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.