Friday Evening Lecture Series (THURSDAY EVENING) – Christopher Neill, MBL, “Deforestation, Agriculture and the Future of the Amazon”

Date(s) - 07/03/2014
8:00 pm - 9:00 pm
Lillie Auditorium

Friday Evening Lecture Series“Deforestation, Agriculture and the Future of the Amazon”
Christopher Neill, Marine Biological Laboratory
July 3, 2014, 8:00 PM, Lillie Auditorium (NOTE: Thursday Lecture)

Introduction by Dr. Jerry Melillo, Distinguished Scientist, MBL


Chris NeillLecture Abstract:
The Amazon Basin of Brazil contains the earth’s largest tropical rainforest. Since the 1990s, intensive cropping systems, especially for soybeans, have replaced cattle ranching as the major use of deforested lands, creating the world’s largest agricultural frontier. China is now the major buyer of exported Amazon soybeans. The expansion of Amazon soybean produces more food per unit land area but also alters the hydrologic cycle, greenhouse gas emissions, nutrient runoff and stream habitats. I study how this new cropping system influences the regional to global environment and how environmental responses in this important tropical region differ from those found in the much better-studied temperate zone. With colleagues from Brazil, Woods Hole and Germany, I work on a large (3/4 size of Cape Cod) commercial soybean farm in Mato Grosso State where we study watersheds in soybean cropland and remaining forest. This allows us to evaluate how cropland influences water runoff and evapotranspiration, nutrient movement to streams, and stream habitats. We use this information to predict how further cropland expansion will influence regional rainfall and river flows, and how the environmental impacts of more intensive cropping could be reduced by preserving streamside forest buffers and by better fertilizer management.


Dr. Christopher Neill is an ecologist, Senior Scientist and Director of the Ecosystems Center of the Marine Biological Laboratory. Dr. Neill is also the Rosenthal Director of the Brown-MBL Partnership and the Brown-MBL Graduate Program in Biological and Environmental Sciences. Dr. Neill investigates the ecological consequences of deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon, including how clearing alters runoff and the hydrologic cycle, soil fertility, emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases from soils to the atmosphere and the water chemistry and ecological health of streams. His current research focuses on trying to understand how the rapid intensification of cropland agriculture in regions of former Amazon forest will influence soils, stream waters and the global climate, and how agricultural practices could be modified to reduce environmental impacts through fertilizer management and protection of forest buffers along streams.

Dr. Neill was a Fulbright Scholar at the University of São Paulo in 2007 and received a Harvard University Bullard Fellowship in 2010. His NSF-sponsored research in Brazil includes collaborators at MBL, the University of São Paulo, the Woods Hole Research Center, Brown University and the Institute for Amazon Environmental Research. He also leads a current NSF Partnership in International Research and Education project that forges a collaboration among Brown, MBL and the Earth Institute at Columbia University to examine how the intensification of agriculture in East Africa influences human well-being, land use and the environment.

Dr. Neill has a long-standing interest in communicating ecological science to a general audience. He currently directs the Environmental section of MBL’s Science Journalism Program, which immerses journalists in the science of global environmental change at sites within the US Long Term Ecological Research network, including at MBL’s Long-Term Ecological Research Projects at Toolik Field Station in northern Alaska, Palmer Antarctica, Plum Island in Massachusetts and at the Harvard Forest, Hubbard Brook and the Baltimore Ecosystem Study He wrote a monthly column about Cape Cod environmental science and policy in the Falmouth Enterprise newspaper for 16 years. Dr. Neill also served as President of Falmouth Associations Concerned with Estuaries and Salt Ponds and on the board of the Association to Preserve Cape Cod. He currently serves on the board of the Buzzards Bay Coalition, oversees the Coalition’s long-term nutrient monitoring of 30 Buzzards Bay estuaries, and directs their Science Advisory Committee.

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