New Amazon species discovered every 3 days for a decade

McClatchy-Tribune News Service | Boulder Weekly

— Scientists searching the Amazon have discovered new species —
creatures such as a baldheaded parrot, a blue-fanged tarantula and a
bright red catfish — at the rate of about one every three days for the
past 10 years, the World Wildlife Fund reported Monday.

“What we say now, and we’re very conservative, is one in 10 known species is found in the Amazon,” said Meg Symington,
a tropical ecologist and the fund’s managing director for the Amazon.
“We think when all the counting is done, the Amazon could account for
up to 30 percent of the species on Earth.”

The great diversity of life in the Amazon includes
species and habitats that have direct benefits for people worldwide,
Symington said. Compounds found on the skin of the poison dart frog,
for example, turned out to be important for anesthesia and other
medical products.

The Amazon rainforests also have an impact on the
regional and global climate. Some climate models show that the Amazon
influences rainfall in the U.S. Midwest.

The World Wildlife Fund reviewed scientific literature and
counted more than 1,200 new species — including 637 plants, 257 fish,
216 amphibians, 55 reptiles, 16 birds and 39 mammals — that were
discovered in the Amazon from 1999 to 2009. The full count would be
much higher, because the report didn’t include the vast majority of
newly found invertebrates.

The report was released as the 193 member countries of the U.N. Convention on Biological Diversity meet in Japan on ways to protect the diversity of life on Earth.

The World Wildlife Fund reported that at least 17 percent of the Amazon rainforest has been destroyed in the last 50 years. The fund has a program in Brazil and the seven other countries of the Amazon Basin to protect the rainforest from agriculture, ranching and roads while promoting sustainable economic development.

Cattle ranching, for example, accounts for 80 percent of the Amazon’s deforestation, Symington said.

“If we can make sure ranching doesn’t expand and
those ranches that exist could be more productive instead, that would
be a huge gain,” she said.

Logging has reduced the habitat of the baldheaded parrot, one of the new finds. It lives in only a few places in Brazil and its population is declining.

Last week, the Alliance for Zero Extinction, a coalition of conservation organizations including the U.S. division of the World Wildlife Fund,
released a report that found that 920 of the world’s most endangered
wildlife species are restricted to 587 sites, and only half of them
have any degree of conservation protection.

The alliance said in a news release that protecting
the remaining sites “could help to avert an imminent global extinction


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