Biodiversity in the Amazon
The word “biodiversity” is often heard while describing some of the most exotic places on the planet. Some places, like the Amazon rainforest, are known as “biodiversity hotspots”. Unfortunately, the concept of biodiversity is often misunderstood. In the literature on our website and required reading we often describe the Amazon rainforest as the most biodiverse location on the planet. But what does this actually mean to the prospective traveler? We want to clear up a few misconceptions about biodiversity, give you a better idea on what to expect during your Amazon rainforest adventure, and explain how understanding biodiversity is crucial for any organization doing tourism in the Amazon rainforest.
“In the rainforest, common species are rare and rare species are common” – Adrian Forsyth and Ken Miyata – Tropical Nature
Tropical ecosystems cover less than 10 percent of earth’s surface but contain about 90 percent of the world’s known species. The world’s greatest biodiversity is found in the Amazon Rainforest. The most mega-diverse region in all the Amazon yet studied may be the Area de Conservacion Regional Comunal de Tamshiyacu-Tahuayo (ACRCTT). As Peru’s first state reserve, it covers an expanded area of precious, ecologically diverse western Amazon rainforest. Both Amazonia Expeditions Tahuayo Lodge and Amazon Research Center Lodge are the only lodges with access to this unique reserve. Exceeding 1.1 million acres (490,000 Ha), the ACRCTT was originally designated a reserve by the Peruvian government in 1991 to protect the range of the rare red uakari monkey, an orangutan-looking monkey with a bright red face. Subsequent scientific research has found one of the world’s richest variety of plants, amphibians, reptiles, and birds. At least 17 species of monkeys, over 600 species of birds, and numerous other unique and endangered species including 2 species of freshwater dolphins, jaguars, giant river otters, tapir, and giant anteaters are known to inhabit the reserve. It is no wonder biologists refer to this region as the “green paradise” of the Amazon forest.
What does “Biodiversity” actually mean…?
Biodiversity can be defined as the totality of genes, species, and ecosystems of a region. One in ten known species in the world lives in the Amazon Rainforest, which constitutes the largest collection of living plants and animals in the world. The main reason that people visit the Amazon is to be a witness to this unmatched biodiversity. They are in the right place. However, there is a catch to this great biodiversity best summed up in this quote by biologist Edward O. Wilson:
“It is not possible to have both high population density and high biodiversity in the same environment.” – E.O. Wilson
This means that although there are many different species within the Amazon rainforest there is a lower population of each of those species. For example, let’s compare viewing the Great Migration on the African Serengeti. The grasslands of Africa boast a high population density with many large herds of animals, sometimes ranging into the tens of thousands. If you visit at the right time, there is no doubt that this is an amazing experience everyone should see at least once in their lifetime. However, while abundant in wildlife density, species on the African veldt are not nearly as biodiverse as in the Amazon. Wildlife on the veldt is easy to find and you have a pretty good idea of what animals you are going to see: zebras, giraffes, elephants, wildebeest. In the Amazon rainforest you may not spot animals in such huge numbers, but with so many different species, it is simply unpredictable to know what you will encounter. You can do five different trips to the Amazon and each time encounter different species. This always makes each journey to the Amazon a unique experience.
Our Approach to Biodiversity
A basic understanding of how biodiversity works in the Amazon is all it takes to realize that you will not see much of anything if you stay in the same place. The Amazon rainforest owes its biodiversity to the complex mosaic of differing interwoven ecosystems. If we offered excursions in just one environment, for example just a few trails nearby the lodge, we would see some wildlife existing in successional igapo forest, but it would not expose you to the vast majority of wildlife that the rainforest has to offer. This is the main reason we encourage longer trips and time at our Amazon Research Center lodge (ARC), to give our guests time to explore a variety of ecosystems. The ARC is in an area accessible to a different variety of ecosystems than can be found at the main lodge. They are not better or worse than the ecosystems near our main lodge, they are just different ecosystems home to a different variety of plants and animals. Having the chance to visit two lodges instead of one gives our guests a much greater chance of seeing the greatest amount of biodiversity possible.
So, what does this mean for me?
What this means for a traveler is that to witness the great biodiversity of the Amazon you cannot find it all in one place or find it quickly. The rainforest is enormous, made up of a complex web of overlapping ecosystems, each home to its own unique variety of different plants and animals. It takes time to visit all of these different ecosystems and seek out the rich biodiversity they have to offer.
“I really liked the latest blog post about what “biodiversity ” really means and how it reflects the true Amazon experience. That is always what I loved about the ACRCTT myself…the ability to see so many things, but often not twice! I love the monkeys, birds, etc., but for me, the real thrill of the Amazon is being surrounded by innumerable forms of smaller life; the arachnids, insects, bats, frogs, lizards, etc. People who see the Amazon that way will have mind-blowing experiences every time” – Howie (From Facebook)
I enjoyed your comments on biodiversity. I am planning a trip to the Amazonia lodge and research center in April. Your comments help me to put my expectations in perspective and to keep my eyes open at all times…..and inspire me to return.