Burning Biodiversity: Fuelwood Harvesting Causes Forest Degradation in Human-Dominated Tropical Landscapes

Burning Biodiversity: Fuelwood Harvesting Causes Forest Degradation in Human-Dominated Tropical Landscapes


This study looks at the relationship between forest fuelwood harvesting and poverty in Brazil’s Atlantic Forest region, attempting to approximate annual impact. The study took place in seven municipalities in the northern portion of the Atlantic Forest region where there are high rates of endemic species. 11% of the original forest still remains, consisting mostly of forest fragments less than 50 hectares surrounded by sugarcane fields. The region is also home to cultural diversity and high rates of poverty.

research goals & methods

Residents in seven different localities throughout the Atlantic Forest region were surveyed about fuelwood consumption habits as well as per capita income. Biomass of daily fuelwood was also measured. Statistical analysis of this data was performed to obtain regional fuelwood consumption estimates.

conclusions & takeaways

The study found that 76% of households use fuelwood regularly, consuming an average of 686 kg/person/year of tree biomass, with this number increasing to 961 kg/person/year for poorer residents. Using these figures, the study estimated the demand from 210 rural municipalities could reach 303,793 tons, which is the equivalent to 1.2 to 2.1 thousand hectares of tropical forest. The study concluded hat fuelwood harvesting is a significant source of chronic forest degradation, particularly in the highly fragmented and densely populated Atlantic Forest landscape.


Specht MJoana, Pinto SRodrigo Ri, Albuquerque UPaulino, Tabarelli M, Melo FPL. Burning biodiversity: Fuelwood harvesting causes forest degradation in human-dominated tropical landscapes. Global Ecology and Conservation. 2015;3:200–209. doi:10.1016/j.gecco.2014.12.002.


  • Departamento de Botânica, Universidade Federal de Pernambuco (UFPE), Recife, PE, Brazil
  • Centro de Pesquisas Ambientais do Nordeste, Recife, PE, Brazil
  • Universidade Federal Rural de Pernambuco, Departamento de Biologia, Laboratório de Etnobiologia Aplicada e Teórica (LEA), Recife, PE, Brazil