Climate Breakdown Is Pushing Brazil's Iconic Araucaria Tree To Extinction

Climate Breakdown Is Pushing Brazil's Iconic Araucaria Tree To Extinction An Araucaria juts out of Brazil’s misty Atlantic Forest. Douglas Scortegagna/Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA

For hundreds of thousands of years, the distinctive candelabra shapes of Araucaria trees (Araucaria angustifolia) have defined landscapes at the southern edge of Brazil’s Atlantic Forest. Humans have never known a world without these majestic evergreens. But my new research, conducted with colleagues in Brazil and Reading, suggests that their extinction could be just a generation or two away.

At a glance you might mistake Brazil’s Araucaria for its sister species, the monkey puzzle tree found in Chile and Argentina. But the two have inhabited South America as separate species for aeons, after diverging some 28m years ago. If you compressed those 28m years into 24 hours, North and South America wouldn’t become one land mass until 9.30pm. Humans wouldn’t appear until 11.45pm. These are truly ancient plants.

Araucaria trees have been revered for as long as humans have lived in southern Brazil’s highlands. Their starchy, nutrient-rich nuts (known as pinhão) underpinned the diets of indigenous groups before European arrival, especially in times of scarcity.

Climate Breakdown Is Pushing Brazil's Iconic Araucaria Tree To Extinction Left: Brazil’s Araucaria angustifolia. Right: Chile and Argentina’s Araucaria araucana, or monkey puzzle tree. L: Nelson Ishikawa/Shutterstock, R: Jordan Raine

The trees also hold great cultural importance. For example, the Kaingang people’s Kikikoi funerary ritual requires Araucaria knots to keep bonfires burning, Araucaria ashes for face-painting, and a trough made of an Araucaria trunk to hold Kiki, a fermented honey drink. The Xokleng people even used to define the boundaries of a year by the coming and going of pinhão.

Climate Breakdown Is Pushing Brazil's Iconic Araucaria Tree To Extinction Deforestation of Araucaria in the mountain fields of Santa Catarina State, Brazil. vitormarigo/Shutterstock

Today, pinhão are a regional delicacy, with trade worth millions of dollars a year and an annual festival held in their name. But while Araucaria trees are now most valued for food, it was their excellent timber that led to their downfall. Brazil’s strong economic growth in the 20th century fuelled an unsustainable demand that ultimately consumed an estimated 97% of the country’s Araucarias. In our 24-hour 28m years, the species crashed from widespread to “Critically Endangered” in a third of a second.

Sadly, the short-sighted culture of consumption that drove Araucaria’s dramatic decline hasn’t gone away: human-caused climate breakdown is now threatening to tip the species into extinction. Araucaria trees are adapted to relatively cool, constantly moist conditions – conditions that are disappearing as the planet heats and normal rainfall patterns become disrupted.

Using data on current and predicted temperatures and rainfall, as well as high-resolution maps that include small-scale terrain features, we modelled the likely fate of Araucaria in the coming decades. We found that projected climatic changes are likely to significantly loosen Araucaria’s grip on its current strongholds in southern Brazil. Our most optimistic scenario predicts an 85% loss of the tree’s most suitable habitat by 2070, and several scenarios predicted that this habitat would vanish altogether.

Though these findings are worrying, we were able to identify some potential “microrefugia” for the Araucaria – areas where the trees have at least a three-in-four chance of enduring long into the future. These are mainly found in colder spots in the landscape – places like sheltered slopes or river valleys where cool, moist air will continue to gather, even as the wider region becomes more inhospitable.

Unfortunately, the legacy of past destruction means that more than a third of these areas have already been deforested, built on, or converted to agriculture and timber plantations. Only 2.5% of the remaining area is under any sort of protection – most of it in just two national parks. With the current Brazilian government’s push to loosen environmental protections in pursuit of quick economic gains, these areas may not remain safe for long.

Conserving an ancient icon

While none of our findings are good news for Brazil’s Araucaria, it isn’t necessarily doomed. There are steps that we can take to ensure its continued survival in Brazil’s southern highlands.

Clearly, all of us need to combat climate change and rein in the consumption which drives it. Beyond that, actively protecting Araucaria forests from unsustainable exploitation is a top priority. This means keeping existing protected areas safe and creating new ones – especially where microrefugia are vulnerable to damage. It also means working with private landowners outside these areas. While Araucaria forests are better protected in conservation areas, traditional methods of grazing cattle or producing maté tea under the forest canopy can support livelihoods without significant damage to Araucaria populations.

Climate Breakdown Is Pushing Brazil's Iconic Araucaria Tree To Extinction Soon these majestic trees could disappear from Brazilian highlands. Heris Luiz Cordeiro Rocha/Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA

And for truly long-term conservation planning which looks beyond the next decades, or even the coming centuries, we could learn a lesson or two from the past. Evidence suggests that indigenous people helped Araucaria forests expand beyond their natural boundaries around 1,000 years ago, although how and to what extent isn’t yet clear. Investigating how millennia of climate change and centuries of human actions combined to shape the present-day Araucaria forests may reveal ways of helping them survive the grave challenges of the coming decades.

