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Blog Pick of the Month – January 2010

It’s first of the month, time for the Pick Of The Month for January 2010.

There were 34 excellent blog posts covering PLoS ONE articles aggregated on in January. This was a tough month to judge as so many posts were very, very good. But I had to choose one in the end, and I liked Crown Jewel of Biodiversity on the Edge by Anne-Marie Hodge the best.

Anne-Marie’s post explains the work in the PLoS ONE article Global Conservation Significance of Ecuador’s Yasuní National Park by Margot S. Bass, Matt Finer, Clinton N. Jenkins, Holger Kreft, Diego F. Cisneros-Heredia, Shawn F. McCracken, Nigel C. A. Pitman, Peter H. English, Kelly Swing, Gorky Villa, Anthony Di Fiore, Christian C. Voigt and Thomas H. Kunz:


The threats facing Ecuador’s Yasuní National Park are emblematic of those confronting the greater western Amazon, one of the world’s last high-biodiversity wilderness areas. Notably, the country’s second largest untapped oil reserves—called “ITT”—lie beneath an intact, remote section of the park. The conservation significance of Yasuní may weigh heavily in upcoming state-level and international decisions, including whether to develop the oil or invest in alternatives.

Methodology/Principal Findings

We conducted the first comprehensive synthesis of biodiversity data for Yasuní. Mapping amphibian, bird, mammal, and plant distributions, we found eastern Ecuador and northern Peru to be the only regions in South America where species richness centers for all four taxonomic groups overlap. This quadruple richness center has only one viable strict protected area (IUCN levels I–IV): Yasuní. The park covers just 14% of the quadruple richness center’s area, whereas active or proposed oil concessions cover 79%. Using field inventory data, we compared Yasuní’s local (alpha) and landscape (gamma) diversity to other sites, in the western Amazon and globally. These analyses further suggest that Yasuní is among the most biodiverse places on Earth, with apparent world richness records for amphibians, reptiles, bats, and trees. Yasuní also protects a considerable number of threatened species and regional endemics.


Yasuní has outstanding global conservation significance due to its extraordinary biodiversity and potential to sustain this biodiversity in the long term because of its 1) large size and wilderness character, 2) intact large-vertebrate assemblage, 3) IUCN level-II protection status in a region lacking other strict protected areas, and 4) likelihood of maintaining wet, rainforest conditions while anticipated climate change-induced drought intensifies in the eastern Amazon. However, further oil development in Yasuní jeopardizes its conservation values. These findings form the scientific basis for policy recommendations, including stopping any new oil activities and road construction in Yasuní and creating areas off-limits to large-scale development in adjacent northern Peru.

Anne-Marie, whose own research takes her to Ecuador as well, describes the site:

This place is also a hotspot for threatened mammals, which are the subject of my personal research interests and experience. Yasuni’s cast of characters features 8 mammal species of critical conservation concern: the white-bellied spider monkey, the giant otter, Amazonian manatee, lowland tapir, Poepigg’s woolly monkey, giant armadillo, oncilla and Melissa’s yellow-eared bat. Among the Near Threatened mammals, many of which are facing precipitous declines every year, are the golden-mantled tamarin, margay (the focal mammal of my thesis), jaguar, short-eared dog, bush dog, giant anteater, white-lipped peccary, spectral bat, and Tschudi’s yellow-shouldered bat. Obviously, Yasuni is home to a huge concentration of species which are clinging to existence.

Yasuni also serves to connect unprotected yet thus far intact habitats surrounding its borders, acting as both a sink and a corridor for biodiversity.

In a nutshell, this spectacular area has floored many scientists and experts, with the likes of E.O. Wilson and Jane Goodall referring to it as “the most biodiverse place on earth.”

…and explains the potential dangers:

It all sounds very encouraging, but situations like this are tenuously subject to the whims of leaders, governments, native peoples, pressure from surrounding nations, and climactic circumstance. The vulnerability of this agreement is that at any moment, Ecuador can repay the international loan that “reserves the reserve” and proceed to drill it into oblivion. It can only be hoped that Bass et al.‘s exhaustive study and analysis of the biodiversity and ecosystem services provided by the Yasuni will help in efforts to keep this region from being destroyed in order to provide a short-term fix for the world’s oil addiction.

Although the Yasuni has been granted a reprieve for now, it is crucial to not become overconfident when it comes to dealing with conservation agreements in developing nations (or developed nations, for that matter, the US does not have a stellar record itself). The park should still be considered—like so many of the organisms that currently seek refuge there—as being very much on the edge.

Congratulations both to Anne-Marie and to the authors of the article. I have notified the winners and their prizes are on the way. I hope you read Anne-Marie’s post and post a comment of your own, and then go to the article itself to read it and post comments, notes and ratings there as well.

Also see this month’s runner-ups: Altruism-On-Demand: I’ll help, but only if you ask nicely…, Darwin’s Finches Develop Immunity to Alien Parasites and Irreplaceable natural services: A look at the plight of the Chihuahuan grasslands and the black-tailed prairie dog, as well as all 34 blog posts covering PLoS ONE articles last month.

Finally, a reminder that getting picked for my Blog Pick of the Month is not the only potential reward for aggregating your posts about peer-reviewed research on – they will also be giving their own, community-nominated and judged awards so check that out.

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