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 InnerSelf.comelf.com, MightyNatural.com, and ClimateImpactNews.com 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.

 

enafarzh-CNzh-TWdanltlfifrdeiwhihuiditjakomsnofaplptruesswsvthtrukurvi

follow InnerSelf on

facebook-icontwitter-iconrss-icon

 Get The Latest By Email

{emailcloak=off}

LATEST VIDEOS

Methane Emissions Hit Record Breaking Levels
Methane Emissions Hit Record Breaking Levels
by Josie Garthwaite
Global emissions of methane have reached the highest levels on record, research shows.
kelp forrest 7 12
How The Forests Of The World’s Oceans Contribute To Alleviating The Climate Crisis
by Emma Bryce
Researchers are looking to kelp for help storing carbon dioxide far beneath the surface of the sea.
Tiny Plankton Drive Processes In The Ocean That Capture Twice As Much Carbon As Scientists Thought
Tiny Plankton Drive Processes In The Ocean That Capture Twice As Much Carbon As Scientists Thought
by Ken Buesseler
The ocean plays a major role in the global carbon cycle. The driving force comes from tiny plankton that produce…
Climate Change Threatens Drinking Water Quality Across The Great Lakes
Climate Change Threatens Drinking Water Quality Across The Great Lakes
by Gabriel Filippelli and Joseph D. Ortiz
“Do Not Drink/Do Not Boil” is not what anyone wants to hear about their city’s tap water. But the combined effects of…
Talking About Energy Change Could Break The Climate impasse
Talking About Energy Change Could Break The Climate Impasse
by InnerSelf Staff
Everyone has energy stories, whether they’re about a relative working on an oil rig, a parent teaching a child to turn…
Crops Could Face Double Trouble From Insects And A Warming Climate
Crops Could Face Double Trouble From Insects And A Warming Climate
by Gregg Howe and Nathan Havko
For millennia, insects and the plants they feed on have been engaged in a co-evolutionary battle: to eat or not be…
To Reach Zero Emissions Government Must Address Hurdles Putting People Off Electric Cars
To Reach Zero Emissions Government Must Address Hurdles Putting People Off Electric Cars
by Swapnesh Masrani
Ambitious targets have been set by the UK and Scottish governments to become net-zero carbon economies by 2050 and 2045…
Spring Is Arriving Earlier Across The US, And That's Not Always Good News
Spring Is Arriving Earlier Across The US, And That's Not Always Good News
by Theresa Crimmins
Across much of the United States, a warming climate has advanced the arrival of spring. This year is no exception.

LATEST ARTICLES

Two-thirds Of Glacier Ice In The Himalayas Could Be Lost By 2100
Two-thirds Of Glacier Ice In The Himalayas Could Be Lost By 2100
by Ann Rowan
In the world of glaciology, the year 2007 would go down in history. It was the year a seemingly small error in a major…
Rising Temps Could Kill Millions A Year By Century’s End
Rising Temps Could Kill Millions A Year By Century’s End
by Edward Lempinen
By the end of this century, tens of millions of people could die each year worldwide as a result of temperatures rising…
New Zealand Wants To Build A 100% Renewable Electricity Grid, But Massive Infrastructure Is Not The Best Option
New Zealand Wants To Build A 100% Renewable Electricity Grid, But Massive Infrastructure Is Not The Best Option
by Janet Stephenson
A proposed multibillion-dollar project to build a pumped hydro storage plant could make New Zealand’s electricity grid…
Wind Farms Built On Carbon-rich Peat Bogs Lose Their Ability To Fight Climate Change
Wind Farms Built On Carbon-rich Peat Bogs Lose Their Ability To Fight Climate Change
by Guaduneth Chico et al
Wind power in the UK now accounts for nearly 30% of all electricity production. Land-based wind turbines now produce…
Climate Denial Hasn't Gone Away – Here's How To Spot Arguments For Delaying Climate Action
Climate Denial Hasn't Gone Away – Here's How To Spot Arguments For Delaying Climate Action
by Stuart Capstick
In new research, we have identified what we call 12 “discourses of delay”. These are ways of speaking and writing about…
Routine Gas Flaring Is Wasteful, Polluting And Undermeasured
Routine Gas Flaring Is Wasteful, Polluting And Undermeasured
by Gunnar W. Schade
If you’ve driven through an area where companies extract oil and gas from shale formations, you’ve probably seen flames…
Flight Shaming: How To Spread The Campaign That Made Swedes Give Up Flying For Good
Flight Shaming: How To Spread The Campaign That Made Swedes Give Up Flying For Good
by Avit K Bhowmik
Europe’s major airlines are likely to see their turnover drop by 50% in 2020 as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic,…
Will The Climate Warm As Much As Feared By Some?
Will The Climate Warm As Much As Feared By Some?
by Steven Sherwood et al
We know the climate changes as greenhouse gas concentrations rise, but the exact amount of expected warming remains…