in Amazon:

2013. Science Daily: Christianity influences meat taboos in Amazon:

2013. Mongabay: Brazil’s environmental leadership at risk, warn scientists:

2011. Mongabay: Indigenous technicians scour Amazonia to help researchers track wildlife populations:

2011. National Science Foundation News: Can indigenous peoples be relied on to gather reliable environmental data? :

2011. Stanford News. Gathering data on plants and animals in the Amazon basin:

2011. National Public Radio (NPR-USA), Public Radio International’s The World: Customized Atlases of the Amazon:

2008. Mongabay: Rainforests, wildlife preserved by indigenous spiritual beliefs: