New Stanford Model Can Reveal Globalization’s Effects On The Amazon

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InfoAmazonia, Amazon

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Photo: In Brazil, a large soy field encroaches on the rainforest. Stanford scientists hope to expand their new model to examine how activity on the outskirts of an indigenous land can affect sustainability.

Stanford has unveiled new software that will be able to understand how outside influences can affect the sustainability of Indigenous people in the Amazon. Indigenous groups control around half of the world’s vegetated areas, which make the findings significant for Indigenous communities everywhere, who could use this information to understand the relationship between natural resources, their community, and the environment. The findings from Stanford scientists were published in the journal Environmental Modelling & Software and their model showed how a community, who bases its sustainability on hunting and/or cultivating, could remain living in harmony with the surrounding environment if it stays within a certain population range.

“Once Indigenous populations move outside that [range], the land use rapidly shifts to another state characterized by a much lower forest cover, with negative impacts on both biodiversity and carbon stocks in the vegetation,” said Eric Lambin, a professor and senior fellow at the Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment.

The scientists developed a model based on the relationships between different ecological factors affecting Indigenous communities, that include the rate of deforestation, changes in the diversity of vegetation, agricultural output, hunting practices, and the abundance and diversity of the 10 most-hunted species. These factors were used to calculate how a community’s population and growth rate could be impacted through food availability. Population growth was limited by the caloric demand of humans, and how much nutrition the land and animals could reasonably supply.

The Stanford researchers believe this initial version of their model will be useful because “This makes it more of a universal model, because all people need calories,” said Jose Fragoso, a senior scientist in the Department of Biology at Stanford and co-author of the new model. “They must meet their daily caloric requirement. If they farm more to do that, then they hunt less, or vice versa. But that drives the system and causes all the changes to occur.”

A mere 20 percent of the world’s old growth forests remain, and much of that, according to World Resources Institute, is home to communities that have lived in harmony with the surrounding forests for many years. Logging companies and other outside interests are pressuring many of these communities to change the way they interact with their surrounding environment. The researchers suggest that their model could be useful in helping to manage underdeveloped lands that are in the hands of Indigenous communities by governments and other institutions.

“Few such areas may still remain in the modern world, but preserving that cultural diversity is very important,” Lambin said. “The model helps us to understand under what conditions these traditional, indigenous systems can be sustained.”

It is possible that this research could be broadened to include educational, behavioral and policy factors that also play a critical role in guiding the sustainability of these indigenous areas.