Instituto de Pesquisa Ambiental da Amazonia (IPAM), or Amazon Environmental Research Institute, is a non-profit, independent research, policy and outreach organization that has worked over the past 16 years towards achieving sustainable development in the Amazon region in a way that reconciles people’s economic aspirations and social justice with the maintenance of the functional integrity of tropical forest landscapes. IPAM used their grant from BACP to examine the impact of land use changes on wild mammals and freshwater biodiversity, and determine how alternative land management in soybean plantations could reduce these impacts.
IPAM decided to use large mammals as indicators of environmental health in the Xingu River headwaters region in northeastern Mato Grosso. They used diurnal transect censuses and automatic camera trapping to determine species composition and abundance of mammals in the region. This data was combined with Geographic Information System (GIS) and Remote Sense data to create landscape models. They used these models to to project land-use/land-cover trends 30 years into the future based on various land use scenarios. The scenarios were generated based on assumptions adapted from (1) Brazilian Forest Code, (2) the economic-ecological zoning plan developed by the state of Mato Grosso, and (3) business as usual. The landscape that resulted in each of these scenarios was analyzed for habitat quantity, quality, degree of fragmentation and connectivity.
Researchers determined that size of patches of habitat and the distance between these patches were the most important determinants of biodiversity conservation, and also directly affected by agriculture. Their findings also suggest that if the landscape does not change significantly in the future, all 37 species of medium to large mammals found in the region will still have viable populations in 100 years. These results were used to produce recommendations for on-farm practices that could improve and protect habitat for a variety of species as well as for regional biodiversity conservation priorities. A module for producers was created to communicate the findings of the project. The module includes a list of the mammals identified in the region with pictures of the animals and their footprints that producers can use to identify mammals on their property.
IPAM also collected extensive data on biophysical factors (slopes, topography, soil types, and hydrologic networks) and factors of human influence (roads and other critical infrastructure, population centers, and major protected areas in the region). This data was used to make maps showing areas of high and low suitability for agriculture and large mammal habitat, and how these areas overlapped. The maps were used to identify areas that were completely unsuitable for agricultural activites, still occupied by forest or cerrado vegetation, and suitable for large mammals in the region. It is recommended that these areas be the target of programs or initiatives to create new protected areas or to assist landowners in maintaining private forest reserves. They also identified areas that had been previously cleared but are potentially suitable for large mammals and highly unsuitable for agricultural activities. It is recommended that these areas be reforested (using the native complement of species, if possible) to restore habitat for large mammals.
A second aspect of IPAM's work looked at the consequences of land use on aquatic communities. Field surveys were conducted on replicas of natural water bodies distributed across a gradient of environmental degradation comprising Amazonian-Cerrado transitional forests, pastures and soybean fields, and employing amphibian larvae, predatory aquatic insects and algae as the bioindicator study system. It was found that pastures and plantations actually had more amphibian species than forests, most likely due to hydrological alterations in the landscape that degraded habitat but created ponds suitable for breeding. By contrast, pond predators were almost entirely absent from soybean fields, likely a result of the employment of pesticides.
IPAM compiled a list of all pesticide formulations registered for use in soybean plantations in Brazil through AGROFIT (2010), the official, open-access database published by the Brazilian Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock and Food Supply. They then constructed a database on 36 physical, chemical, toxicological and ecotoxicological variables that influence pesticide fate in the environment, and their effects on human health and biodiversity, using a variety of sources. A number of active ingredients that are carcinogens, groundwater contaminants, or otherwise toxic were identified. This database provides the basis for indication of particularly harmful pesticides for voluntary withdrawal, potential alternatives, and future research needs.
The results were used to produce a module for producers, communicating the findings of the project, and including a list of priority agrochemicals recommended for voluntary withdrawal, potential alternatives available, and recommended better management practices recommendations for on-farm practices that could improve and protect habitat for a variety of species as well as for regional biodiversity conservation priorities.
The tools that IPAM has created will not just allow IPAM to advocate for responsible land use and pesticide application practices. These tools are accessible by producers and policy-makers as well, and as such, can be used to recruit other stakeholders to the campaign to limit the negative effects of soy production on biodiversity in Mato Grosso.