1. Brazil is one of the world’s major producers of food and biofuels. Agricultural expansion has driven rapid economic development but has also had major impacts on biodiversity and the conservation of ecosystem services in the country.
2. Here, we analyse recent advances in applied ecological research on the consequences of agricultural expansion for biodiversity in Brazil, identify knowledge gaps, and discuss how ecological science can help guide the development of more sustainable agricultural systems.
3. The majority of native vegetation in Brazilian biomes is found within private lands, emphasizing the importance of recent reforms to the Brazilian Forest Act legislation. Using the example of the Forest Act, we critically assess the extent to which ecological research has provided guidance for policy decisions to date. We identify important knowledge gaps regarding the ecological impacts of agricultural expansion in Brazil and the general disconnection between ecological science and environmental policy processes.
4. Synthesis and applications. Increased efforts are needed from both researchers and policy makers to engage from the earliest stage possible in the identification, assessment and communication of environmental issues and possible management solutions. Narrowing the gap between research and policy is essential if the academic community is to capitalize effectively on recent governmental investments in research and provide the necessary evidence basis for reconciling agricultural production and environmental conservation in Brazil.