Tuesday, November 9, 2010

One more reason to see the Amazon before it's all gone

The Amazon rainforest is the world's hotspot for biodiversity, more so than any other ecosystem. This is almost a cliche, thanks to Planet Earth. But just how much of a hotspot? How many potentially revolutionary plant and animal discoveries are we missing out on each day we burn it to the ground?

According to the World Wildlife Fund, scientists have discovered over 1,200 species in the past 10 years in the Amazon. That equates to a new species to science every three days for a decade. 

This includes included 637 new plant species, 257 fish species, 216 amphibian species, and 39 mammal species. Click here for the full report.

Many of these species have proven to be the missing ingredients to life-saving pharmaceuticals, or the key source of new components for industrial applications. Some of our most everyday products, from rubber to chocolate to bananas to anti-malarial drugs originated in the Amazon.

Rio acari marmoset, one of the new species discovered since 1999

Unfortunately, our own foresight as a species is lacking. Since 1960, about 17% of the Amazon has been destroyed and paved over to make room for new cities, cattle ranches, and soybean plantations (even those used to make Brazil's famously "green" biodiesel). This equals an area twice the size of Spain.

This is one more reason we need to refocus our efforts to protect what many scientists call the "Earth's lungs" for their incredible absorbing powers of the world's greenhouse gas emissions. Without this crucial carbon sponge (not to mention the biodiversity within), we are shooting ourselves in the foot in the battle against climate change.

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