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Scientists identify Ecuador's Yasuni National Park as one of most biodiverse places on earth

AUSTIN, TexasA team of scientists has documented that Yasun National Park, in the core of the Ecuadorian Amazon, shatters world records for a wide array of plant and animal groups, from amphibians to trees to insects.

The authors also conclude that proposed oil development projects represent the greatest threat to Yasun and its biodiversity.

"This study demonstrates that Yasun is the most diverse area in South America, and possibly the world," said Dr. Peter English of The University of Texas at Austin. "Amphibians, birds, mammals and vascular plants all reach maximum diversity in Yasun."

The study is published in the open-access scientific journal PLoS ONE.

"We have so far documented 596 bird species occurring in Yasuni," said English, a bird specialist. "That's incredible diversity to find in just one corner of the Amazon rainforest and rivals any other spot on the planet."

Other specialists joined in to give the first complete picture of the extraordinary diversity found in Yasun National Park.

"The 150 amphibian species documented to date throughout Yasun is a world record for an area of this size," said Shawn McCracken of Texas State University. "There are more species of frogs and toads within Yasun than are native to the United States and Canada combined."

The scientists also confirmed that an average upland hectare (2.47 acres) in Yasun contains more tree species, 655, than are native to the continental United States and Canada combined. The number of tree species rises to more than 1,100 for an area of 25 hectares.

"In just one hectare in Yasun, 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 Yasun 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 Yasun 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. "Yasun is probably unmatched by any other park in the world for total numbers of species."

The extraordinary diversity of Yasun is best exemplified at the 1,600-acre Tiputini Biodiversity Station on the northern edge of the park.

"The Tiputini Biodiversity Station is home to 247 amphibian and reptile species, 550 bird species and around 200 mammal species," said Dr. Kelly Swing of the University of San Francisco in Quito, Ecuador.

"What makes Yasun 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 Yasun 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. One key recommendation is a moratorium on new oil exploration or development projects within the park, particularly in the remote and relatively intactbut oil richnortheast corner that contains oil blocks 31 and ITT.

The Ecuadorian government is promoting a revolutionary plan, known as the Yasun-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 the proposal.

"The Yasun-ITT Initiative urgently needs international funders to step up and make it a success, or else more drilling in the core of Yasun may become a tragic reality," concluded Finer.


Contact: Peter English
University of Texas at Austin

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Scientists identify Ecuador's Yasuni National Park as one of most biodiverse places on earth
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