Dr. Cynthia Simmons presented as an invited featured speaker at the International Colloquium on Socio-Environmental Politics at Rhodes House, Oxford University, on 31 Jan 2020 in a talk titled Dynamic Amazonia: Lessons for a Changing World.

Amazonia is critical to the global environment given its store of biodiversity and its repository of carbon. Since the mid-20th century, the Amazonian countries – particularly Brazil, Ecuador, Peru, and Bolivia – have implemented a variety of infrastructure projects meant to tap the region’s resources and open it to human settlement. Consequently, a large fraction of the forest has been converted to agricultural use. At the same time, human populations have grown precipitously to more than 20,000,000 people – many of whom live in an expanding network of urban areas that span the basin. There is little doubt that development has transformed the region’s environment and put the heritage of its indigenous peoples at risk. Despite global concerns for maintaining Amazonia’s ecological and cultural integrity, a new infrastructure program joined by all the South American nations has initiated a complex transformation of the region that will turn it into a transportation hub, a continental source of hydropower, and a preferred location for industrial development. Resulting environmental changes will be intensified by global warming. Amazonia is a dynamic region on the verge of dramatic anthropogenic change. What will happen to its remaining ecosystems and indigenous peoples? What will happen to those who came as colonists and worked hard to establish frontier livelihoods? In this presentation I address the three main questions to be debated at the colloquium. First, how to make sense of Amazonia today, given the rising violence and threats to the environment? Second, what Lessons have we learned, or better yet, should we have learned? Third, what recommendations can be made that will move us toward a socially and environmentally just future?

An Immediate outcome of the workshop is the Oxford Letter for the Amazon, signed by Signed by indigenous and peasant representatives, politicians, civil societymembers, students,artists, activists,researchersand academics. Read the whole letter at AgroCultures.

Dr. Robert Walker‘s work was recently featured in Catastrophic Amazon tipping point less than 30 years away: study, an article in Mongabay.

The present study, led by Robert Walker at the University of Florida, Gainesville, combined projections of future agricultural expansion published by Brazil’s Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock and Food Supply (MAPA) and the Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations (FAO), along with plans for the region’s industrial and infrastructure development, in order to estimate the total area of the Amazon basin that could be deforested by 2050.

They found that agricultural expansion and infrastructure development over the next thirty years could put the Amazon rainforest well beyond the tipping point for shifting to a savanna biome.

Speaker: Maíra Irigaray Castro

PhD Student, Department of Geography, University of Florida

Thursday, February 13, 2020

2:50-3:50 PM (Period 8)

Turlington Hall Room 3018

University of Florida

All are welcome to attend.

The Munduruku Movement Ipereğ Ayũ (MMIA), which in Munduruku translates to “We are strong; We know how to protect ourselves and all We believe in,” is a new autonomous social movement at the forefront to resist the government’s destructive plans for Amazonia and ensure legal guarantees to self-determination and homelands. Also, of interest is the Wakoborûn Indigenous Women’s Association and Movement (WIWM), an organization within MMIA that was formed in 2017 to unite the Munduruku women in the struggle. MMIA and WIWM have been recognized for their efforts to educate and empower a broad segment of the Munduruku people, facilitate organizational cohesion among the tribal communities, and establish alliances with regional, transnational, and global organizations and movements. Despite growing international attention, very little has been written about them beyond the grey literature. The goal of my research is to fill this gap in the scholarship, providing a fuller account of MMIA and WIWM by employing a decolonizing framework that integrates Feminist and Indigenous Political Ecology with Geographies of Resistance to illuminate MMIA and WIWM’s genesis stories, and explore how their experiences through cycles of contention triggered by Amazonia development pressures define their grievances and shape their organizational structure and strategies for collective action.

Avoiding Amazonian Catastrophes – Prospects for Conservation in the 21st Century

Speaker: Dr. Robert Walker

Professor, Department of Geography, University of Florida

Thursday, March 14, 2019

2:50-3:50 PM (Period 8)

Turlington Hall Room 3018

University of Florida

All are welcome to attend.

