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About 17 million animals died in the 2020 wildfires in Brazil

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16.9 million vertebrates (animals with backbones) died in the immediate aftermath of wildfires that tore through the Pnatanal wetland in Brazil last year, according to international research. A team went into the fireground in the immediate aftermath and counted the carcasses in burned areas. After taking samples along the wetland, they scaled up their findings to estimate between 13 and 19 million small vertebrates would have been burned across the whole fireground.

Journal/conference: Scientific Reports

Link to research (DOI): 10.1038/s41598-021-02844-5

Organisation/s: Laboratório de Vida Selvagem, Brazil

Funder: We thank ICMBio, SEMAGRO/Programa Biota-MS, WWF-Brasil, Museu Paraense Emílio Goeldi, Embrapa (project SEG 42.16.00.006.00.03.001), SESC-Pantanal, Ecologia e Ação (ECOA), the Instituto Homem Pantaneiro (IHP), and the Panthera foundation for the logistic and/or financial support for the surveys. TSBF is supported by the Conselho Nacional de Desenvolvimento Científico e Tecnológico (CNPq #301208/2021-2); RMC and ARC were supported by the Smithsonian Grant WLS-2020-17; CS thanks CNPq for a research fellowship (CNPq #3123038/2018-1). We thank Adriana Andrade, Luana Rosa, Marcos Ardevino, Thiago Graça, Livia Cordeiro and Wener Hugo Arruda Moreno, who collaborated with field surveys; Luiz Vicente S. Campos Filho (Pouso Alegre Lodge), Samuel Silva, Oísio and Glória Falcão, and the owners of Fazenda Baía Grande (Cáceres, Mato Grosso), who offered us stay, food, and/or permits for the field work.

Media release

From: Springer Nature

Conservation: Almost 17 million vertebrates killed in the 2020 wildfires in Brazil

The 2020 wildfires in the Pantanal wetland, Brazil, caused the immediate death of potentially 16.9 million vertebrates, including lizards, birds and primates, reports a study published in Scientific Reports.

The wildfires in the Pantanal wetland burned between January and November 2020 causing huge damage to the world’s largest tropical wetland. Walfrido Moraes Tomas, Ronaldo Morato and colleagues estimated wildfire animal deaths by counting carcasses in burned areas. They sampled carcasses at intervals along tracts of wetland (114.43 kilometres in total) in the immediate aftermath of a fire.

The authors found 302 carcasses and, despite their poor condition, were able to identify the species in most cases. They then scaled up their numbers for both small vertebrates (with a body weight less than 2kg) and medium-to-large vertebrates (with a body weight greater than 2kg) to estimate how many animals were killed in total.

The authors estimate that between 13,206,700 and 18,811,300 small vertebrates were killed across the 39,030 km2 burnt area of the Pantanal wetlands between January and November 2020. Small vertebrates included small lizards, birds and rodents. The authors also estimate that between 691,090 and 1,196,570 medium-to-large vertebrates were immediately killed, including ungulates and primates. They provide an overall total estimate of 16,952,000 vertebrates killed in the fires.

The authors report that their sampling likely missed several species known to have also been killed by the fires including jaguars, pumas and tapirs. They also caution that their estimation does not reflect the full impact of the wildfires that would have caused subsequent animal deaths from habitat loss.

Walfrido Moraes Tomas and colleagues conclude that their study highlights the catastrophic impact the 2020 wildfires had on wildlife in the Pantanal wetlands and the importance of preventing future disasters.

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    Sampling

    Researcher performing the sampling just after the wildfire.

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    Pantanal wetland

    Overview of the Pantanal wetland after the wildfire. Notice the smoke covering the entering region.

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    Marsh deer that survived the wildfires

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    Researcher collecting a dead animal.

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