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New Study Compiles Checklist of Known Amazonian Tree Species
Missouri Botanical Garden researcher Dr. Peter Jørgensen is among the authors of “The discovery of the Amazonian tree flora with an updated checklist of all known tree taxa,” published today in Scientific Reports. The new study compiles a checklist of 11,676 known Amazonian tree species using records from a number of institutions collected between 1707 and 2015 including the Missouri Botanical Garden.
In 2013, Jørgensen was among the authors of, “Hyperdominance in the Amazonian tree flora” published in Science. That study estimated the number of species in the Amazonian lowlands was around 16,000. Hans ter Steege of the Naturalis Biodiversity Center led a team of international botanists including Jørgensen as they tallied more than half a million specimens collected overtime to develop the list of 11,676 and concluding their 2013 estimate was fully plausible.
The Garden has worked in Amazonian countries for more than 35 years. The plant collecting and cataloging of hundreds of garden researchers contributed to the development of this overall list. In 2014, for example, the Garden published the Catálogo de las Plantas Vasculares de Bolivia, a project that included more than 15,000 species and began in 1980 when the Garden established a research program in Bolivia.
“The Garden has been active in Amazonian countries for many years, and this list is possible because of that work,” said Jørgensen. “Our Catalogs and publications contributed to this checklist being developed, but there is still a lot of work to be done to discover remaining species before they become extinct.”
Included in recommendations made by the authors is the importance of digitizing all Amazonian herbarium specimens. The Garden’s Tropicos® database is an example of the way this can be achieved. The digital record-system first conceptualized in the early 1980s on a tiny Osborne o1 microcomputer is today the world’s largest botanical database. It is accessed more than 200,000 times every day and more than 70 million times each year by researchers around the world.
Each year, Missouri Botanical Garden researchers name hundreds of new species of plants with unknown potential. Though the process starts at collection at sites around the world, the real work takes places through the examination and comparison of all known species in Herbaria and in Tropicos. Digital records make it possible for those researchers working around the world to access information on their way to a new discovery. Other recommendations in the paper, including the support and development of taxonomic expertise, more focused research and embrace of new technologies are shared goals of the Garden for its work in the Amazon as well as in St. Louis and around the world.