There are so many Amazonian tree species, we won't discover the last one for 300 years
There are more different kinds of trees in the Amazon rainforest than anywhere else on earth, but the exact number has long been a mystery. In 2013, scientists estimated that the number of species was around 16,000—no one had ever counted them all up, though. In a new paper in Scientific Reports, the same scientists delved into museum collections from around the world to confirm just how many tree species have been recorded in the Amazon so far—and how many have yet to be discovered.
|Amazonian forest in the Putumayo basin of Loreto, Peru, was surveyed during a February 2016 rapid inventory|
by The Field Museum [Credit: Nigel Pitman, The Field Museum]
"Since 1900, between fifty and two hundred new trees have been discovered in the Amazon every year," adds Pitman. "Our analysis suggests that we won't be done discovering new tree species there for three more centuries."
The study relied upon the digitization of museum collections data—photographs and digital records of the specimens housed in museum collections that are shared worldwide through aggregator sites like IDigBio.
|The study relied on digitized botanical collections from museums, as shown here at The Field Museum |
[Credit: Kevin Havener, The Field Museum]
The scientists explain that the checklist could prove an invaluable resource for ecologists studying the Amazonian rainforest. "We're trying to give people tools so they're not just laboring in the dark," says ter Steege. "The checklist gives scientists a better sense of what's actually growing in the Amazon Basin, and that helps conservation efforts."
The project, notes Pitman, is a marriage of centuries-old collections with new technologies that made it possible to share and aggregate all of the collections data. "Botanists at The Field Museum have been collecting and describing Amazonian plant species for over a hundred years," says Pitman. "We have scientists here, like Robin Foster, who have worked on Amazonian botany for decades. This new list is in some ways a culmination of all that work."
Source: Field Museum [July 12, 2016]