Oil exploration would endanger the most biodiverse region in the western hemisphere, say scientists

October 12, 2011
Crowned like a king, the spike-headed katydid, Panacanthus cuspidatus, is one of projected 100,000 insect species in Yasuni. Credit: Photo: Bejat McCracken.

An international team of scientists that includes two University of Texas at Austin researchers has found that Ecuador's Yasuní National Park, which sits on top of massive reserves of oil, is in the single most biodiverse region in the Western Hemisphere.

The announcement is part of a final push for the Yasuní-ITT Initiative at the United Nations General Assembly. The initiative proposes that receive compensation for half of the revenues the nation would lose by protecting the estimated 846 million barrels of oil that lie beneath the forest.

President Rafael Correa has said he will have to withdraw the offer and allow oil exploitation to advance in the park if Ecuador does not receive at least $100 million by December. Ecuador would ultimately like to be compensated for half of the estimated $7.2 billion the country could reap from leasing oil rights over the next 13 years.

The money would go to the Yasuní Ishpingo Tambococha Tiputini (ITT) Trust Fund, which would be overseen by a UN commission and would fund conservation, reforestation, renewable energy, research and social programs for the region's people.

The scientific team has produced a map that highlights the unique biodiversity of Yasuní National Park, which is the only place on the planet that is known to contain "peak diversity" of plants, birds, mammals and amphibians.

This is the Yasuni rainforest canopy. Credit: Photo: Bejat McCracken.

"There are more bird species in a few hundred acres of Yasuní than one could expect to find in the entire state of Texas," said Peter English, a lecturer in the School of Biological Sciences. "The ecology of many of these species is still a mystery. The world needs to act decisively with the fate of the park being decided this December."

English and Anthony Di Fiore, associate professor of anthropology, cataloged the primate and bird diversity of the region.

Other members of the 13-scientist team identified more species of frogs, toads and trees in an average hectare of the forest than are native to the United States and Canada combined. The scientist responsible for calculating insect biodiversity projected that a single hectare of Yasuní contains 100,000 insect species, which is the highest estimated diversity per unit area in the world for any plant or animal group.

"There is really no other place in the Western Hemisphere where such tremendous numbers of vertebrate and plant species coexist," said Di Fiore.

So far about half of the $100 million has been pledged, including $50 million from the Italian government, smaller amounts from the governments of Turkey, Australia, Colombia and Peru, and many private donations, including one year's salary from a vice president of the Royal Bank of Canada.

English just returned from Ecuador, where he represented the Yasuní-ITT Initiative at a conference on protecting biodiversity in the Ecuadorian Amazon.

Explore further: Oil and gas projects in western Amazon threaten biodiversity and indigenous peoples

Related Stories

Jungle yeast

May 21, 2009

A new species of yeast has been discovered deep in the Amazon jungle. In a paper published on-line in FEMS Yeast Research, IFR scientists and colleagues from Pontificia Universidad Católica del Ecuador describe the ...

Natural reforestation in southern Pyrenees favors orchid

December 1, 2010

A 13-year study has been key to understanding how and why an orchid species (Cypripedium calceolus), which is endangered in some countries in Europe, is surviving and recovering in the Pyrenees. The results suggest that the ...

Recommended for you

New gene map reveals cancer's Achilles heel

November 25, 2015

Scientists have mapped out the genes that keep our cells alive, creating a long-awaited foothold for understanding how our genome works and which genes are crucial in disease like cancer.

Study suggests fish can experience 'emotional fever'

November 25, 2015

(Phys.org)—A small team of researchers from the U.K. and Spain has found via lab study that at least one type of fish is capable of experiencing 'emotional fever,' which suggests it may qualify as a sentient being. In their ...

How cells in the developing ear 'practice' hearing

November 25, 2015

Before the fluid of the middle ear drains and sound waves penetrate for the first time, the inner ear cells of newborn rodents practice for their big debut. Researchers at Johns Hopkins report they have figured out the molecular ...

How cells 'climb' to build fruit fly tracheas

November 25, 2015

Fruit fly windpipes are much more like human blood vessels than the entryway to human lungs. To create that intricate network, fly embryonic cells must sprout "fingers" and crawl into place. Now researchers at The Johns Hopkins ...

1 comment

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

not rated yet Oct 13, 2011
So, a piddling amount of oil, enough to supply the world for only 10 days, is now a "massive" reserve? One worth destroying irreplaceable biodiversity for? What a joke. The fate of this Park should not even be on the table. This is one of those days when I'm ashamed to be a human being.

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.