Researchers, taxonomists, and students from The Field Museum and 88 other institutions around the world have provided new answers to two simple but long-standing questions about Amazonian diversity: How many trees are there in the Amazon, and how many tree species occur there?
The vast extent and difficult terrain of the Amazon Basin (including parts of Brazil, Peru, Columbia) and the Guiana Shield (Guyana, Suriname, and French Guiana), which span an area roughly the size of the 48 contiguous North American states, has historically restricted the study of their extraordinarily diverse tree communities to local and regional scales. The lack of basic information about the Amazonian flora on a basin-wide scale has hindered Amazonian science and conservation efforts.
over 100 experts have contributed data from 1,170 forestry surveys in all major forest types in the Amazon to generate the first basin-wide estimates of the abundance, frequency and spatial distribution of thousands of Amazonian trees.
Extrapolations from data compiled over a period of 10 years suggest that greater Amazonia, which includes the Amazon Basin and the Guiana Shield, harbors around 390 billion individual trees, including Brazil nut, chocolate, and açai berry trees.
"We think there are roughly 16,000 tree species in Amazonia, but the data also suggest that half of all the trees in the region belong to just 227 of those species! Thus, the most common species of trees in the Amazon now not only have a number, they also have a name. This is very valuable information for further research and policymaking," says Hans ter Steege, first author on the study and researcher at the Naturalis Biodiversity Center in South Holland, Netherlands.
The authors termed these species "hyperdominants." While the study suggests that hyperdominants -- just 1.4 percent of all Amazonian tree species -- account for roughly half of all carbon and ecosystem services in the Amazon, it also notes that almost none of the 227 hyperdominant species are consistently common across the Amazon. Instead, most dominate a region or forest type, such as swamps or upland forests.
The study also offers insights into the rarest tree species in the Amazon. According to the mathematical model used in the study, roughly 6,000 tree species in the Amazon have populations of fewer than 1,000 individuals, which automatically qualifies them for inclusion in the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Species. The problem, say the authors, is that these species are so rare that scientists may never find them.