The Amazon River is one of Earth's longest rivers, flowing 4,000 miles across South America from the Andes Mountains to the Atlantic Ocean. The immense area drained by the Amazon River and its tributaries is known as the Amazon Basin or Amazonia. It is home to an important natural reservoir of plant and animal diversity: the Amazon rain forest, Earth's largest tropical rain forest, whose original extent covered an area two-thirds the size of the United States. The Amazon Basin also contains many other habitats—from dry forests to dry or super-wet savannas, mountains, and rocky hills—each with its own rich composition of species. Altogether, the Amazon Basin is home to at least 30,000 different species of ferns, flowering plants and gymnosperms (the first seed plants such as cone-bearing conifers).
Although The New York Botanical Garden was founded in 1891, in a sense its history of scientific work in Amazonia began a decade earlier when Henry Hurd Rusby, future Garden scientist and colleague of founding director Nathaniel Lord Britton, descended the Andes Mountains and arrived at Rurrenabaque, Bolivia. The collections Rusby made on that expedition formed part of the core of the Garden's fledgling herbarium. Now with nearly 50 years of continuous collaboration with in-country colleagues in various parts of the Amazon Basin, Botanical Garden scientists continue to co-lead efforts to discover, understand, conserve, and manage its incomparable plant diversity.
- Exploring and Understanding Amazonian Plant Diversity
- Amazonian Collections
- Training Amazonian Scientists
- Conserving and Managing Amazonian Plant Diversity
Botanical Garden systematists tackle some of the most diverse, ecologically important, and complex groups of plants in the Amazon. Systematics is the basis for all plant diversity studies, and all of them, whether they relate to management or conservation, depend heavily on rapid, accurate, and consistent identification of plant species and their relationships. Systematic studies of Amazonian plant groups also allow Garden scientists to develop models for revealing evolutionary mechanisms and biogeographic patterns.
Floristics and Conservation in Southwestern Amazonia. Led by Garden scientist Dr. Douglas Daly, this is the umbrella project of the Garden's long-term collaborative efforts to document and conserve the diversity and economic uses of plants occurring in the southwestern quadrant of the Amazon, which embraces parts of Brazil, Peru, and Bolivia. This region of Amazonia is a unique crossroads of several floras and faunas, and the project's data are being used to inform local, national, and regional conservation efforts and forest management strategies.
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Historic expedition in Amazonia:
The Lecythidaceae Pages. Led by Garden scientist Dr. Scott Mori, the project is producing an electronic scholarly treatise on neotropical Lecythidaceae, a family of forest canopy trees with showy flowers and large woody fruits that includes the Brazil nut. Fully half of the species of this iconic plant family of the Amazon Basin occur only there, dominating many of its forests. One sub-project with Brazilian colleagues is creating species pages and electronic keys for species of Lecythidaceae occurring in the region around Manaus.
Biodiversity Surveys in the Pristine Savannas and Forests of the Madidi River Basin, Bolivia. Led by Garden scientist Dr. Douglas Daly in partnership with the Wildlife Conservation Society, this project is conducting rigorous botanical inventories and plant collection programs to document the diversity and vegetation structure of this little-explored area. Madidi's tropical savannas are vast grasslands and associated woodlands containing a complex mosaic of plant communities rich in species found nowhere else.
Scientific collections—resources from and about the natural world—are primary objects for discovering and understanding past and present life on Earth, and for conserving biological diversity into the future. The Botanical Garden's William and Lynda Steere Herbarium houses the world's most comprehensive scientific collections of Amazonian plants. The associated C.V. Starr Virtual Herbarium provides rapid Internet access to data, images, and distribution maps for Amazonian collections and is an essential resource for Garden scientists, students, collaborators, and scholars.
Rescue and Integration of Botanical Data for Southwestern Amazonia. A consortium of the Garden and institutions in Brazil, Peru, and Bolivia is integrating information from Amazonian plant collections housed in different institutions into one regional data server for use by planners, conservation groups, biologists, forest managers, and others. Based on a successful model established by the Garden and the University of Acre, Brazil, the consortium is also providing local infrastructure for information processing, training, and field opportunities for staff and students. This initiative is being led by Garden scientist Dr. Douglas Daly with colleagues from the Universidade Federal do Acre.