New infrastructure threats confront the Amazon. Resulting development could push its forest past a “tipping point,” replacing it with tropical savanna. This would degrade biodiversity, reduce carbon storage, and harm continental agriculture. Environmental policy in Brazil has weakened over time. Luckily, indigenous peoples are capable of resisting development forces.

Image courtesy Ms. Roberta Mendonça De Carvalho

Amazons Within The Amazon – A Multiscale Assessment of Urbanization

Speaker: Dr. Roberta Mendonça De Carvalho

PhD Alumna, Department of Geography, University of Florida

Thursday, November 14, 2019

2:50-3:50 PM (Period 8)

Turlington Hall Room 3018

University of Florida

All are welcome to attend.

Urbanization in the Brazilian Amazon has reached 80%. This is a recent and rather intensive process. At the same we see population increase, we see the fortification of the hydropower system. But how and where this urbanization is reshaping the profile of the rainforest? And what is the role of hydropower in stimulating urbanization?


Image courtesy UT Austin’s Teresa Lozano Long Institute of Latin American Studies

GeoGator Dr. Cynthia Simmons joined colleagues at University of Texas, Austin’s Teresa Lozano Long Institute of Latin American Studies in a forum entitled Foro Urgente: “The Amazon Is Burning—Why It Should Matter to You”.

The recent surge in Amazon forest fires has sounded the international alarm, eliciting protests from European heads-of-state, scientists, Hollywood stars, and on social media. Under the administration of right-wing President Jair Bolsonaro, the Brazilian government has scaled back environmental laws and enforcement capabilities, defiantly claiming Brazil’s sovereign right to extract the Amazon’s resources. This Foro Urgente brings together specialists in the history, geography, and political economy of tropical forests to reflect on the crisis in the Amazon, one of the most pressing contemporary environmental challenges.

Watch the video of the event here.

Image credit: CDC/ Prof. Frank Hadley Collins, Dir., Cntr. for Global Health and Infectious Diseases, Univ. of Notre Dame/James Gathany

GAINESVILLE – Blood sucking insects such as the Yellow fever mosquito, Aedes aegypti, are more than just a nuisance in Ecuador, they also spread diseases such as dengue fever, chikungunya and Zika. A warming world means that public health officials must decide where to direct surveillance and mosquito control efforts not only today, but also decades down the road given dramatic shifts in mosquito habitat that will take place thanks to climate change.

Ecuadorian agencies now have a powerful helping hand: a recent paper in PLoS Neglected Tropical Diseases provides detailed maps forecasting where mosquitoes – and diseases – are likely to be in a warmer future.

The new work from the University of Florida’s Quantitative Disease Ecology & Conservation Lab Group (QDEC Lab) and the Emerging Pathogens Institute assesses the current and future geographic distribution of Ae. aegypti throughout Ecuador. The study was led by PhD Candidate Ms. Cat Lippi and is the result of a long-term collaboration with SUNY Upstate Medical University and the Ecuadorian Ministry of Health. Lippi’s committee chair, EPI researcher and QDEC founder Dr. Sadie Ryan, also contributed to the project, as did EPI investigator Dr. Jason Blackburn.

The research team repurposed historic larval mosquito surveillance data collected by the Ministry of Health between 2000 and 2012 in Ecuadorian households to predict where Ae. aegypti may occur in areas that have not yet been surveyed. Aedes aegypti mosquitoes are important because they are a vector for several different mosquito-borne diseases and are able to reproduce in small quantities of standing water, making them common in urban settings. The research team used environmental and climate modeling to analyze how areas currently suitable for the mosquito may shift in the future as a result of climate change.

Maps A and E show mosquito distribution today while maps B-D and F-H show where mosquitoes can be predicted in the future given different climate change scenarios.

“We wanted to show the Ministry of Health in Ecuador where disease-carrying mosquitoes might occur in the future,” Lippi says. By analyzing the environmental and climactic characteristics associated with where mosquitoes occur in Ecuador today, the team extrapolated where mosquitoes may occur in 2050 under a range of climate change scenarios and used the presence of these mosquitoes as a proxy for where disease would occur.

