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Chapters in Brief

Part I | The Amazon as a Regional Entity of the Earth System

  • Chapter 1: Geology and geodiversity of the Amazon: Three billion years of history
    This chapter explores the evolution of geodiversity over three billion years of history. It shows that periods of continental rupture followed by mountain forming ultimately led to the fundamental physiographic subdivisions of the Amazon, and to a great wealth of landscapes, soils, mineral deposits, oil and gas reserves, and freshwater aquifers. Information on the geodiversity of the Amazon supports a central theme of environmental science, that the formation of most natural resources (such as rare minerals, hydrocarbons, freshwater aquifers, and fertile soils) requires that natural processes develop undisturbed over vast periods of geological time and over vast domains of space.
  • Chapter 2: Evolution of Amazonian biodiversity
    This chapter reviews the evolutionary history of the Amazon’s terrestrial and riverine ecosystems, involving geological and climatic events operating over millions of years and across the whole of continental South America. The chapter discusses the important roles of geographic barriers, habitat heterogeneity, climate change, and species interactions in generating and maintaining the most biodiverse ecosystems on Earth. This unique history produced heterogeneous environments and diverse habitats at multiple geographic scales, which altered the connections between populations and allowed for the accumulation of the most diverse biota on Earth.
  • Chapter 3: Biological diversity and ecological networks in the Amazon
    This chapter provides an overview of biodiversity in the Amazon, discusses the reasons why this region is so rich in species and ecosystems, and outlines some outstanding ecological processes that make the Amazon an icon of the natural world. Featured terrestrial and aquatic taxonomic groups illustrate how much we know about diversity in the Amazon, and more importantly, how much we still do not know. A clear understanding of biodiversity levels and their spatial and temporal variations is crucial to understanding future stability under different climate change, land use change, forest fragmentation, and deforestation scenarios and informing conservation and restoration efforts.
  • Chapter 4: Amazonian ecosystems and their ecological functions
    This chapter describes the diversity of plants and ecosystems in the lowland Amazon and discusses how complex regional gradients in climate and soil conditions drive regional variability in species composition, vegetation dynamics, carbon stocks, and productivity. The Amazon river network and its role in connecting aquatic and terrestrial ecosystems through organisms and nutrient exchanges is also emphasized.
  • Chapter 5: The Physical hydroclimate system of the Amazon
    This chapter reviews the main features and large- to mesoscale mechanisms that contribute to the Amazon’s climate, its inter-annual and inter-decadal variability, and extreme drought and flood events. It examines the effects of extreme events on vegetation and the partitioning of precipitation into evapotranspiration (ET), runoff, flow seasonality, and floodplain dynamics; and describes the floodplain´s role in the biogeochemical cycle.
  • Chapter 6: Biogeochemical Cycles in the Amazon
    This chapter summarizes the cycles of three key biogeochemical elements, carbon, nitrogen and phosphorus, with a focus on carbon, spanning both terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems in Amazon. The chapter also examines the emissions of two key trace gases which make substantial contributions to radiative warming, methane and dinitrogen oxide, and summarizes trace gas and aerosol emissions from the Amazon and their impact on atmospheric pollution, cloud properties, and water cycling.
  • Chapter 7: Biogeophysical Cycles: Water Recycling, Climate Regulation
    This chapter assesses biogeophysical interactions between the Amazon rainforest and the climate. A historical perspective is presented, highlighting breakthroughs which improved our understanding of the mechanisms by which the rainforest interacts with the atmosphere.
  • Chapter 8: Peoples of the Amazon before European Colonization
    Archaeology tells us how Indigenous peoples transformed nature in the Amazon over the millennia to the point that it is difficult to separate natural from cultural patrimony there today. It also shows that any kind of sustainable future for the region has to consider the rich Indigenous heritage manifested in archaeological sites and contemporary landscapes, and the contemporary knowledge of traditional societies.
  • Chapter 9: Peoples of the Amazon and European colonization (16th-18th centuries)
    This chapter covers the history of the Amazon between the 16th and 18th centuries, including myths that originated at that time and persist into the present, influencing political and social relations. It also highlights the main actors involved in this process and their narratives. Finally, it shows how the extraction of natural resources has been accompanied by the subjugation and exploitation of the workforce and the development of multiple forms of domination and extermination, especially of Indigenous peoples, since the era of European conquest.
  • Chapter 10: Critical interconnections between the cultural and biological diversity of Amazonian peoples and ecosystems
    This chapter explores the Amazon’s biocultural diversity, focusing on IPLCs’ worldviews, knowledge systems, livelihood strategies, and governance regimes. It synthesizes the main social and political processes that have led to the formal recognition of IPLCs’ lands and/or territories across the Amazon. The chapter highlights IPLCs’ critical role in using, shaping, conserving, and restoring Amazonian ecosystems and biodiversity, despite historic ongoing processes including violence, displacement, and conflicts between conservation and development agendas.
  • Chapter 11: Economic drivers in the Amazon from the 19th century to the 1970s
    This chapter identifies the main economic processes that occurred in the Brazilian, Andean, and Guyanese Amazon from the 19th century until the 1970s. Specifically, the chapter describes the history of extractivism and the effects of geopolitical reconfiguration on the Amazon after the process of emancipation or decolonization. It analyzes the extraction of quina barks (species of the genus Chinchona, Rubiaceae) and rubber (Hevea brasiliensis, Euphorbiacae), as well as the resulting characteristics and practices developed by social actors related to the local and regional economy. It also describes the history and emergence of exploitation of oil and minerals (mainly gold), including the beginning of wildlife trafficking and the emergence of mechanized agriculture, intensive livestock, and mega-infrastructure.
  • Chapter 12: Languages of the Amazon: Dimensions of diversity
    This chapter covers the extraordinary Indigenous linguistic diversity of the Amazon region, including its different dimensions: the existence of a relatively large number of languages in the region; how these languages are related to each other, representing an impressive genealogical diversity; geographical distribution over different Amazonian subregions; the effects of language contact that have resulted in several linguistic areas; different levels of endangerment and the social circumstances that contribute to it; and, finally, what is lost when languages disappear.
  • Chapter 13: African Presence in the Amazon: A Glance
    This chapter provides evidence on the importance of African descendants in the construction of the Amazon and other tropical areas in the Americas, and highlights their importance for long-lasting sustainable development strategies in the region. It looks at both the cultural exchange and socio-historic perspectives, emphasizing land settlement patterns, natural resource use, and management practices. It focuses mostly on Brazil, Suriname, and Colombia, and emphasizes the importance of eliminating the invisibility of African descendant peoples in academic research and policy.