Repatriation of Data for Plant Collections from the Brazilian Amazon. Co-led by Garden scientists Drs. Barbara Thiers and William Wayt Thomas—with participation by Brazilian graduate students from various Brazilian institutions and the Garden's highly trained technical staff—the project is databasing and imaging Brazilian Amazon collections in the Garden's Steere Herbarium and making these data available online and for download. Data are also shared with the Global Biodiversity Information Facility (GBIF) and SpeciesLink, the Brazilian biodiversity portal. Repatriating collections data and images will enhance Brazil's capacity for plant diversity research at a local level and contribute significantly to identifying areas of high species diversity.
The Amazon Basin covers more than 44 percent of the land area of South America and embraces parts of Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, Guyana, Peru, French Guiana, and Venezuela. Unfortunately, the single most important limiting factor to discovering, understanding, conserving, and managing plant diversity throughout the Amazon Basin is the lack of trained human resources. Garden scientists are responding to this increasingly urgent need to train regional botanists and local people and increase their opportunities for employment.
School for Woodsmen in the State of Acre, Brazil. A collaborative effort by Garden scientist Dr. Douglas Daly, the University of Acre, and the Acre State agency Fundação Dom Moacyr is developing a training program for woodsmen (mateiros), foresters, and community members in the techniques of plant species identification and botanical inventory—joining the woodsmen's traditional methods with modern tools and techniques. This combined expertise is reducing the disastrously high rate of identification error in both commercial and community forest management operations that makes current practices inherently unsustainable.
Graduate Training. The Garden's Commodore Matthew Perry Graduate Studies Program, established in 1896, has as its mission the training and education of the finest botanists possible to discover, understand, and conserve plant diversity now and into the future. Curators, botanists, economic botanists, and administrative leaders currently at work in many academic, research, and conservation organizations around the world—including those in Amazonia—received their doctorates at the Garden. At any given time, the Graduate Program has several new doctoral candidates in training from Amazonian countries.
In the area of forest management, Botanical Garden scientists have been at the vanguard of studies demonstrating the importance of combining traditional resource management systems with solid, current ecological and economic information about a changing social landscape. The work of Garden scientists also ensures that the Amazon Basin's complex diversity is factored into assessments and management of Amazon forests for timber and for stored carbon.
Changing Biodiversity-related Standards and Protocols for Forest Management in Amazonia. Led by Garden scientist Dr. Douglas Daly, this project in partnership with the World Wildlife Fund-Brasil, Instituto Floresta Tropical, Acre state agencies, and the University of Acre, is developing better standards and protocols for inventory, identification, and characterization of forest resources being managed for timber in the Amazon. An important part of the project focuses on developing new tools for reliable field identification of trees.
Improving Community Healthcare Through Strengthening Traditional Knowledge. Biological and cultural diversity are intimately linked. Led by Garden scientist Dr. Ina Vandebroek, the project is facilitating collaboration between traditional healers of Yurakaré and Trinitario communities and Bolivian physicians and medical students in the tropical rain forest of Cochabamba, Bolivia—to help preserve cultural knowledge related to medicinal plants and to improve evidence-based traditional medicine in communities lacking access to Western healthcare.
Bat/Plant Interactions in the Neotropics (New World Tropics). Led by Garden scientist Dr. Scott Mori and collaborating scientists Drs. Tatyana Lobova and Cullen Geiselman, the project is studying bat/plant interactions in the Neotropics. Project efforts to date have focused on exploring and understanding which plant species depend on which bat species for seed dispersal, and, conversely, which bat species obtain at least part of their diets from particular plants in the form of seeds, fruits, pollen, and nectar. Find out more information
Botanical Exploration of the Parque Municipal Natural Andaki, Caquetá. Led by Garden scientist Dr. Douglas Daly in collaboration with Colombia's Amazon research institute SINCHI, the project is documenting the lavishly rich flora of the 28,000-acre Andaki reserve in the eastern piedmont of the Andes, which embraces a complex transition to the Amazon. Comprehensive knowledge of the flora will aid NGO-led efforts to protect the reserve, which is at the vortex of intensive forest conversion and settlement.
Región del Parque Nacional Amboró, Bolivia. Led by Garden scientist Dr. Michael Nee, this remarkable one-man project is completing a modern flora of the 1,093,441 acre National Park, its 481,920-acre buffer zone, and additional areas bounded by the major highways from Santa Cruz. The area covered by this flora project comprises 26 distinct vegetation zones in diverse soils and an astonishing elevational range: 300–3,500 meters, or about 900 to almost 10,000 feet. Find out more information
Floristic Inventory of Southwestern Pará, Brazil. Led by Garden scientist Dr. Benjamin Torke and Dr. Vidal Mansano of the Botanical Garden of Rio De Janeiro, the project is inventorying the plant species occurring in one of the sectors of Amazonia under greatest threat from deforestation and regional climate change. South of the Amazon River and west of the Xingu River in Pará state lies an area of poorly known seasonal forests that harbor a distinct flora. Data from the project will provide a baseline for informing local and regional conservation efforts.
