New Amazon species discovered every 3 days for a decade

McClatchy NewspapersOctober 25, 2010 

WORLD NEWS SCI-NEWSPECIES 2 MCT

The first new anaconda species identified since 1936. Described in 2002 from Bolivia, the 4 meter long Eunectes beniensis was determined to be a distinct species.

JOSE MARIA FERNANDEZ DIAZ — Jose Maria Fernandez Diaz/World Wildlife Fund/MCT

WASHINGTON — 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. Compounds found on the skin of the poison dart frog, for example, turned out to be important for anesthesia and other medical products, Symington said.

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 crisis."

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