Part II | Social-Ecological Transformations: Changes in the Amazon

  • Chapter 14: Amazon in Motion: Changing politics, development strategies, peoples, landscapes, and livelihoods
    This chapter presents the major ideas, actors, and practices that have shaped the Amazon’s current development and deforestation dynamics. Outlining general periods of macro policy, it traces the evolution of today’s complex interactions among diverse livelihoods, conservation, and production systems, both legal and clandestine. It highlights how Amazonians have continuously adapted to changing circumstances while fighting to advance their own proposals for conservation and equity in development.
  • Chapter 15: Complex, diverse, and changing agribusiness and livelihood systems in the Amazon
    This chapter focuses on recent changes in the structure of systems of production in the Amazon, exploring their implications for the region’s environment and society. It also highlights local responses to these challenges, and opportunities for more sustainable production systems. An in-depth quantitative case study on the Brazilian Amazon is presented.
  • Chapter 16: The state of conservation policies, protected areas, and Indigenous territories, from the past to the present
    Two management classifications are the cornerstone of Amazonian conservation: protected areas and Indigenous territories. This chapter focuses on the historical processes, starting in the 1960s, that led to their creation, as well as the contemporary challenges they face and their importance for conservation.
  • Chapter 17: Globalization, extractivism and social exclusion: Threats and opportunities to Amazon governance in Brazil
    From the 1970s on, the Amazon experienced its deepest transformation, becoming a commodity and energy provider for both domestic and international markets, through extraction of natural resources. Living conditions barely improved, and social conflict and violence became widespread, particularly affecting Indigenous peoples and local communities. Conservation efforts also became globalized and achieved significant results. Brazil’s 84% reduction in deforestation from 2005-2012, based on an integrated strategy with high political priority, provides an important case study that can support future policies across the basin. These gains were reversed in recent years, and unsustainable extractivist policies generally prevailed over conservation and the sustainable use of biodiversity in the whole Amazon basin (Chapter 18).
  • Chapter 18: Globalization, extractivism, and social exclusion: Country-specific manifestations
    This chapter presents country-specific descriptions of human intervention in the Amazon, including the expansion of agricultural and extractive activities. The analysis contains two comprehensive national cases (Colombia and Ecuador) and three short studies focused on public policies (Peru, Bolivia and Venezuela). The Brazilian experience reducing deforestation is presented in Chapter 17.
  • Chapter 19: Drivers and ecological impacts of deforestation and forest degradation
    This chapter discusses the main drivers of deforestation and forest degradation in the Amazon, particularly agricultural expansion, road construction, mining, oil and gas development, forest fires, edge effects, logging, and hunting. It also examines these activities’ impacts and synergies between them.
  • Chapter 20: Drivers and impacts of changes in aquatic ecosystems
    Amazonian aquatic ecosystems are being destroyed and threats to their integrity are projected to grow in number and intensity. Here we present some of the main impacts on aquatic ecosystems triggered by infrastructure projects and predatory and illegal practices.
  • Chapter 21: Human well-being and health impacts of the degradation of terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems
    Amazonian forests and aquatic ecosystems are the basis for several ecosystem services, all of which play a crucial role in people’s livelihoods, human well-being, and health. Some of the most relevant and challenging health problems in the Amazon are associated with deforestation and degradation of terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems, including the risk of contracting infectious diseases, respiratory problems caused by exposure to smoke from deforestation and forest fires, and mercury contamination caused by gold mining. Here we demonstrate that environmental degradation affects the health of millions of Amazonians.
  • Chapter 22: Long-term variability, extremes, and changes in temperature and hydro meteorology
    This chapter describes the observed and projected changes in temperature, river discharge, and precipitation patterns and extremes in the Amazon region, as well as their impacts and possible thresholds. The emphasis is on the effect of climactic extremes on biodiversity and ecological processes.
  • Chapter 23: Impacts of deforestation and climate change on biodiversity, ecological processes, and environmental adaptation
    This chapter presents observed and predicted impacts of climate change on Amazonian ecosystems, focusing on biodiversity, ecosystem services, carbon cycling, fisheries, and emissions from biomass burning. It also considers climate and land-use change feedbacks and highlights knowledge gaps to better understand these complex interactions.
  • Chapter 24: Resilience of the Amazon forest to global changes: Assessing the risk of tipping points
    This chapter reviews and discusses existing evidence of ongoing changes in the Amazon forest system that may lead to resilience loss and the potential to cross tipping points in which the ecosystem may shift either gradually or abruptly to a persistent, environmentally degraded configuration.

