Dr. Steeve Coupeau Goes One-on-One with Professor Liliana Davalos
Publisher’s Note: On the occasion of Climate Week 2022, Professor Davalos participated in a panel entitled “The Amazon as a Bio-economy Superpower’’ on the potential of a standing forest-flowing rivers bio-economy for the Amazon convened by the Sustainable Development Solutions Network at Scandinavia House, New York.
Biodiversity loss intensifies nature-related risks, costing the world $1.9 trillion according to Moody’s Investors Service as reported by Tim Quinson, Bloomberg Green on 09/28/22. The World Bank also highlighted the potentially devastating consequences of inaction to reverse an “unprecedented” decline in biodiversity, with roughly 1 million animal and plant species at risk of extinction. Source: https://www.worldbank.org/en/topic/biodiversity. Climate risk mitigation and adaptation is necessary to avoid these costly consequences.
NYIHA MEDIA: What is your current role and what led to that?
PROFESSOR DAVALOS: I’m a full professor at Stony Brook University, and at my lab we focus on biodiversity and conserving the world’s life support systems into the future. In our research, we use genetics, genomics, and statistical tools to discover mechanisms of extinction and survival. My career began as a biology undergraduate from Universidad del Valle, Cali, Colombia, where I was able to both visit field sites in the Andes and the Amazon, as well as conduct genetics research.
NYIHA MEDIA: What are the multiple threats facing the Amazon?
PROFESSOR DAVALOS: It’s not easy to summarize all the research on the subject, but the Science Panel for the Amazon brought together hundreds of scientists and one of its main areas of focus was precisely this question. To summarize: the main direct threats are from deforestation for pastures and other forms of agriculture, as well as mining. But behind these direct agents of change, there is a model of extractive economic development that relies on short term gains, boom and bust cycles, as well as land grabbing.
NYIHA MEDIA: How does deforestation affect biodiversity?
PROFESSOR DAVALOS: Habitat loss, including deforestation, is still the main threat to biodiversity, driving population declines and in some cases extinctions. Although global warming is quickly becoming more of a threat, these are not independent. More deforestation translates into more warming (both in micro-habitats and globally), and habitat loss and fragmentation makes it less likely that populations can persist as the world warms and rains become erratic.
NYIHA MEDIA: There is a shared understanding of the need to reverse the extractive paradigms that destroy natural biodiversity in the Amazon. What alternative paradigm would you propose to achieve the sustainable development goals?
PROFESSOR DAVALOS: A critical factor in the entire Amazonian region is the combination of a moving agricultural frontier and poor enforcement of land rights. Although it’s not very exciting, an updated geo-referenced cadastre, linked to mechanisms of credit can help stabilize this frontier. Stronger protections for indigenous lands have been shown to maintain forests and biodiversity, and credit for non-extractive land uses needs to grow as well.