French Guiana e-Flora. Led by Garden scientist Dr. Scott Mori, in collaboration with the French development agency IRD, the project is producing a database-driven, specimen-based, illustrated checklist of the flowering plants of French Guiana and the Nouragues Nature Reserve. At just under 256,000 acres, Nouragues is France's largest nature reserve and a key location for studying tropical forests and their biodiversity.
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Ferns of the State of Acre, Brazil. Led by Garden scientist Dr. Robbin Moran with Dr. Jefferson Prado from the Instituto de Botânica in São Paulo, this project is documenting the ferns of Acre, Brazil. Early expeditions have already recorded 190 species of ferns; every expedition reveals ferns new to Acre, and more species new to science are expected to be found.
From Acorus to Zingiber: Assembling the Phylogeny of the Monocots. This large, multi-institutional project—co-led by Garden scientist Dr. Dennis Stevenson and including Brazilian Postdoctoral Researcher Dr. Marcela Thadeo—is using DNA sequence data to elucidate the evolutionary relationships of the monocots, a major sub-group of flowering plants that includes more than 65,000 species worldwide, including Amazonia. Encompassing such familiar groups as grasses, palms, orchids, and philodendrons, the monocots occur in almost all habitats and provide most of our major foodstuffs, including the cereals.
Gymnosperms on the Tree of Life: Resolving the Phylogeny of Seed Plants. This large, multi-institutional project, co-led by Garden scientist Dr. Dennis Stevenson, is using DNA sequence data to elucidate the evolutionary relationships of the gymnosperms (conifers, cycads, Ginkgo, and Gnetales) found worldwide, including some ancient groups that are diverse in Amazonia. Data from the project will provide insight into the origins of many plant traits, including those that are the basis of breeding programs in horticulture and forestry.
Monograph of Tribe Protieae (Burseraceae). Led by Garden scientist Dr. Douglas Daly, this project is producing a detailed treatise on the tribe Protieae of the Burseraceae—one of the most dominant tree groups in Amazonia, which in the region of Manaus accounts for almost ten percent of the trees. The Burseraceae, which includes frankincense and myrrh, also contains a number of species in Amazonia used traditionally for purposes similar to their Biblical relatives.
Phylogeny, Diversification, and Evolutionary Trajectories in the "Terebinthaceae" (Anacardiaceae and Burseraceae). Led by Garden scientists Dr. Douglas Daly and John Mitchell, the project is examining mechanisms of plant species evolution in several plant groups in Amazonia, focusing on plant groups that in the course of their evolution have been able to shift into or colonize new habitats. This has implications for future floras in an age of global climate change.
Planetary Biodiversity Inventory: A Complete Web-based Monograph of the Tribe Miconieae (Melastomataceae). This large, multi-institutional project being co-led by Garden scientist Dr. Fabián Michelangeli is producing a complete inventory and a thorough treatise on the tribe Miconieae in the flowering plant family Melastomataceae. This family includes over 1,800 species of trees and shrubs from tropical rain and montane forests in the Americas, including Amazonia, and it contains some of the plant world's showiest and most intriguing flowers.
Revision of Spondias(Anacardiaceae). Led by Garden scientists Dr. Douglas Daly and John Mitchell, the project is producing a comprehensive treatise on the genus Spondias in the plant family Anacardiaceae—one of the more important fruit tree genera in the Amazon Basin. The fruit pulp is used to make delicious juices and ice creams. Three of the group's eleven Neotropical species were recently discovered as new to science.
Systematic Studies of Amazonian Palms. Led by Garden scientist Dr. Andrew Henderson, and following publication of his Palms of the Amazon in 1995, systematic studies are resulting in detailed scholarly treatments of various palm groups occurring in the Amazon Basin. Revisions of Geonoma and Hyospathe have recently been published, and work is underway on three other genera, Desmoncus, Pholidostachys and Leopoldinia. These are expected to be completed in 2011.
Catalogue of Latin American Characeae. Green algae, such as those in the family Characeae, are important primary producers, playing essential roles in many ecosystems from temporary ponds found in dry deserts to permanent lakes and rivers. Several species of Characeae occur in Amazonia. Led by Garden scientist Dr. Kenneth G. Karol, the project is organizing data from Latin American Characeae specimens in the Garden's William and Lynda Steere Herbarium and making it available to the international community of scientists, students, and scholars via the C.V. Starr Virtual Herbarium.