The models show that Ae. aegypti are likely to expand their range into regions of transitional elevation along the Andes mountain range by midcentury. The expanded habitat includes the portion of mountainous area where valley floors give way to a mountain’s lower slopes. The higher reaches of the Andes famed peaks are expected to remain protected pockets that will still be too cool, even with extreme warming, for Ae. aegypti to survive. At the same time, changing climate will reduce the mosquito’s range in the eastern portion of the country’s Amazon.

“When there is a population that has never been exposed to pathogens like dengue or Zika, they don’t have any immunity, and that population will be vastly more susceptible to an acute outbreak,” Lippi says. “There are thousands of Ecuadorians who will be exposed to mosquitoes in the future who have never had to deal with them before.”

The team will share their results with the Ecuadorian Ministry of Health, which will use the data to prepare for the future. Previous work through the team’s collaboration with Ecuador’s Ministry of Health showed that local knowledge and attitudes are significantly associated with the risk of Ae. aegypti mosquitoes in households in Ecuador, although effects on actual dengue fever risk are less clear. Mosquito-borne diseases pose a serious threat to public health throughout Ecuador and Latin America, where dengue alone accounts for an estimated 16 million infections occurring in the Americas each year.

“Our work gives their health department good forewarning of where to focus their preparations to prevent future outbreaks, and this will help them to conserve limited resources,” Lippi says. Preparations may include educational campaigns on using insect repellent, and window and door screens, as well as how to safely store household water in covered containers. The government can also coordinate spraying efforts to reduce mosquito larvae in the environment.

“Of course we expect to see changes in habitat and species’ ranges due to future climate change,” Lippi says. “But what this study addresses is the question of where those changes will occur, and how severe those changes may be, all within the context of disease risk to people.”

Un nuevo estudio de la Universidad de Florida (Estados Unidos) sugiere que los mosquitos que transmiten enfermedades podrían infectar a poblaciones humanas en Los Andes ecuatorianos debido al cambio climático

Comunidades en Latino América tienen el desafío de reducir la exposición a mosquitos que transmiten enfermedades, como el Aedes aegypti. En Ecuador, este mosquito es más que una molestia. El Aedes aegypti trasmite víruses que causan enfermedades de alta consideración para la salud pública incluyendo dengue, chikungunya y Zika. Dónde el Ministerio de Salud Publica (MSP) podría enfocar los esfuerzos de vigilancia y control de estos mosquitos, hoy y en el futuro, tomando en cuenta el cambio climático?

Un nuevo estudio del grupo, Ecología de Enfermedades y Conservación Cuantitativa (QDEC), de la Universidad de Florida, analiza la distribución geográfica del Aedes aegypti a través de todo Ecuador. El proyecto fue dirigido por Cat Lippi, estudiante de PhD de QDEC, y es el resultado de una colaboración a largo plazo con la Universidad del Estado de New York y Universidad Médica de “Upstate” (SUNY UPSTATE) y el MSP del Ecuador. El equipo de investigadores usó datos históricos de vigilancia de mosquitos recolectados por el MSP para predecir lugares donde Aedes aegypti podría estar presente. Áreas que no se ha inspeccionado de una manera activa y áreas donde podría estar presente en el futuro bajo condiciones de cambio climático. Modelos de “nicho ecológico” fueron creados usando información sobre lugares con la presencia actual del moquito y con variables básicos del ambiente. Los modelos fueron desarrollados usando condiciones climatológicas actuales y futuras, hasta el año 2050.

Este estudio muestra que lugares con elevaciones intermedias a lo largo de Los Andes pueden convertirse en zonas mas asequibles para la presencia de Aedes aegypti en el año 2050. Este descubrimiento sugiere que la población que actualmente viven en estas zonas de transición puede correr el riesgo, en el futuro, de ser expuesto a enfermedades transmitidas por mosquitos, como resultado de cambio climático. Los autores reportan que aumentará la población con riesgo de exposición por más de 12,000 personas bajo los escenarios extremos de cambio climático. Al mismo tiempo, los investigadores identificaron áreas que pueden ser menos propicias para los mosquitos, como la cuenca de la Amazonia.

