New Roadmap for Guiding Development and Freshwater Conservation Efforts in the Amazon

Amazon Basin database that incorporates hydrological concepts and elements of the Amazon freshwater system. Photo Credit: Amazon Waters Initiative


Scientists from the SNAPP Amazon Waters Working Group and several partners in Brazil and Peru have produced a geographic information system (GIS) “roadmap” to help guide large scale conservation efforts in the Amazon River basin. Their new paper published in Earth System Science Data highlights the creation of this new spatial framework that can be used to manage development and conservation efforts in the Amazon, 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. To create it, 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, larger tributary sub-basins as Level 2, and so on.

In addition to being home to the most diverse rainforest on Earth, the Amazon contains a mosaic of rivers, lakes, flooded forests, and wetlands which comprise the greatest freshwater system in the world. The Amazon River system’s enormous size, multinational composition, and interconnected nature have made it difficult to manage and include in terrestrially-based conservation schemes.

Photo Credit: Michael Goulding


Lead author Eduardo Venticinque of Venticinque of Universidade Federal do Rio Grande do Norte stated that “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.”

The region is 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.

“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 effort represents the first comprehensive Amazonian river basin classification that can serve the needs of conservation and monitoring at multiple scales—from analysis of basin-scale floods to stream-specific fisheries impacts— and provide a dynamic way to map natural resources and possible infrastructure impacts to these freshwater ecosystems.

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.

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.


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