NCEAS Project 12679

SNAP:Conserving western Amazonia’s freshwater ecosystems & services

  • Michael Goulding
  • Craig Groves
  • Mariana Varese

ActivityDatesFurther Information
Working Group24th—26th September 2013Participant List  
Working Group10th—14th February 2014Participant List  
Working Group7th—11th April 2014Participant List  

The Amazon Basin is the largest river system in the world, and the Western Amazon (including the Andes-Amazon slopes and western Brazil) contains the largest areas of flooded forests, floodplain lakes, and other wetlands in the Basin. These rivers and floodplains are critical to livelihoods, providing, among other things, important sources of high-protein food (fish, caimans and turtles), employment in a major fisheries industry, a vast inland transportation network, and drinking water for rural populations and growing cities. Large-scale infrastructure development, including hydroelectric dams, roads, and pipelines, is already impacting the Western Amazon, and more installations are planned. Aquatic ecosystems and the fisheries associated with them will increasingly be impacted by changes in the hydrological cycle caused by dam projects, by upland and floodplain deforestation associated with land conversion to farming and ranching, and by climate change. Together, these threats could jeopardize the diversity and productivity of aquatic systems and the livelihoods of the rural and urban people who depend on them. The vast size of the Amazon Basin and the interlocking relationships among the ecological systems and processes involved, such as between terra firme and flooded forests, hydrological cycles and fish migrations, dams and water quality and quantity, and between climate drivers and regional weather patterns strongly suggest that, to be effective, conservation actions must be informed by scientific analysis and synthesis of information at large enough scales as to be capable of capturing these ecological complexities. The rapid expansion of energy infrastructure and urbanization in the Amazon, coupled with greater frequency of extreme hydrological events, means that integrated river basin management has become critical to inform a balanced conservation and development strategy. A large scale management framework has begun to gain traction in the political arena, such as in the large department of Loreto, Peru where conservation planning and fisheries management measures related to infrastructure projects in the Andes and Amazonian lowlands are being put in place by local governments. By engaging with policy makers from the region from the inception of this working group, and by including scientific experts who are engaged in these incipient management efforts in the region, this SNAP effort will build upon and help strengthen these emerging frameworks. Also, some donors have reoriented their conservation strategies to include infrastructure impacts and freshwater management issues (e.g., Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation, John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation). WCS partners with both Foundations on related projects for fisheries management, protected area management, and other conservation goals in the western Amazon and has had a series of conversations with Foundation representatives to ensure complementarity among those efforts and the SNAP working group. This complementarity will be facilitated by the participation of representatives from both Foundations in the western Amazon working group. The proposed SNAP working group will launch its first Amazonian project with two critical goals: first, the working group will analyze and synthesize available data to generate a series of plausible future scenarios that reflect different land-use patterns, development and investment options, resource management regimes, and climate forecasts, at an unprecedented spatial scale that captures the complexity and interconnectivity of Amazon aquatic and terrestrial ecology and biodiversity; and second, by bringing government and donor stakeholders to the table to examine the tradeoffs associated with each scenario, the group will distill from the synthesized and analyzed data key recommendations for conservation actions at levels of decision-making appropriate to the scale and complexity of the Western Amazon. The final result will be a road map for integrated river basin management and planning that could achieve an acceptable balance among ecosystem health and connectivity, food security, and infrastructure needs in the western Amazon, informed by science and “translated” into a language and format usable by decision-makers. The working group will address the following critical questions: 1. Where are the highest conservation value areas (HCVA) for migratory fish? Fish are the most important source of food security for the Amazon’s millions of human residents and as such the most important natural resource about which people are most likely to care. Both medium-distance (up to several hundred km annually) and long-distance (basin-wide) migratory fish play key roles in Amazonian aquatic ecosystem function and constitute 80% or more of the fish harvest. This expert working group, led by Michael Goulding, will convene a small group of fisheries and limnological experts to evaluate available data on fish production and reproduction and produce a spatial analysis of priority areas for conservation of migratory fish. The expert group will evaluate a) the distribution of each species; b) the distribution of major habitats such as flooded forests, lakes and floating meadows that are critical for fish growth; c) known spawning habitats for groups of migratory species; d) the distribution of nurseries habitats; e) the relative importance of existing protected areas and other managed areas to fisheries; and f) estimates of current levels of exploitation within commercial and subsistence fisheries. The identification of high conservation value areas for fish derived from these analyses can then lead to recommendations (see #5) for an action plan to manage migratory fish harvest, and the flooded forests, floating meadows, lakes and river stretches necessary to maintain growth, reproduction and recruitment. This project is supported by the Science for Nature and People (SNAP) initiative, generously funded through founding grants by Shirley and Harry Hagey, Steve and Roberta Denning, Seth Neiman, the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation, and the David and Lucile Packard Foundation.