Instituto de Pesquisas Ecológicas

For 10 years, in the Atlantic Forests, researchers compared forests used by herbivorous mammals, including the lowland tapir (Tapirus terrestris) and the white-lipped peccary (Tayassu pecari), and areas in which these animals have been barred from access due to exclosure plots (fences). The main conclusion is that the areas used by these herbivores show lower loss of diversity than fenced areas.

The new study on tropical forests has generated an article recently published in the Journal of Applied Ecology of the British Ecological Society (BES). The research was performed at Morro do Diabo State Park, in the far west of the state of São Paulo. The work warns of the importance of conservation of animals that are facing extinction. The lowland tapir, for example, is classified as Vulnerable in the IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature) Red List throughout its distribution range. The white-lipped peccary, in turn, is listed as Critically Endangered in the Atlantic Forest.

Patrícia Medici, coordinator of the Lowland Tapir Conservation Initiative (LTCI) at IPÊ (Institute for Ecological Research), authors the article alongside Nacho Villar, a researcher of the NIOO-KNAW Dutch Institute for Ecology. “In this study, we recorded the results of a first experiment on the effects of conservation and protection of large herbivores on the maintenance of biodiversity in tropical forests and, to the extent we know, in any other forest biome. The study shows that large herbivores play an important role in the deceleration of the loss of forest diversity”, says Medici.

According to the study, mature forests with great diversity were those that benefited the most from the presence of large herbivores. “The results show how forest composition is severely affected when the animals are excluded from the biome, a sign of what may be happening in a series of other fragments of the Atlantic Forest, one of the most endangered biomes on the planet,” points out the researcher.

With the launching of the Decade on Restoration of the United Nations (2021 -2030), the results of this study also serve as guidance for future initiatives on forest conservation and restoration. “Conservation of these animals and trophic rewilding (without human participation) are gaining momentum as important tools to restore forest ecosystems and avoid the acute effects of global changes on biodiversity. However, such nature-based solutions are not yet recognized as a conservation option, especially in tropical forests. We believe that this study strengthens the strategic aspect of following in this direction,” points out the researcher.

Such findings demonstrate that species conservation and the restoration they promote may be more efficient in protecting against strong declines of diversity in the long run, particularly in well preserved tropical forests with high levels of forest diversity. “Throughout the 10 years of the study, the abundance of plants in the initial stage of germination, their recruitment and species richness fell by some 20% or more, providing a unique natural experiment to test the functional significance of large herbivores to avoid the collapse of biodiversity in the long run,” says Medici.

Researchers also observed whether large herbivores have a different effect on mature and secondary forests. “This is an important question and has not yet been explored in trophic rewilding. In secondary forests, we identified ca. half the number of species when compared with mature forests. In secondary forests, the results show limited protection by large herbivores against the loss of diversity. Long-run regional environmental changes place the restoration of such secondary forests at risk, and their transition to more mature and diversified forests,” says Nacho Villar.

Details of the research in practice

The discoveries are the result of monitoring 200 m2 of Atlantic Forest in Morro do Diabo State Park, São Paulo, Brazil, between 2004 and 2014. "We studied the potential role of large herbivores against the collapse of plant diversity through time, examining their effect on the abundance of plants in the initial phase of germination, as well as species richness and diversity, the temporal diversity and the rate of change of forest composition. These animals contribute directly to the plants in the forest understory, through seed dispersal and how they affect plants in the early phase of germination. Thus, biodiversity strongholds are highly sensitive to the disappearance of animals like the lowland tapir (Tapirus terrestris) and the white-lipped peccary (Tayassu pecari), for example," explains Villar.

Medici's team established 200 plots in the monitored area, including 100 fenced plots to prevent the access of large herbivores, and 100 control plots, where there was no restriction to the entry of the animals. In order to understand the possible differences in the maturity of the forest, the fenced areas were divided into two large groups, being 25 pairs in areas of mature forest, and 25 pairs in secondary forest.

For insulation of the areas (exclosure plots), the researchers used wooden posts and poultry netting (2x2 cm). The exclusion areas had the following dimensions: 3 meters in width, 6 meters in length, and 1.20 meter in height. A 20 cm opening was maintained along the bottom of the plot, allowing for the entry of small terrestrial mammals, such as rodents and marsupials. Within the exclosure plots, a central sampling area of 1x4 m was established, and it was divided into four 1x1 m quadrants.

Control plots that were not fenced were 1 m wide and 4 m long, divided into 4 quadrants of 1x1 m. For each exclosure and control plot, each of the 1x1 m quadrants was chosen randomly for sampling throughout the study.

Forest sampling

In the monitored quadrants, all plants with a diameter of over 10 cm and diameter ≤ 5 cm were marked with PVC tags and received reference numbers. This methodology permitted the subsequent sampling of the same individuals. New plants that germinated during the study and complied with the criteria were incorporated into the monitoring protocol.

