The Amazon Rainforest Ecology

The Rio Negro is the largest tributary of the Amazon basin in terms of annual discharge. Since the early 1950′s, extraction of tropical fishes has occurred from the Río Negro, the largest tributary of the Amazon River. The Río Negro is a blackwater river, characterized by dark, tea-colored water and high acidity. The river discharges approximately 3.69 quadrillion gallons of water each year, roughly three times that of the Mississippi River. To date, deforestation along the Río Negro has been minimal due in part to the infertile sandy soils unsuitable for agriculture. Perhaps more important, though, is the fact that the local people are largely engaged in limited subsistence activities, such as the ornamental fishes and piassava (palm fiber) trade, which generate enough cash to provide for basic necessities. Low human population densities, typical of the black water areas of Amazonia, play an important role as well. The Project Piaba study area extends from the mouth of Rio Negro (Manaus) to Tapuruquara (600 km up river), including the lower Rio Branco and Rio Demini in the municipality of Barcelos, an area approximately the size of the State of Pennsylvania.

The Amazon rainforest ecosystem is one of the richest and most diverse on the planet. Some of the world’s most spectacular animals, many of which are endangered, come from the Amazon. The large cats, primates, parrots, river dolphins, and all other species we associate with the Amazon depend on the integrity of the ecosystem.

There is another species dependent on the Amazon ecology- our own. Although the people living in the rainforest know better that anyone the uniqueness and value of the Amazon, life there is difficult and people will do what they need to do to feed their families. Most of the available options for making a living have disastrous results on the ecosystem–gold mining introduces mercury to the environment and timber harvesting, cattle ranching, and agriculture dramatically reduce biodiversity and have severe impacts on aquatic ecosystems. Furthermore, these environmentally destructive practices are usually unsustainable and remove options for future ecologically sound development.