We are living through the most turbulent point in the long history of Brazil’s Araucaria. Our actions in the next split-second of its 24-hour life will determine whether or not future generations have the chance to treasure this ancient icon.The Conversation

About The Author

Oliver Wilson, PhD Researcher in Environmental Science, University of Reading

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Related Books

Life After Carbon: The Next Global Transformation of Cities

by Peter Plastrik , John Cleveland
1610918495The future of our cities is not what it used to be. The modern-city model that took hold globally in the twentieth century has outlived its usefulness. It cannot solve the problems it helped to create—especially global warming. Fortunately, a new model for urban development is emerging in cities to aggressively tackle the realities of climate change. It transforms the way cities design and use physical space, generate economic wealth, consume and dispose of resources, exploit and sustain the natural ecosystems, and prepare for the future. Available On Amazon

The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History

by Elizabeth Kolbert
1250062187Over the last half-billion years, there have been Five mass extinctions, when the diversity of life on earth suddenly and dramatically contracted. Scientists around the world are currently monitoring the sixth extinction, predicted to be the most devastating extinction event since the asteroid impact that wiped out the dinosaurs. This time around, the cataclysm is us. In prose that is at once frank, entertaining, and deeply informed, New Yorker writer Elizabeth Kolbert tells us why and how human beings have altered life on the planet in a way no species has before. Interweaving research in half a dozen disciplines, descriptions of the fascinating species that have already been lost, and the history of extinction as a concept, Kolbert provides a moving and comprehensive account of the disappearances occurring before our very eyes. She shows that the sixth extinction is likely to be mankind's most lasting legacy, compelling us to rethink the fundamental question of what it means to be human. Available On Amazon

Climate Wars: The Fight for Survival as the World Overheats

by Gwynne Dyer
1851687181Waves of climate refugees. Dozens of failed states. All-out war. From one of the world’s great geopolitical analysts comes a terrifying glimpse of the strategic realities of the near future, when climate change drives the world’s powers towards the cut-throat politics of survival. Prescient and unflinching, Climate Wars will be one of the most important books of the coming years. Read it and find out what we’re heading for. Available On Amazon

From The Publisher:
Purchases on Amazon go to defray the cost of bringing you,, and at no cost and without advertisers that track your browsing habits. Even if you click on a link but don't buy these selected products, anything else you buy in that same visit on Amazon pays us a small commission. There is no additional cost to you, so please contribute to the effort. You can also use this link to use to Amazon at any time so you can help support our efforts.



follow InnerSelf on


 Get The Latest By Email



Fossil Fuel Production Plans Could Push Earth off a Climate Cliff
by The Real News Network
The United Nations is beginning its climate summit in Madrid.
Big Rail Spends More on Denying Climate Change than Big Oil
by The Real News Network
A new study concludes that rail is the industry that's injected the most money into climate change denial propaganda…
Did Scientists Get Climate Change Wrong?
by Sabine Hossenfelder
Interview with Prof Tim Palmer from the University of Oxford.
The New Normal: Climate Change Poses Challenges For Minnesota Farmers
by KMSP-TV Minneapolis-St. Paul
Spring brought a deluge of rain in southern Minnesota and it never seemed to stop.
Report: Today's Kids' Health Will Be Imperiled by Climate Change
by VOA News
An international report from researchers at 35 institutions says climate change will threaten the health and quality of…
How Supercharged Trash Gas Could Produce More Green Energy
by InnerSelf Staff
Synthetic compounds called “siloxanes” from everyday products like shampoo and motor oil are finding their way into…
300 Million Face Severe Risk of Climate-Fueled Coastal Flooding by 2050
by Democracy Now!
As a shocking new report finds that many coastal cities will be flooded by rising sea levels by 2050, Chile’s President…
Climate Warning: California Continues To Burn, Data Estimates Of Global Flooding
Ben Strauss, CEO and Chief Scientist of Climate Central joins MTP Daily to discuss alarming new information about…


Racing Ice Loss Strips Greenland Of Mass
Racing Ice Loss Strips Greenland Of Mass
by Tim Radford
Greenland is shrinking, losing ice seven times faster than a generation ago. Scientists have taken a new and ominous…
Lessons From The Hockey Rink Could Help Ontario Tackle Climate Change
Lessons From The Hockey Rink Could Help Ontario Tackle Climate Change
by Jennifer Lynes and Dan Murray
The Auditor General of Ontario’s recent report found the province’s current climate change plan is not based on “sound…
Climate Change Threatens A Scary Number Of Plant Species
Climate Change Threatens A Scary Number Of Plant Species
by InnerSelf Staff
Almost 40% of global land plant species are very rare, and these species are most at risk for extinction as the climate…
How Drought Is Affecting Water Supply In Australia’s Capital Cities
How Drought Is Affecting Water Supply In Australia’s Capital Cities
by Ian Wright and Jason Reynolds
The level of water stored by Australia’s capital cities has steadily fallen over the last six years. They are now…
How Jet Stream Changes May Hit Global Breadbaskets
How Jet Stream Changes May Hit Global Breadbaskets
by Alex Kirby
Food shortages and civil disturbances may result from changes in the jet stream winds which circle the Earth,…
How To Design A Forest Fit To Heal The Planet
How To Design A Forest Fit To Heal The Planet
by Heather Plumpton
Reforestation has enormous potential as a cheap and natural way of sucking heat-absorbing carbon dioxide out of the…
Investors Fight Back Against Climate Wreckers
Investors Fight Back Against Climate Wreckers
by Paul Brown
Investors are using their shareholdings to force polluting companies to change their ways and cut carbon emissions.
Americans Are Worried About Climate Change, But Underestimate How Serious It Is
Americans Are Worried About Climate Change, But Underestimate How Serious It Is
by Bobby Duffy
The world is often better and getting better than people think. Murder rates, deaths from terrorism and extreme poverty…