Throughout the first five years of the study (2004-2008), the researchers measured the plants twice a year, in the early rainy season (October) and in early dry season (April). From 2009 to 2012, data collection took place once a year. The final measurements took place in 2014, ending 10 years of data collection, with a total of 14 measurements. “We followed the fate of 7,287 plants and traced the decline of diversity over 10 years,” points out Medici.

Threats and opportunity

The conservation of large herbivores and the restoration of forests affected by them, especially tropical forests, is a challenge due to a series of threats that these animals face. According to the researchers, advances in this direction must consider measures for species protection. “Effective management of the landscape, protection and conservation aimed at increasing the populations of these animals and the facilitation of dispersal and movement between remaining forest areas are strategic. Furthermore, it is worth pointing out the need for reintroduction and translocation initiatives, given that large extensions of mature forest, rich in diversity, are currently being deprived of these animals due to hunting, roadkill and so many other threats.” 

Based on the results, the researchers point out that the active restoration of neotropical forests with large herbivores may, in fact, be the most efficient solution to improve the state of conservation of many species of large herbivores, contributing to the diversity of tropical forests in the long run. “We suggest that the measures begin in mature forests and then proceed to secondary forests with high levels of diversity.”

The Brazilian Pantanal suffered immense wildfires in 2020, affecting almost a third of the biome. The Lowland Tapir Conservation Initiative and the Giant Armadillo Conservation joined forces to help fundraise for urgent mitigation purposes in 2020, but also collaborated to create long term preventive measures through the creation of community-based fire brigades.


Face the various social and environmental challenges in degraded areas of permanent preservation (APPs) and water recharge in the Rio Doce Basin (in the states Minas Gerais and Espírito Santo), IPÊ started the Education, Landscape and Community project, with the purpose of supporting soil regeneration and water conservation in influential areas from the basin, through community involvement and agroecology development.

Operating for the first time in Espírito Santo, the Institute takes to rural settlements in Alto Rio Novo and Águia Branca counties (areas of influence of the Rio Doce Basin) the successful social technology that it developed over 20 years ago with farmers in Pontal do Paranapanema, in the far west of the state of São Paulo. Among the actions there are environmental education, training and rural extension, with the application of sustainable productions such as agroecology.

The initiative is part of the School and Community Integration action line, carried out by IPÊ and its school, ESCAS - University of Environmental Conservation and Sustainability. In its edition in Espírito Santo, the project is now working to benefit 143 small properties in four rural settlements selected due to the potential of scale and applicability of the activities.

“School and Community Integration is a very interesting means of implementing a socio-environmental agenda for transformation. Through ESCAS, the IPÊ school, we bring education tools to the population, combining our expertise in science and social mobilization for real change. This is the principle adopted, even at Pontal do Paranapanema, where we have been working with communities for almost 30 years”, explains Eduardo Badialli, project coordinator.

Among some of the main activities of the project is the implementation of IPPs (Individual Property Projects) that contemplates forest restoration in rural landscapes and sustainable rural production in family farming.

Field activities with the communities started in August 2021 and will continue for two years. The work is in partnership with the Renova Foundation.

About 120 communities who live in Protected Areas in Amazon received capacitation and training to watch irapuca’s (Podocnemis erythrocephala), tracajá’s (Podocnemis unifilis) and amazon turtles’ (Podocnemis expansa) species protected nests, since the spawning until the eggs hatch. The action happened in early July until the beginning of August and aims to help the hatchlings survive. The period of time chosen for this capacitation is the dryer one, for it’s when the turtle’s spawn occurs.

Virgínia Bernardes, scientific coordinator in Biodiversity Participative Monitoring - Monitoramento Participativo de Biodiversidade (MPB/IPÊ)  -, joined the team of analysts, brigade and Núcleo de Gestão Integrada (NGI) Novo Airão volunteers, and for 18 days, crossed every community in Jaú and Unini rivers which are inserted in Jaú’s National Park (Parque Nacional (Parna) do Jaú)Extractive Reserve Rio Unini (Reserva Extrativista (Resex) Rio Unini) and Amanã Sustainable Development Reserve (Reserva de Desenvolvimento Sustentável (RDS) Amanã).

“The capacitations are extremely important for the permanence of the success in data collection and monitor engagement. Moreover, the meetings between the researchers, focal point and monitors are the ones that enable the dialogue for a better alignment and understanding of possible updates about protocols (methodology), forms, data collection’s evaluation moment, knowledge sharing, experiences and agreement redefinitions and appointments”, Virgínia says.

Fire prevention was also among the topics at the meeting. The team carried out an expedition with the fire brigade from NGI Novo Airão. “As an effect of the climate changes in the last few years, the Amazon has presented a greater susceptibility to fire for the rain decreasing during this dry time, especially in lowland forests, riplet forests and igapós”, Virgínia explains. During the activity, an instruction focusing on building firebreaks around the plantation swiddens, at the moment of the fire cleaning, was made, remembering the agreed rules on the handling plans of the Resex Rio Unini and Jaú’s National Park’s terms of commitment.

