Botanists race to understand and conserve the plant species of the Amazon
As a record number of fires continue to burn in the Amazon, the largest area of tropical rainforest in the world, concerned scientists at the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh (RBGE) face a race against time to quantify the vast number of plant species in the biodiversity hotspot and determine their distributions and to support urgent conservation plans and action.
RBGE’s Dr Tiina Särkinen and Brazilian colleague Dr Domingos Cardoso of the Universidade Federal de Bahia recently led an international effort to quantify the plant species in the Amazon. Their list includes 14,003 species, around 14 times as many plant species in Scotland. This number is increasing almost daily as new species are discovered. Just last week RBGE’s Dr Peter Moonlight described a new Amazonian species, Diastema fimbratiloba, in the African violet family, Gesneriaceae.
An unknown number of plant species and animals which share the forest are under threat as swathes of Amazon rainforest in Brazil are destroyed by thousands of fires. Maintaining a richly biodiverse planet is crucial to mitigating the effects of the climate emergency, and the Amazon rainforest stretching across nine countries, holds significant amounts of carbon. Threats from fire, drought and logging all release carbon into the atmosphere and they are encouraged by the removal of legal protection for indigenous forest reserves.
However, it is believed there are ways forward. For instance RBGE and University of Exeter scientist Professor Toby Pennington, funded by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (Global Challenges Research Fund), is working with local non-governmental organisation, Instituto Ouro Verde, “Institute of Green Gold’’, to develop small-scale farming systems based around native Amazon tree species in one of the most heavily deforested areas of Brazilian Amazonia. These systems of land use maintain tree cover and offer an alternative to large-scale soy or cattle farms, whilst providing the small-holder farmers with improved incomes.
Elsewhere around the world, RBGE – a member of the Ecological Restoration Alliance of Botanic Gardens – is working with local institutes from Peru, Chile and Brazil to Africa and the Middle East to build skills and capacity to restore degraded forests and improve their potential as carbon sinks, biodiversity reserves and providers of natural capital and ecosystem services.
From baseline biodiversity research, through practical support for stakeholders, to large-scale protection and restoration programmes, there are many ways to prevent biodiversity loss in Amazonia and the destruction of forests around the world. RBGE scientists and horticulturists are working with decision-makers and local people to implement them.
People are being asked to support RBGE’s work in the Amazon and elsewhere by making a donation at www.rbge.org.uk/amazon/
For further information and images contact Sandra Donnelly on 0131 248 1037/07554115908
Similar press releases
Thu 14th May 2020
Grasslands: not wastelands but creations of ancient creatures
Thu 7th May 2020
Look beyond rainforests to protect trees
Fri 1st May 2020
Discovering more of Earth’s mega-rich plant diversity
Tue 11th Feb 2020
Fun, conservation, art and education at Dawyck for 2020
Browse through our diverse range of formal and informal education programmes for people of all ages and at all levels
RBGE publications include a range of titles with books on botany and botanical taxonomy, gardening and horticulture, art and history, children’s books and Guidebooks for all of our Gardens.
Knowledge Exchange links the research community with others.
Searchable Resource Centres
View our selection of searchable resource centres.
Check our latest news and connect with our experts
Find the ideal venue for your corporate event
Your dream wedding
The perfect setting to host your truly unique wedding.
Find out how you can support our work at the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh.