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(Boston) – A team of scientists has documented that Yasuní National Park, located in the core of the Ecuadorian Amazon, shatters world records for a wide array of plant and animal groups, from trees, to amphibians, bats and insects. The authors also conclude, however, that proposed oil development projects represent the greatest threat to Yasuní
and its biodiversity.
According to Dr. Thomas H. Kunz, Director of the Center for Ecology and Conservation Biology at Boston University, this study, published online today in PLoS ONE demonstrates that Yasuní is the most diverse area in South America, and possibly the world.
“Yasuní is at the center of a small zone where South America’s amphibians, birds, mammals and vascular plants all reach maximum diversity,” said study co-author Dr. Clinton Jenkins of the University of Maryland. “We dubbed this area the quadruple richness center.”
The extraordinary diversity of Yasuní is best exemplified at the 6.5 km2 (1,600 acre) Tiputini Biodiversity Station, located on the northern edge of the park.
“The Tiputini Biodiversity Station (TBS), a field station developed in 1996 as a collaboration between the Universidad San Francisco de Quito and Boston University, is home to 247 amphibian and reptile species, 550 bird species and around 200 mammal species, including 10 primates and an assemblage of large predators,” said Dr. Kelly Swing, Director of TBS.
“TBS is presently the most species rich area in the world for bats,” added Kunz. “We estimate that over 100 different bat species inhabit this small area.”
“The 150 amphibian species documented to date throughout Yasuní is a world record for an area of this size,” said graduate student Shawn McCracken of Texas State University. “There are more species of frogs and toads within Yasuní than are native to the United States and Canada combined.”
The scientists also confirmed that an average upland hectare (2.47 acres) in Yasuní contains more tree species (655) than are native to the continental United States and Canada combined. The number of tree species rises to over 1,100 for an area of 25 hectares.
“In just one hectare in Yasuní, there are more tree, shrub and liana (woody vines) species than anywhere else in the world,” said Gorky Villa, an Ecuadorian botanist working with both the Smithsonian Institution and Finding Species.
Perhaps the most impressive statistic of all is that a single hectare of forest in Yasuní is projected to contain 100,000 insect species. According to eminent entomologist Dr. Terry Erwin, that is the highest estimated diversity per unit area in the world for any plant or animal group.
“One of our most important findings about Yasuní is that small areas of forest harbor extremely high numbers of animals and plants,” said lead author Margot Bass, President
of Finding Species, a non-profit with offices in Maryland and Quito, Ecuador. “Yasuní is probably unmatched by any other park in the world for total numbers of species.”
Yasuní also contains 28 endangered vertebrates on the IUCN Red List, including threatened large primates (White-bellied Spider Monkey and Poeppig’s Woolly Monkey), aquatic mammals (Giant Otter and Amazonian Manatee) and hundreds of regional
endemic species found nowhere else on Earth.
“What makes Yasuní especially important is its potential to sustain this extraordinary biodiversity in the long term,” said Dr. Matt Finer of Save America’s Forests. “For example, the Yasuní region is predicted to maintain wet, rainforest conditions as climate change-induced drought intensifies in the eastern Amazon.”
The paper concludes with a number of science-based policy recommendations, including a moratorium on new oil exploration or development projects within the park, particularly in the remote and relatively intact—but oil rich—northeast corner that contains oil blocks 31 and ITT.
The Ecuadorian government is currently promoting a revolutionary plan, known as the Yasuní-ITT Initiative, which would leave the park’s largest oil reserves in the ITT block permanently under the ground. A lack of funding commitments, however, now threatens this proposal.
“The Yasuní-ITT Initiative urgently needs international funders to step up and make it a success, or else more drilling in the core of Yasuní may become a tragic reality,” concluded Finer.
The study is available here.
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