A report released by the Mamirauá Institute for Sustainable Development and the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) details the discovery of 381 new species in the Amazon in just two years, Phys.org reports. As huge swathes of the Amazonian forest are increasingly under threat, the report ignites concerns over the calamitous consequences unsustainable policies could have.
“New Species of Vertebrates and Plants in the Amazon 2014-2015” is the third report in a series. It records scientific discoveries from January 2014 through December 2015. It also includes an update on a previous 2010-2013 report. The first WWF report was compiled between 1999 and 2009, presenting 1,200 new species. The second, from 2010-2013, unearthed another 602 new species. Of the 381 new species identified in the current report, 216 are plants, 93 fish, 32 amphibians, 20 mammals (2 are fossils), 19 reptiles and one bird. The astounding rate of discovery means a new animal or plant species was discovered every two days in 2014-2015. This is the highest rate of discovery in the past century.
Some notable discoveries detailed in the report include: a new species of pink river dolphin; a fire-tailed titi monkey; a bird named after President Barack Obama; a stingray with “honeycombs” on its surface; a nocturnal glass frog; a blind snake that likes to bury itself; a brown and black-striped lizard sporting a yellow-moustache; and an electric fish that buries itself in the sand during the day.
The pink river dolphin, in particular, is especially important to the Amazonian people. It plays a role in the Amazonian imagination and culture, which is rife with myths and legends surrounding the animal. There are estimated to be around 1,000 pink river dolphins left. The species is continually under threat from the construction of hydroelectric dams, as well as industrial, agricultural and cattle ranching activities near the riverfronts.
Ricardo Mello, a coordinator of the WWF-Brazil Amazon Program, told Phys.org that he hopes the new findings induce policymakers, both public and private, to think harder about their decisions. Large projects like roads and hydroelectric dams in the Amazon could cause irreversible damage. The Amazon biome, he says, is still an enigma.
“We’re in 2017, verifying the existence of new species and even though resources are scarce, we are seeing an immense variety and richness of biodiversity,” Mello says. “This is a signal that we still have much to learn about the Amazon.”
Mello makes some relevant points on the economic benefits policy and decision-makers should consider when examining the Amazon. The biodiversity in the region needs to be studied and protected as an area pregnant with economic potential, Mello claims.
“Studies indicate that the greatest economic potential of a region such as the Amazon is the inclusion of biodiversity in the technological solutions of a new developmental model,” Mello tells Phys.org, “including development of cures for disease, relying on new species for food purposes, such as superfoods.”
The report’s release comes just a week after the Brazilian government passed a decree to allow commercial mining in the National Reserve of Copper and Associates, also known as Renca. The land encompasses nine protected areas. The decree would open up 17,800 square miles of the Amazon, an area roughly the size of Switzerland. Renca is known to fruitful mining area for gold and other valuable minerals.
The Daily Mail reports that one Brazilian judge has already stepped forward in protest. Federal judge Rolando Valcir Spanholo “granted an injunction on Wednesday,” suspending the decree by President Michel Temer. The judge claims the decree can only be enacted by an act of Congress under the Brazilian constitution.
The decree drew a heavy onslaught of criticism from Brazilian politicians and activist groups. After Spanholo’s ruling moves to file lawsuits and block the degree followed suit in Congress as well.
The decree was retracted this week and then reissued. The updated version clarifies that after the abolition of Renca, commercial mining will not be allowed in conservation or indigenous areas that lay within the former reserve’s boundaries.
The creation of protected boundaries, such as those detailed in the revised decree, has been a chief strategy among scientists and preservationists in the Amazon. When implemented, protected boundaries lessen the deleterious impact of development in the Amazon.
Sarah Hutchison, WWF’s Head of Programs Brazil and Amazon, shares a similar message to Mello, calling the discovery of 381 new species a “wake-up call for the governments of Amazon countries.” Like Mello, she calls for a halt of large-scale projects in the area in order to preserve its “unparalleled biodiversity.”
Although the Amazon forest only covers around one percent of the Earth’s surface, scientists believe the biome to be home to 10 percent of known species. The Amazon makes up roughly a third of all the tropical rainforests that remain on Earth.
The Daily Mail says, “globally, it is estimated that 80 percent of species are yet to be identified.” The WWF believes the Amazon still holds a vast amount of species that are yet unidentified, despite the increase in the rate of discovery.
The current rate of human-related extinction for wildlife, the Daily Mail reports, is between “1,000 and 10,000 times that of the natural rate of extinction.” The WWF’s greatest fear is that many species will go extinct before being cataloged.