Actualmente, la mayor parte de las personas que viven en Los Andes están protegidos por las enfermedades transmitidos por mosquitos debido a las altas elevaciones, lo que produce un ambiente frio y no apto para los moquitos. En situaciones extremas de cambio climático, los mosquitos pueden invadir nuevas lugares con elevación de 900 metros más alto que los lugares en actuales condiciones climatológicas. “Las personas que vivan en esta zona de expansión de enfermedades pueden ser más susceptibles a futuros brotes de enfermedades debido a varios factores, incluyendo falta de inmunidad debido a exposición previa al patógeno y falta de conocimiento y costumbres asociados con la prevención de mosquitos y costumbres de protección personal, como el uso de repelente,” indica Lippi. Estudios previos en colaboración con el MSP del Ecuador mostraron que el conocimiento y actitudes de las poblaciones locales están asociados con el riesgo de la presencia de Aedes aegypti en hogares en Machala. Se recomienda estudios en estos nuevas áreas de futuro riesgo.

Las enfermedades transmitidas por mosquitos son una amenaza para la salud pública en toda Latinoamérica, donde dengue causa aproximadamente 16 millones de infecciones anualmente. Estudios como éstos enfatizan la importancia de incorporar la ciencia de “Geografía de la salud” dentro de los estándares de la práctica de la educación pública, proveyendo información más precisa a las agencias de salud pública para mejorar el uso de escasos recursos para el de control de estas enfermedades y para desarrollar intervenciones de control vectorial y de educación pública en lugares específicos.

Media contact: Mike Ryan Simonovich

GAINESVILLE, FL – Amazonian deforestation continues to concern the world community, especially as the Initiative for the Integration of the Regional Infrastructure of South America (IIRSA) begins to displace indigenous peoples and traditional communities. While the narrative surrounding the loss of Amazonian ecosystems is often framed as the penetration of capitalist relations into a resource frontier, research carried out by UF’s Dr. Cynthia Simmons and Dr. Robert Walker brings new evidence to light. With a case study of the Brazil Nut Forest (BNF) in the Lower Amazon Basin, they expose how the Brazilian Armed Forces hastened the process of “land creation” in helping develop an agricultural economy, destroying the forest as they waged a dirty war against poverty-stricken peasants and Maoist insurgents. The BNF once formed an integral part of Amazonia’s extractive economy by providing Brazil Nuts to the world market. Rapid conversion, initially driven by fiscal incentives and later by covert militarized assaults, reduced forest cover in the area from 97% in 1973 to less than 14% in 2009. Unless something is done to mitigate the process of “land creation” at basin scale now accelerating under IIRSA, Amazonian forest loss will desiccate the region, killing the economy now replacing the trees.

Destruction of the BNF provides insight into the development of Amazonia’s agricultural economy. The irony is that this economy, founded on the basis of a massive “land creation” process and fortified by the disciplinary force of Brazil’s military dictatorship, is now vulnerable to continued land creation, the likely result of IIRSA. Brazil’s continued push for economic development, coupled with increasing demands for Amazonian commodities, exacerbates deforestation rates given the need that more land be brought under production. But there is a limit to deforestation beyond which rainfall recycling breaks down, and with it Amazonia’s moist environment. Amazonian agriculture could be destroyed by its very success. The fate of the Amazon is even more uncertain in light of Brazil’s newly elected populist President, Jair Bolsonaro, who advocates a return of military rule. Mr. Bolsonaro has also made clear his intention to abolish environmental regulations, protected areas, and indigenous reserves to clear all obstacles to economic progress, and IIRSA conforms well with his vision for Amazonia’s future.

Discipline and Develop: Destruction of the Brazil Nut Forest in the Lower Amazon Basin” is published in The Annals of the American Association of Geographers. Funding for the research was provided by the National Science Foundation (Geography and Regional Science), the Inter American Foundation, the Latin American and Caribbean Environmental Economics Program, the University of Florida Department of Geography, and the University of Florida Center for Latin American Studies.

For more information, contact Dr. Cynthia Simmons at cssimmons@ufl.edu and Dr. Robert Walker at roberttwalker@ufl.edu.