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Woods Hole Research Center plans controlled burn in Amazon rainforest

Fire is an important agent of transformation in the Amazon landscape. Every year, low intensity fires burn thousands of square miles of Amazon forest. To study the effects of these fires on the forest, and the forests' ability to recover from repeated burning, Woods Hole Research Center scientists will burn two and a half square kilometers of forest in the transition forest of northern Mato Grosso state, at Fazenda Tanguro in Querencia, from late August into early September.

The goal of this research is to better understand what is the impact of fire on the transition forests, which lies between the tall dense rainforests at the core of the Amazon and the "Cerrado" savannas of central Brazil. According to Daniel Nepstad, a senior scientist with the Center, "By studying the characteristics of fires in this transitional forest on the edge of the Amazon rainforest, Center researchers hope to learn how these accidental fires may affect the vigor, health, biodiversity, and animal habitat in these forests, and in the end, to learn whether recurring fire may threaten the very existence of the forest." Repeated burning of transition forests in the Amazon could cause their eventual replacement by fire-prone scrub vegetation through a process call "savannization."

This is the second phase of this work, the world's largest tropical fire experiment. One square kilometer was already burned in August 2004. This year, from mid-August to early September, one half square kilometer of last year's burned area will be burned for a second time, and two square kilometers of virgin forest will be burned for the first of several times, to simulate the repeated impacts of escaped agricultural fires that burn through the understory of frontier forests every dry season. These areas are already slated for destruction to expand soy fields.

The planned burn provides information that cannot be obtained by studying an accidental or escaped fire. The experiment is being c
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Contact: Elizabeth Braun
ebraun@whrc.org
508-540-9900
Woods Hole Research Center
19-Jul-2005


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