Bolivia’s Boggling Biodiversity

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Keara valley Credit Omar Torrico/Wildlife Conservation Society

Whether or not the title is a rhetorical question does not matter; what does matter is our thanks to James Gorman, a science writer at large for The New York Times for this story about the work of Rob Wallace and colleagues at the Wildlife Conservation Society:

Is This the World’s Most Diverse National Park?

Bringing the numbers to life for the jewel in Bolivia’s conservation crown.

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Royal flycatcher Credit Rob Wallace/Wildlife Conservation Society

The credit to Mr. Wallace and colleagues for these photos alone would be worthy of a post, but the creation of such a park in Bolivia is no small wonder:

Madidi National Park in Bolivia goes from lowland to mountaintop, from 600 feet to almost 20,000 feet above sea level. It covers more than 7,000 square miles of wildly different habitats. It is, says Rob Wallace, an ecologist with the Wildlife Conservation Society in Bolivia, “a place where the Amazon meets the Andes.”

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Rob Wallace/Wildlife Conservation Society

“Madidi was put together on the hypothesis that it could be the world’s most biologically diverse protected area,” Dr. Wallace said. And, he said, it is — for mammals, birds, plants and butterflies.

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Amazon kingfisher Rob Wallace/Wildlife Conservation Society

In June 2015, a team of scientists, almost all Bolivian, set out on a three-year survey of life in the park, concentrating on 15 sites. The on-the-ground search, supported by the conservation society, was complemented by a less adventurous investigation — of the scientific literature. The goal of the project, Identidad Madidi, was to identify as many species that lived in the park as they could.

The results are in: The total number of species documented for Madidi is now 8,524. The team in the field found about 4,000 species, 1,362 of them never before recorded in Madidi. They estimate, based on other information of how species are distributed, that there are probably 11,395 living in the park, even though some of those have not yet been spotted. That includes all creatures with backbones, all plants and butterflies. Tackling all the insect species was a step too far.

Among the finds were 124 species and eight subspecies believed to be new to science, like the spiny rat, whiptail lizard and orchid below.

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Mileniusz Spanowicz/Wildlife Conservation Society

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Mileniusz Spanowicz/Wildlife Conservation Society

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Cyrtochilum Credit Freddy Zenteno and David Villalba/Wildlife Conservation Society

They documented 13 new species of butterfly. The Corinna Daggerwing was known before…

Read the whole article here.

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