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American Association for the Advancement of Science

In Brazil, conservation is worth the price tag

The Tate’s woolly mouse opossum (Micoureus paraguayanus) is mostly endemic to the Atlantic Forest and was found to benefit from habitat loss.
[Credit: Thomas Püttker]

Researchers have determined that it would cost Brazil less than 1% of its gross domestic product, or the total amount of goods and services that the country produces each year, to set aside enough private farmland to conserve the Atlantic Forest—one of the world's most diverse habitats.

Cristina Banks-Leite and colleagues, who report this finding, suggest that a program known as payment for ecosystem services, or PES, which pays farmers to stop using some of their land so that animals can use it instead, may work very well in this case.

The researchers studied 43 species of mammals, 140 species of birds and 29 amphibian species from the Brazilian Atlantic Forest and determined that the animals need about 30% tree cover in the forest to maintain a healthy level of diversity. Once the forest's cover drops below 30%, though, species start disappearing fast, they say.

According to Banks-Leite and the other researchers, Brazil would have to pay its farmers about $198 million a year to make it worth their while to give up the necessary pieces of farmland to achieve 30% forest cover throughout the entire forest. And that's a good deal, the researchers say.

This kind of conservation strategy would set-aside patches of farmland near patches of forest that are already protected by the government and allow ecosystems throughout the forest to enjoy the 30% tree cover that they need to thrive.