About MPB

The activity is part of the partnership between IPÊ and ICMBio - Instituto Chico Mendes de Conservação da Biodiversidade, through the National Program of Biodiversity Monitoring (MONITORA - Programa Nacional de Monitoramento da Biodiversidade) and the National Center of Research and Conservation of the Amazonian Biodiversity (CEPAM - Centro Nacional de Pesquisa e Conservação da Biodiversidade Amazônica).

The initiative is an activity from the project  MPB - Monitoramento Participativo da Biodiversidade em Unidades de Conservação na Amazônia, as in Biodiversity Participative Program in Conservation Unities in Amazon, developed by IPÊ in partnership with ICMBio, and support  from Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation, USAID and ARPA.

The black-lion-tamarin (Leontopithecus chrysopygus), an endangered species that only occurs in the interior of the state of São Paulo, was the subject of the first environmental conservation study by IPÊ – Institute for Ecological Research, which, thanks to research on the primate, expanded its actions with landscape restoration and environmental education projects.

Despite extensive research over 35 years, unprecedented data still emerges about the species. The most recent studies analyzed the influence of the structure of the forest– conserved or degraded – on the conservation of the black-lion-tamarin and were presented at the Virtual Meeting of the Association for Tropical Biology and Conservation (ATBC), from 21 to 23 July.

Gabriela Rezende, who is a Ph.D. candidate in Ecology, Evolution and Biodiversity (UNESP – Rio Claro) and also a Master from ESCAS-IPÊ leads the research. The study analyzed data from “backpacks” with GPS (small mechanism for monitoring animals) in four groups of tamarins in two different areas: in a very conserved area, the Ponte Branca fragment, from the Mico-leão-preto Ecological Station (ICMBio ), in the far west of São Paulo; and in an intensely fragmented area, in the municipality of Guareí (also in São Paulo).

The difference between these areas is also present in the dimensions. The area analyzed at the Ecological Station has 1,303 hectares, the equivalent of a little bit over 1,000 soccer fields. The area in Guareí is only 105 hectares – around 100 football fields. The groups were followed for 10 to 22 consecutive days, between September 2019 and February 2021. The original research data were presented at the Virtual Meeting of the Association for Tropical Biology and Conservation (ATBC), this week (July 21 to 23). ), in an online meeting.

"The data showed that the groups in the smaller fragment also have reduced home ranges, up to five times smaller than the home ranges used by the Ecological Station groups. In addition, in Guareí there was an overlap of up to 37% of these neighboring territories, whereas in Ponte Branca this was not observed. These results suggest a strong fragmentation effect in the use of space by the tamarins. The most interesting is that, despite this difference between the areas, the distance traveled by the tamarins per day is on average 2 .6 km in both areas", reveals Gabriela Rezende, who signs the research together with Milene Alves-Eigenheer (UENF), Luca Börger (Swansea University - United Kingdom), Daniel Felippi (IPÊ), Gabriel P. Sabino (UNESP – Rio Claro) and Laurence Culot (UNESP – Rio Claro).

In the next phase of the research, the goal is to quantify the energy expenditure of animals in these areas and integrate information about the structure of the vegetation in the analyzes to understand what may cause these variations.

High risk of extinction

          Francy Forero Sanchez, a researcher at IPÊ's Black-Lion-Tamarin Conservation Program, sought to estimate whether known populations will continue to resist in the long run. To obtain this data, Francy used the Population Viability Analysis (PVA) methodology, through software that aligned these variables to the threats present in each region.

“The viability and health of the tamarin population demand at least 98% genetic diversity in the population. This makes the species more resistant to disease, for example. The risk of extinction threat must be less than or at most equal to 2%, the smallest possible. What we saw is that in this scenario, among the 17 populations analyzed, only two are viable in the long term (100 years, equivalent to 13 generations), especially due to the number of individuals. Six populations can become extinct on average in 25 years due to a combination of factors involving: isolation, low genetic variability, and threats. Based on the analysis of all these variables, the minimum population to guarantee the species' viability is 800 individuals”, he highlights.

In Francy’s opinion, the study reinforces the importance of the continuity of IPÊ's actions, both related to habitat recovery and the management of small groups. “The smaller the tamarin populations and the more isolated due to the fragmentation of the landscape, the greater the risks. Long-term conservation of the species is related to increased connectivity between fragments. This action has the potential to contribute to gene flow. In the same measure, we need to implement effective management strategies involving individuals, especially small populations isolated in small fragments”. Francy is also a Master in Biodiversity Conservation and Sustainable Development, by ESCAS/IPÊ – School of Environmental Conservation and Sustainability.

Francy is co-authored by Gabriela Rezende (UNESP/IPÊ), Kathy Traylor-Holzer (CPSG/UICN), Cláudio Valladares Padua (ESCAS) and Arnaud Desbiez (ICAS/IPÊ).