Freshwater ecosystems across the Amazon are largely comprised of small streams and headwaters of riparian zones. These areas are legally protected within private landholdings in Brazil, but recent changes in the environmental legislation have slackened protection requirements, with unpredictable consequences to the integrity and functioning of these freshwater environments. Local drivers of riparian forest loss and degradation should be understood by considering context-dependent land management practices and pressures within a region. Here, we examine the spatial determinants of the total amount and spectral quality of both headwater and overall riparian forests within private landholdings within a highly fragmented region of southern Amazonia. We built generalized linear models to assess how the amount and spectral quality of headwater and riparian forests respond to landholding size and distance to roads and an urban center, and document landholder compliance rates according to both the current and previous Brazilian environmental legislation. Although forest loss and degradation are typically associated, forest degradation responded independently to the same drivers. Headwater forests were generally more degraded than riparian forests, and smallholders complied less often with legal requirements than largeholders. Proximity to roads and the nearest town had a detrimental effect on both headwater and riparian forest amount and quality, and distance to the nearest town affected all variables, except for headwater forest quality. Compliance with environmental legislation is the first step in protecting riparian and headwater forests, but alternative landscape management strategies must be explored, particularly focusing on smallholdings, which are most vulnerable to deforestation and forest degradation.
- Environmental legislation
- Private landholdings