MapBiomas Peru: in 37 years Peru lost 49.9 % of its glaciers and 3.9% of its natural vegetation

The data generated by MapBiomas Peru warns about the accelerated dynamics of the changes that have occurred between 1985 and 2021 in the natural cover of the Peruvian territory, which have generated a loss of 3.9% of its natural vegetation. This has affected the country's ecosystems, their biodiversity, ecosystem services, functionality and connectivity. With a 49.9% loss of extension in 37 years, the alarming retreat of glaciers due to climate change and black carbon caused by burning in the Amazon stands out. These glaciers feed the springs of the country's large rivers, supplying water to millions of people.

Another heavily impacted ecosystem is the seasonally dry forests in the north of the country. "This cover has changed drastically and what worries us most is that we are losing it irreversibly," says Renzo Piana, executive director of the IBC. "The losses have been enormous, practically irreversible and with no prospect of this trend being reversed. The data sets alarm bells ringing and gives a sense of urgency to the need for decisive and forceful action for these natural covers in Peru," says Piana, while emphasizing the impact on the food security of local populations.

MapBiomas Peru is a new initiative led by the Instituto del Bien Común - IBC in coordination with the MapBiomas Network and RAISG (Red Amazónica de Información Socioambiental Georreferenciada). The results of this study will be presented in Lima on March 3 during the event entitled Peru: 37 years of changes in a megadiverse country Collection 1.0 of Annual Land Cover and Land Use Maps of Peru (1985 - 2021), with the participation of national and international experts. The event will take place at the Costa del Sol Hotel in this city and will be broadcast live on IBC's YouTube channel.

Piana emphasizes the pioneering and innovative nature of MapBiomas Peru: "This initiative provides invaluable information to understand the dynamics of the use of natural resources in the country as it contains very complete information and for a very broad period of analysis covering the entire Peruvian territory".

For Sandra Ríos, IBC researcher and coordinator of MapBiomas Peru, "This first collection fills a great void of information in regions outside the Amazonian area of the country. New categories of analysis have been added to those that IBC had been managing for the mapping of natural cover in the Amazon basin. The initiative analyzes all types of forest formations, scrublands, mangroves, glaciers, agricultural areas, urban areas and mining," explains Ríos.

Tasso Azevedo, General Coordinator of MapBiomas Network, highlights the strategic value of this mapping and analysis tool: "MapBiomas Peru contributes to monitoring with a broad vision, helping to build and propose more precise conservation strategies according to the types of natural cover and anthropic activities that exist in each biome". Azevedo explains that this is the first, after Brazil, of a series of initiatives that will contribute to mapping land use change throughout South America: "We aim to replicate this year the enormous work done in Peru in the other Amazon countries, with our local partners, in order to map South America and understand the dynamics of change throughout this period of time for the different biomes, countries and regions".

Peru: 37 years of change in a megadiverse country

According to the study, in 1985, 59 % of Peruvian territory was covered by forests, 3.1 % of which corresponded to dry forests in the north of the country and the inter-Andean zones, and 55.9 % to Amazonian forests. In the same year, 7.2 % (about 9.3 million hectares) was covered by anthropogenic areas such as pastures, crops, mining or urban areas. The analysis of natural cover change reveals that anthropogenic areas reached 10.4% of the territory in 2021 (about 13.5 million hectares). However, the magnitude of human intervention varies according to the biomes studied, being 7.8% for the Amazon biome, 11.4% for the Coastal Desert, 14% for the Equatorial Dry Forest and 15.2% for the Andes biome. The departments with the lowest proportion of anthropogenic area within their territory in 2021 are Moquegua and Tacna (1.9% and 2.7%, respectively).

Also noteworthy is the expansion of mining and infrastructure during the study period. The former went from 3,000 hectares to more than 119,000 hectares (3763 % growth), while the latter went from 99,000 hectares to nearly 257,000 hectares (160 % growth).

Accelerated forest transformation

There has been an accelerated transformation of the dry forests of northern Peru. This is a coverage that has been little studied and has many information gaps. According to IBC researcher Kathrin Hopfgartner, "The information generated by MapBiomas Peru shows through technical-scientific data the importance of biomes such as the Equatorial Dry Forest, which contribute significantly to local and national biodiversity. At the same time, the data warn us about the changes in natural cover caused by various anthropogenic activities carried out between 1985 and 2021". For the researcher, these activities jeopardize the natural balance of ecosystems by making them more vulnerable to climate change, in addition to threatening the food security of the population.

In terms of forest cover analysis, Andrea Bravo, also an IBC researcher, highlights that the Amazon was the biome that presented the greatest changes in the last 37 years, with a total loss of 2.6 million hectares (3.6%) of its natural vegetation. And although the Equatorial Dry Forest biome has a much smaller extension (4.6 million hectares), in relative terms it presents the greatest loss (8.4%) of its natural vegetation.