Part III | The Solution Space: Finding Sustainable Pathways for the Amazon

  • Chapter 25: A Pan-Amazonian sustainable development vision
    Developing a clear vision is the central starting point for any action plan. This chapter reviews the main visions regarding the Amazon and proposes a Living Amazon Vision based on a set of values, principles, and knowledge systems described throughout the chapter.
  • Chapter 26: Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and the Amazon
    This chapter discusses the importance and limitations of the five SDG dimensions (People, Planet, Prosperity, Peace and Partnership) in the Amazonian context. It also discusses the performance and trends of Amazonian countries in achieving the SDGs.
  • Chapter 27: Conservation measures to counter the main threats to Amazonian biodiversity
    Human activities destroy biodiversity and disrupt the functioning of aquatic and terrestrial ecosystems at different levels. This chapter provides sustainable approaches to address some of the biggest threats to the Amazon’s biodiversity and ecosystems, i.e., deforestation, damming of rivers, mining, hunting, illegal trade, drug, production and trafficking, illegal logging, overfishing, and infrastructure expansion. The role of restoration is addressed in chapters 28 and 29.
  • Chapter 28: Restoration options for the Amazon
    This chapter examines site-specific opportunities and approaches to restore terrestrial and aquatic systems, focusing on the local actions and benefits. Landscape and biome-wide considerations are addressed in Chapter 29.
  • Chapter 29: Restoration priorities and benefits within landscapes and catchments and across the Amazon Basin
    Restoration can be applied in many different Amazonian contexts, but will be most effective at leveraging environmental and social benefits when it is prioritized across the Amazon basin, landscapes, and catchments. Here we outline the considerations that are most relevant for planning and scaling restoration across the Amazon.
  • Chapter 30: Opportunities and challenges for a healthy standing forest and flowing rivers bioeconomy in the Amazon
    This chapter highlights the paradox between the Amazon’s extraordinary socio-biodiversity and its distance from the scientific, technological, and market frontier of the contemporary bioeconomy. It discusses the current socioeconomic structures available in the region, as well as challenges and pathways for a transition to a socially-fair and sustainable bioeconomy.
  • Chapter 31: Strengthening land and natural resource governance and management: Protected areas, Indigenous lands, and local communities’ territories
    Protected areas, Indigenous lands, and local communities’ territories play a critical role in holding back deforestation, maintaining regional and global climate stability, and – above all – protecting land rights. Nevertheless, these lands are currently threatened by political and economic interests that drive land speculation, agribusiness expansion, and illegal logging and mining, resulting in increasing deforestation rates. Governments are also reassessing and walking back territorial rights legislation.
  • Chapter 32: Milestones and challenges in the construction and expansion of participatory intercultural education in the Amazon
    This chapter aims to give visibility to participatory intercultural education experiences across the Amazon region. It starts with an examination of the issues with the general educational system, and then presents case studies which offer different paths forward. These case studies reflect not only the importance of participatory education for IPLCs, but also how knowledge is itself a form of communication and political influence that helps IPLCs guarantee their rights.
  • Chapter 33: Connecting and sharing diverse knowledges to support sustainable pathways in the Amazon
    This chapter highlights the under-recognized importance of ILK to conservation and sustainable development efforts across the Amazon, utilizing the conceptual framework of public participation in scientific research. It reviews a range of illustrative examples which articulate ILK and mainstream scientific and technical knowledges in conservation and development initiatives. We also consider recent policy recommendations and guidelines by professional associations and civil society organizations.
  • Chapter 34: Boosting relations between the Amazon forest and its globalizing cities
    By providing a brief and non-authoritative analysis of the physical and cultural relations between rural (forest) and urban areas in the Amazon, we identify several points for improvement, such as economic incentives to encourage healthcare professionals to serve the countryside, implementing peri-urban agricultural belts to improve urban food security, increasing access to urban green spaces, and investing in innovation around the “smart cities, smart forests” concept. Perhaps most importantly, this would include mobilizing human, financial, and institutional resources to restore cultural, spiritual, and affective bonds between urban and forest inhabitants.