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New dams in the Amazon could threaten ecosystems.

Elizabeth Anderson, assistant professor in the Department of Earth and Environment, describes the challenges of new dams changing the flow of rivers in the basin.

The primary source of food for 20 million people is being threatened by the rapid development of hundreds of dams across the Amazon basin.

Anderson worked with an international team of researchers to determine the impact of the 142 dams either in place or under construction and the 160 more that are planned. The team collaborated with local governments and conservation organizations to compile international data on the dams – assembling the most comprehensive database of dams in the Andean Amazon region.

The result is a system-wide look at the overall impact, which presents a very different picture than when assembling impact of individual dams of individual studies.

Anderson and her team hope that by showing regional trends and that widespread river alteration is happening, their research will lead to more coordinated development, highlighting the importance of keeping some rivers free-flowing in the Amazon.

The Amazon is important to the whole system. The majority of the sediments and nutrients and water that feeds the low-land Amazon comes from the Andes. Several thousand of species of fish also live in the basin, many of which migrate from the low-lands to the Andes for spawning.

Professor Anderson says, “We have a big opportunity to preserve Amazon rivers, which should be the focus of new initiatives for conservation in the Amazon.”

Read and listen to the Academic Minute for the full story.