Benjamin M. Torke, Ph.D., is an Assistant Curator at the Garden’s Institute of Systematic Botany. He is one of the leaders of a project to document the plant diversity of the Tapajos River basin in northern Brazil, an area roughly the size of France.
Threatened by deforestation, climate change, and high levels of poverty in local communities, the Amazon rain forest and its immense diversity of plant life have a very uncertain future. During a recent expedition in Brazil’s Amazonia National Park, I awoke to a cloud of fog hanging low over the San Luis rapids on the Tapajos River, one of the largest tributaries of the Amazon River.
The scene struck me as an apt metaphor, not only for the Tapajos region—the area in the photo is slated for a massive hydroelectric development that will flood portions of the national park—but also for the entire Amazon basin. My Brazilian collaborators and I hope that our race to inventory threatened plant diversity in the Tapajos region will yield information useful to local communities and governments as they struggle to strike a balance between much-needed economic development and conservation of irreplaceable plant species.