Catalogue of Vascular Plant Species of Brazil. The Steere Herbarium holds approximately 500,000 vascular plant specimens that were collected in Brazil. About 11,000 of these are type specimens (a type is the principal reference collection for naming a species). Led by Garden scientist Dr. Jacquelyn Kallunki, the project aims to catalog all Brazilian vascular plant specimens in the Steere Herbarium by 2012 and make the specimen data available to the international community of scientists, students, and scholars via the Starr Virtual Herbarium.
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Catalogue of Vascular Plant Species of Central and Northeastern Brazil. This catalogue includes one of the jewels of the Garden's Steere Herbarium—those collections made during a series of expeditions to the Brazilian Planalto led by Garden scientists in collaboration with the University of Brasília from 1964 to 1975. Led by Garden scientist Dr. Jacquelyn Kallunki, the catalogue makes data from about 97,000 specimens from central and northeastern Brazil available to the international community of scientists, students, and scholars via the Starr Virtual Herbarium.
Glossary of Botanical Terms. Led by Garden scientist Dr. Scott Mori and collaborator Nathan Smith, this project is producing an English-language online glossary as part of efforts to aid those interested in botany, scientists-in-training, and professional scientists studying the morphological diversity found in plants. Housed at the website of Mori's Vascular Plants of the Osa Peninsula, Costa Rica project, the widely applicable glossary terms are accompanied by botanical illustrations from Mori's in-depth studies of Amazonian and Guianan plants over several decades, as well as plants from other parts of the world.
Simple Illustrated Glossary of Botanical Terms. This project, co-led by Garden scientist Dr. Douglas Daly and Brazilian author Harry Lorenzi, is producing an illustrated glossary of botanical terms targeted for use by Amazonian woodsmen, forest managers, conservation groups, and educated laypersons. The glossary will marry Lorenzi's famed photographic guides to the Brazilian flora, with a botanical dictionary translated into plain language accessible to non-specialists.
Visiting Scientists and Interns. As a result of its network of collaborators, ambitious array of projects in Amazonia, and commitment to training, the Garden receives a steady stream of visiting colleagues and short- and long-term interns working with Garden scientists on diverse Amazon research projects. Funded by the U.S. National Science Foundation, eight graduate students from universities across Brazil recently interned for six months each at the Garden, splitting their time among pursuing doctoral research, digitizing herbarium specimens, and learning herbarium management techniques.
Abandoned Lands, Resource Degradation, and the Future of Peruvian Amazonia. The abandonment and subsequent degradation of lands in western Amazonia is leading to a host of environmental, social, and economic problems, including recurrent fires, social conflict, increased crimes against property and persons, and loss of livelihoods. Led by Garden scientist Dr. Christine Padoch, this comprehensive program of multi-disciplinary research on the drivers, processes, and effects of land abandonment and degradation in the Peruvian Amazon is informing broad, science-based policy for diversified and sustainable land use and tenure in Amazonia.
DNA Barcoding the Timber Trees of the Amazon Basin. Led by Garden scientists Drs. Damon Little and Douglas Daly, the project is testing the forensic potential of using DNA barcodes as a species identity tag for the timber trade in Amazonia. Millions of (often intentionally) misidentified trees enter Amazonia's timber trade because there is currently no reliable system of species verification.
Fires in Western Amazonia: Understanding and Modeling the Role of Climatic, Social, Demographic, and Land Use Change. Large fires that have escaped from burning fields and pastures have become common dry-season events ravaging forests, farms, and settlements in much of Amazonia. In collaboration with researchers from Columbia University, Garden scientist Dr. Christine Padoch is investigating processes of change in land use, migration, urbanization, and climate and their links to the probability of changes in the incidence, size, and severity of escaped fires. Project results will aid understanding of how biological, social, and atmospheric processes are coupled to change the danger of fire damage in complex and rapidly evolving tropical landscapes.
Leaf Atlas of the Timber Trees of Amazonia. Led by Garden scientist Dr. Douglas Daly and Brazilian collaborator Flávio Obermuller, the project is producing an atlas of the timber trees of the Amazon Basin, based on characteristics that are always present even when flowers and fruits are not: the leaves. The Atlas is a first step in a larger planned project to develop a comprehensive field guide for distinguishing species exploited for timber in Amazonia.