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Located deep within the Brazilian Amazon rainforest, the Thomas Lovejoy Amazon Biodiversity Center's Biological Dynamics of Forest Fragmentation Project (BDFFP) supports scientific research on the effects of deforestation on ecosystem biodiversity.

Founded in 1979 by renown conservation biologist Dr. Thomas Lovejoy, the BDFFP is "the world's largest and longest-running study of habitat fragmentation," and is considered the most productive conservation research project in the world.  The project has trained hundreds of scientists, who have in turn published more than seven hundred articles in scientific journals.  It has spawned nearly two dozen studies of isolated habitats in other parts of the world. And the project has inspired dozens of the world’s decision makers to preserve robust, biodiverse ecosystems both in the Amazon and forests worldwide.

The Thomas Lovejoy Amazon Biodiversity Center is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization (EIN 83-0572780) that works in cooperation with Brazil's National Institute for Amazon Research (Instituto Nacional de Pesquisas da Amazônia; INPA)

Project History
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The Biological Dynamics of Forest Fragments Project has had many names.  It was originally called the Minimum Critical Size of Ecosystems Project in 1979 by Dr. Lovejoy to describe the original intent of the project to understand whether smaller or larger forest fragments preserved biological diversity.  For most of its life, it has been known as the Biological Dynamics of Forest Fragmentation Project (BDFFP) or the Portuguese equivalent, Projeto Dinâmica Biológica de Fragmentos Florestais (PDBFF).  Sometimes it is simply referred to as the Amazon Forest Fragments Project.  Guests of Dr. Lovejoy's to the project's research reserve often know it as Camp 41, so named for the camp where they stay on visits at the 41st kilometer marker on the reserve's road. 


The Amazon Rainforest is the largest and most biodiverse rainforest in the world.

Human development is putting increasing pressure on the ecosystems of the Amazon Rainforest.  As human populations grow and spread out, large sections of pristine rainforest are being cut into smaller pieces by roads, cities, and farms.  In recent decades, hundreds of thousands of acres were cleared for agriculture, particularly soybean production and livestock pasture.

The health and well being of the Amazon Rainforest is critical not only for Brazilians, but for all of humankind.  Sometimes referred to as "the lungs of the planet," Amazon ecosystems hold and sequester one-tenth of the world's terrestrial carbon, helping to maintain a stable climate. These ecosystems are home to thousands of tree, plant and animal species, some of which are valued as medicine and other products

Given increased development as well as the need to preserve the remaining rainforest we have, it is becoming increasingly important to rainforests to maintain their optimum health and biodiversity.  

With this in mind, Dr. Thomas Lovejoy created the BDFFP. Strategically located within a large hotspot for deforestation, the BDFFP study area encompasses about 620 square miles and includes a series of forest fragments ranging from 1 to 100 hectares in area, control sites in nearby intact forest, and intervening matrix study areas dominated by cattle pastures and re-growth forests of varying age and species composition. The study area includes 23 small, federally protected Areas of Ecological Interest (Áreas de Relevante Interesse Ecológico, or ARIE, a classification of land in Brazil set aside for conservation),

To date, the BDFFP has learned a great deal about the effects of deforestation on biodiversity.  In particular, the project is gaining a better understanding of the intricate changes in ecosystems at the newly created edges of forest, which experience big changes in light penetration, ground cover, and human interaction.

Time Lapse Video of Deforestation in Southern Brazil

Courtesy: NASA, USGS


The Biological Dynamics of Forest Fragments Project was born out of the SLOSS (single large or several small reserves of equal area) debate in the mid - 1970s (Laurance et al. 2004) about the application of the theory of island biogeography to conservation planning. The debate determined that the species richness and the rate of growth increase as the area of a reserve increases. It also determined that the shape of a reserve is very important to the species diversity. Reserves with a large surface area to volume ratio tend to be affected more by edge effects than reserves with a small surface area to volume ratio. The distance between reserves and the habitat surrounding the reserves (the matrix) can affect species richness and diversity as well (Tjorve 2010).

Despite the seeming logic of these ideas, ecologists questioned the results of the SLOSS debate due to the lack of a critical body of evidence on the subject. Many ecologists began to conduct studies and experiments on fragmented ecosystems to fill this gap, including Dr. Thomas E. Lovejoy, who designed a large-scale experiment that studied the effects of different sizes of fragmentation to animals, plants, and ecological processes. Lovejoy’s objective throughout the experiment was to gain insight on the effects of habitat fragmentation on species in tropical rainforests. He called it the Minimum Critical Size of Ecosystems Project (the name was later changed to the Biological Dynamics of Forest Fragments Project, as it has been known for most of its life).

In 1979, the National Institute of Amazonian Research (INPA) approved Dr. Lovejoy’s experiment, and he asked Richard Bierregaard to oversee fieldwork on the project. The two ecologists started the project in rainforests on the outskirts of Manaus, Brazil. The BDFFP has become one of the most important studies of fragmentation in tropical forests because it is the only long-running study with data before fragments were created with the original data being from the continuous forest (Laurance et al. 2004).



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