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New road will devastate Amazon biodiversity hotspot

How much damage can one road do? You may be surprised. A new road in Bolivia could be disastrous for the local ecosystem, as the government recently passed a law allowing the proposed 190-mile stretch to be built despite mass deforestation.

The road will cut through the protected rainforest known as the Isiboro-Sécure National Park and Indigenous Territory (or TIPNIS for short), one of the most biodiverse areas on Earth.

Many native plants and animals that call the TIPNIS home cannot be found anywhere else on Earth, and the forest is also part of the ancestral homeland of four lowland indigenous groups.

A recent study has found that the new road is particularly controversial because the TIPNIS has already experienced mass amounts of deforestation in the past.

The study was conducted by researchers from the University of Helsinki, Finland and Universidad Mayor de San Andrés in Bolivia and published in the journal Current Biology.

The researchers discovered that the protected rainforest had lost more 46,000 hectares of trees from 2000 to 2014. A hectare is an area roughly the size of a football field.

“While many discuss the potential impacts that the planned road could have in the future, very little is spoken about current ecological impacts in the area,” said Álvaro Fernández-Llamazares, a member of the research team. “Our analyses show that TIPNIS is already facing rampant levels of deforestation.”

After reviewing the current levels of deforestation in the TIPNIS and other tropical forests with roads linked to habitat loss, the researchers found that over 58 percent of deforestation occurs within five kilometers of existing roads.

This means that a large scale road in the TIPNIS will only lead to further loss and cause devastating consequences for biodiversity.

The study also highlights that much of the deforestation in the area can be linked to coca cultivation, which is a plant from which cocaine is extracted.

The researchers hope their study will show how much of an impact the new road could have on the TIPNIS and that the Bolivian government will rethink their construction plans.

By Kay Vandette, Staff Writer

Image Credit: Oriol Massana & Adrià López-Baucells

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