MAAP #75: Pope to Visit Madre De Dios, Region With Deforestation Crisis (Peru)

Table 75. Data: PNBC/MINAM (2001-16), UMD/GLAD (2017, until the first week of November).
Table 75. Data: PNBC/MINAM (2001-16), UMD/GLAD (2017, until the first week of November).

Pope Francis, as part of his upcoming visit to Peru in January, will visit the Madre de Dios region in the southern Peruvian Amazon. He is expected to address issues facing the Amazon and its indigenous communities, including deforestation.

In this article, we show that Madre de Dios is experiencing a deforestation crisis, due mainly to impacts from gold mining, small-scale agriculture, and roads.

Table 76 shows the increasing trend of annual forest loss since 2001, peaking in 2017. In fact, in 2017 forest loss exceeded 20,000 hectares (49,000 acres) for the first time, doubling the loss in 2008.*

The table also shows the ranking of Madre de Dios in respect to the annual forest loss compared to all other regions of the Peruvian Amazon (see red line). For the first time, Madre de Dios is the region with the second highest forest loss total, behind only Ucayali.

Next, we present a map of deforestation hotspots in Madre de Dios in 2017, along with satellite images of a number of the most intense hotspots.

*The total estimated forest loss in 2017 was based on early warnings alerts generated by the University of Maryland (GLAD alerts) and the Peruvian Environment Ministry (PNCB/MINAM). The estimate is 20,826 hectares as of the first week of November.

What the flock?! – A quick understanding of Amazonian mixed-bird species flocks

Long-winged antwren

If you spend enough time at Los Amigos, there is almost a 100% guarantee that you will learn something new about birds every day. It’s not only the high diversity that can enchant your walks at the break or end of day inside the forest, but also their behavior, different calls, colors, and attractive displays. A few weeks ago, I had the great opportunity to go birding with a passionate local bird guide and after a very active morning of spotting numerous bird species (e.g. the band-tailed manakin, gilded barbet, golden-collared toucanet, cream-colored woodpecker, and more) along floodplain forest we reached a spot close to the oxbow lake “Cocha Lobo.” There was fluttering movement all around the understory, and a variety of songs and calls of at least 20 different bird species. Just looking at an area of only 10x10m, it was clear that there were several birds perching, foraging, and flying from one branch to the other, while also carefully sighting the proximity of any possible predator. This was definitely a mixed-species bird flock (hereafter called “flock”).

Flocks are two or more bird species that move together and forage for a period longer than 5 minutes. These associations are not only common in the Neotropics but all around the world. Despite the commonality of encountering a flock, it is still easy to wonder what exactly makes these species get together? Are there any advantages of these periodic formations? There are some possible hypotheses, but they all are based around an increased feeding efficiency and protection from predators. Most of these flock species are insectivorous, and although flock’s species composition might not always be the same, there are few species that are the core of the flock, known as “nuclear” or “leader” species. Whereas, “transient” or the “follower” species are those who join occasionally to receive some benefits from being part of the flock.

Sean Williams, PhD., studied the behavior and ecology of mixed-species bird flocks at Los Amigos. Here, at least a pair of Dusky-throated antshrikes (Thamnomanes ardesiacus) and a pair Long-winged antwrens (Myrmotherula longipennis) are the “leader” species, whereas the most common “followers” are the wedge-billed woodcreeper, the white-flanked antwren, the white-eyed antwren, and the red-crowned ant-tanager. While trying to study if followers were more attracted to antshrikes, antwrens or both, Sean found that more follower species were attracted to antshrike than antwren calls, supporting the idea that antshrikes provide greater defense from predators due to their farsighted vision and loud alarm calls that can rapidly prevent other flock members from the proximity of majestic raptors, soaring high in the sky. But if antwrens are also leader species, they should provide some sort of benefit to the flock. Indeed, they might not be able to give alarm calls but their nearsighted vision allows them to quickly detect gleanable insects in between leaves and branches. Given the inextricable link between antwrens and antshrikes in flocks, antwrens could have become a critical indicator of flock presence. Essentially meaning that where there are antwrens there must be antshrikes!

Watching a flock is quite a spectacle! The next time you encounter a loud, numerous group of birds flying from perch to perch in the forest understory, grab your binoculars and enjoy the complexity and splendor of these flying living beings, but be sure to acknowledge how many passionate human beings are working to understand them in their natural environment.

Plain xenops


  Tawny-crowned greenlet


Dusky-throated antshrike


MAAP Interactive: Deforestation Drivers In The Andean Amazon

Since its launch in April 2015, MAAP has published over 70 reports related to deforestation (and natural forest loss) in the Andean Amazon. We have thus far focused on Peru, with several reports in Colombia and Brazil as well.

These reports are meant to be case studies of the most important and urgent deforestation events. We often use forest loss alerts (known as GLAD) to guide us, and satellite imagery (from Planet and DigitalGlobe) to identify the deforestation driver.

Here we present an interactive map highlighting the drivers identified in all published MAAP reports. These drivers include gold mining, agriculture (e.g. oil palm and cacao), cattle pasture, roads, and dams (see icon legend below map). We also include natural causes such as floods and blowdowns (fire included under agriculture since most human caused). Furthermore, we highlight deforestation events within protected areas. Note that you can filter by driver by checking boxes of interest.

We hope the result is one of the most detailed and up-todate resources on patterns and drivers of deforestation in the Andean Amazon. Over the coming year we will continue to focus on Peru and Colombia, and begin to include Ecuador and Bolivia as well.

To view the interactive map, please visit:

MAAP Interactive: Deforestation Drivers in the Andean Amazon

For more information on patterns and drivers of deforestation in the Peruvian Amazon, see our latest News and Resources