Climate change affects biodiversity and traditional communities living in Médio Juruá

When the aruá – a land snail found in the Amazon rainforest – climbs a tree and lays eggs, the height they choose is the maximum level expected for the waters of the Juruá river to reach during the flooding season (usually from September to March). In order to know if floods will start sooner in a given year, local people observe the flowering arati (Eugenia inundata): if it starts blooming earlier, the floods will also start sooner. 

This type of Amazon life-knowledge has been passed on through generations of traditional peoples. However, as a result of global warming, forest patterns are not as reliable. In order to analyze these transformations the Médio Juruá Territory Program carried the study 'Climate Change and Its Impacts on the Socio Biodiversity of the Juruá River'. 

The work investigated climate impacts on biodiversity and their effects on the communities living in the region. The results subsidize future preservation and sustainable development projects. The program is coordinated by SITAWI, and supported by USAID/Brazil, Natura and Coca-Cola Brazil. 

During the study, 240 people in 27 communities were interviewed. The initiative used data obtained from remote sensing; monitoring of fishing, water levels, plateaus, and database analysis. 

Some impacts reported in the interviews include increased thermal sensation, higher frequency of rain and small floods, plus changes in the fruiting time and seed production of some plant species.

“Communities living in the Amazon rely on nature as their clock and calendar. As a result of climate change, everything is becoming unpredictable, and thus their way of life is also being affected,” said João Vitor Campos-Silva, one of the authors of the study and director general of the Juruá Institute, during an online chat in November to present the data. 

Impacts - When analyzing participatory monitoring databases, (covering nearly 40 years in the case of turtles, and 12 years in the case of pirarucu), the study concluded that climate change has an impact on the size of animal populations in this region. 

For example, extreme droughts reduce the number of nests of tracajás (a species of turtle) by 14%. Concerning the pirarucu, for each meter that the Juruá river rises above historical average levels, there is a 26% increase in the number of adult fish. In protected lakes, this growth is even greater, reaching 42%. 

Building on the results of the study, the goal is now to encourage initiatives that help preserve local biodiversity and social, environmental and economic development in the Médio Juruá region. In order to contribute toward this objective, a series of recommendations have been developed together with local leaders and associations.

There are seven suggestions in total, including promoting more agroforestry management plans; developing projects aimed at expanding small farming and recovering degraded areas; supporting food security projects; and creating an emergency fund for communities affected by climate disasters. 

Roland Widmer, Territorial Programs Manager at SITAWI, explained that recommendations have been developed together with local communities involved in the project. According to Widmer, this type of engagement contributes to developing their autonomy and responsibility for maintaining the standing forest and its biodiversity.