The incredible (endangered) biodiversity of the Amazon rainforest | Jorge Rodrigues | TEDxUTA

The incredible (endangered) biodiversity of the Amazon rainforest | Jorge Rodrigues | TEDxUTA


Translator: Deborah Oliveira
Reviewer: Denise RQ Host: Our next speaker is
a Brazilian native and microbiologist with deep interests in biodiversity
and ecosystem functionality of the Amazon rainforest. In order to shed light on these and other
microbial ecosystems in question, he uses high-throughput
genomic technologies to study microorganism environments as diverse as tropical forests
and termite hindguts. Today, he serves as an Assistant Professor
within the Department of Biology at UTA. Please welcome Jorge Rodrigues. (Applause) Jorge Rodriguez: For the next ten minutes, I’m going to try to convince you
that Dr. Seuss has been lying to you. (Laughter) I hope that if I convince you of that,
you will go back home, buy more Dr. Seuss books,
and read to your kids, with your siblings, friends,
grandkids, and so on. Why do I say that? Because it is my own experience
when I started working in the Amazon. I was really interested
in learning more about the Amazon. If I am going there, I want to find out
what is already there. And if I am going to be there, I want to find out
if something is going to eat me, who is going to eat me there, right? So what I did was to collect a whole bunch
of information about the Amazon. I collected books, readings, videos. And I started reading all of this. But the book that really caught
my attention was this book. Why is that? Well, because it is all about
the rainforest. So I said, “This is
the must-read book for me.” If I am going there, I should read
more and more about this book. So I start reading this book
and what happened was that the book starts talking
about the rainforest and the patterns, the dry seasons
and the rainy seasons of the forest. I thought, “Oh, that is very interesting!
Let me continue reading this.” The next topic was about the locations. It told me where rainforests are located. But I am a scientist, and as a scientist
I don’t just trust data. I really want to find out
what is going on with the data. So what I did was to connect with people who could tell me more about the Amazon,
or about the rainforest. I found one expert, and the expert was seven years old. I asked him, “Where are
the locations of the rainforest?” He told me, “Rainforests are located
in Central and South America, they are also located in Africa in countries like Congo, Zaire,
Gabon, Madagascar, and back again we have rainforest in countries like the Philippines,
Thailand, Malaysia, New Guinea.” I compared the information
the expert gave me with the information
that I got from the book, and they both matched. So I am going to read
more and more about this book. The next topic in the book
was about the biodiversity. It talks about the biodiversity
of plants and of animals. I said, “I am going
to get there to the Amazon, and it is going to be like a zoo to me, because I am going to see all kinds
of animals, all kinds of plants.” It turns out that when I got there
that is what I saw. A pretty dark place,
and this is the middle of the day. I thought, “Wait a minute, all those books promised me
that I would see something else!” Actually, the books told me that 25% of all terrestrial species
are present in the Amazon. 25%. The books told me
that in a 100 by 100 square meters, I would find more plants
than in the entire European continent. Imagine the entire Europe. In a 100 by 100,
you can see more plants there. In a single tree, I can see
80 different species of ants. And if you multiple this number of insects
by the number of plants, you would find a staggering number of 42,000 different insects
in a hectare of the Amazon. If this is not enough for you, the majority of them
have not been described. We don’t know what they are doing there. And something that is
a bit more related to us: in a single sampling expedition,
we can find 72 different species of bats. If you are in the US,
we have 42 species of bats. In a single expedition, we could almost double
the number of bat species in the Amazon. I did not see any animals there. I was still wondering, “What is happening?
Why don’t I see all those animals?” And I would be OK with that,
not seeing any animals there, but the problem is
that the landscape is changing. The Amazon is changing quite fast. This is a satellite picture
of part of the Amazon forest. Every little orange dot you see is a fire. A fire that started to change the land. How do we do that? You remove all the hardwood and sell it. Then you slash everything to the ground. Next, you let it dry. When the dry season comes,
you set everything on fire. And that fire will burn for days and days,
sometimes for weeks and weeks. Once everything is turned to ashes,
you sow with grass and move cattle in. There are lots and lots of cattle there. So this idea of changing the land
from forest to pasture is really changing the biodiversity
in the Amazon forest. Why is that? Because this is the most important factor affecting biodiversity losses
in the Amazon. It is more important
than the CO2 increase, more important than climate change. It is the most important
man-made alteration going on in tropical systems these days. Just to give you an example, this is the area where we do
our sampling in the Amazon. In 1975, it was a sea of green. If we looked from the airplane,
we’d only see trees all over the place. In 14 years, that is what we saw. Lots and lots of changes. This is called a fishbone
structure of development. You have a road, and in both sides of it,
you have clearing of the land transforming the forest into pasture. The road continues, and you see more; more and more changes. If the landscape is changing,
then all inhabitants are changing as well. You know that plants
and animals will change. You have a forest with hundreds of plants, and then you have
one single plant now: a grass species. You have all kinds of animals,
all animals I didn’t see before, and now you have
one single species of animal: a cow. But there are lots of microbes there
I don’t see, and I know they’re there. Those are tiny little microbes. I have one gram of soil here on my hand., a little gram of soil. In this gram of soil,
I have 100 million microbes. There are 10,000 species of microbes
in this little gram of soil. They are all changing, so I am here today to tell you
they are changing as well; not only plants and animals change
but microbes change as well. The research that we do in the Amazon
tells us that the microbial communities in the Amazon soil
are increasing in similarity. What does that mean? It means that the microbes are becoming
more and more the same. They are becoming more and more
equal to each other. Genetically, they are becoming
more and more similar to each other. Why is that important? I have two reasons for you. The first reason is related
to the environment. Environments, ecosystems
provide us some services, and microbes as well. We don’t know that on a daily basis, but you have more microbial cells
than human cells. In the Amazon, those microbes are responsible
for recycling all nutrients. All dead carcasses of animals
are recycled by microbes. All leaves that fall from the trees
are recycled by microbes. So microbes are responsible
for all the biogeochemical cycles. If you are changing those microbes, then those biogeochemical cycles
will be altered as well. Now imagine the Amazon, that place that is the largest forest
terrestrial ecosystem in the world. If this ecosystem is changing,
then the Earth is changing. That is the first reason. The second reason is because microbes
are reservoirs of new antibiotics. They are reservoirs
of new biotechnological products. They are reservoirs
of cancer-fighting drugs. In fact, there are at least
120 prescribed drugs these days that came from the forest. If we are losing all those microbes,
we are losing the opportunity of finding new drugs, new antibiotics,
new biotechnological products. This is a picture that I took
during my last trip in the Amazon. When we are removing wood from the forest, we are not removing only wood,
we are removing something with it. I just told you that,
the microbes are disappearing. If the microbes are disappearing,
we are removing something else: their genes, those antibiotics
that we are supposed to find. You and me, we are all
driving that truck together. You like it or not, you are responsible
for driving that truck. As a responsible driver, or as a driver,
the question for you to ask is: “Should I step on the gas pedal
and go for it as fast as I can, or should I slow down a little bit and find the safest route
for me to keep going?” Thank you very much. (Applause)

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