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Peru’s Manu National Park declared world’s top biodiversity hotspot

  • The scientific study used 60 camera traps which photographed terrestrial species in 16 locations around the world.
  • Patricia Álvarez, Red Team-Network’s lead researcher, notes that Manu National Park exhibits an excellent conservation state.
  • There are 14 different ecosystems in Manu National Park, a defining characteristic of its high biodiversity.

Peru’s Manu National Park has claimed the distinction as the place with the greatest terrestrial species diversity compared to other emblematic areas of the world. The park, located between the regions of Madre de Dios and Cusco, claimed the top spot based on updated information from the Red Team-Network (the Tropical Ecology Assessment and Monitoring Network). Experts came to their conclusion after analyzing about 38,000-40,000 photographs captured with the help of 60 camera traps.

Cocha Cashu Biological Station and Pakitza sector in the Amazon region of Madre de Dios were the monitoring locations inside Peru’s national park.

The Tropical Ecology Assessment and Monitoring (TEAM) Network monitors trends in the status of biodiversity and ecosystem services to guide conservation practices. It analyzes the data collected from a network of field stations using standardized monitoring protocols (from the TEAM website).

The results collected were input into the Red Team-Network’s Wildlife Image Index Analytics System, which brings together organizations dedicated to the conservation of biodiversity such as Conservation International, the Smithsonian Institute and the Wildlife Conservation Society. In the same way, they proceeded with the photographic capture of 15 other emblematic biodiversity sites in Africa, Asia, and Latin America.

Among those analyzed were Bwindi Impenetrable National Park in Uganda, Pasoh Forest Reserve in Malaysia, Yasuni National Park in Ecuador, the forest of Manaus in Brazil, and Yanachaga–Chemillén National Park in Peru.

Patricia Álvarez, Red Team-Network’s lead researcher and the author of the Peruvian section of the biodiversity study, spoke with Mongabay-Latam about the findings.

“The Manu National Park is the best preserved and therefore has the highest biodiversity of the 16 sites analyzed by the Red Team-Network,” said Álvarez. “While the data found on the Internet is updated up to the end of 2015, a week ago I finished processing the data of 2016 and Manu continues in first place.”

Vegetation in the Manu National Park. Photo courtesy of Sernanp

According to the results of the image analysis, Manu National Park ranked first in terrestrial species (mammals and birds) registering a value of 1.08. Comparatively, the Asian index registered 0.72, the Latin America index at 0.93, the Africa index at 0.98 and the global index at 0.93. Thus in the analysis of the Red Team-Network, Manu National Park is the area with the greatest terrestrial species diversity out of the monitored areas.

“This means that within three years, from 2014 to this year, Manu has positioned itself as one of the most biodiverse places compared to Latin American, African and Southeast Asian sites,” continued Álvarez.

Red Team-Network’s graph that proves the high biodiversity present in the Manu National Park (blue line). Graph courtesy of Conservation International/Red Team-Network

“These indices remain in effect since the Red Team-Network began collecting data around stations back in 2011 and published their first breakthrough in 2014. However, there was a particular situation between 2012 and 2013 with the number of species in the Manu, which rose much above the other indices. This happened due to huanganas [peccaries], who are similar to pigs that feed on insects and plants, who are both food and home to many other species. When these huanganas disappeared between those two years, other species multiplied.” explained Álvarez.

Álvarez noted that in 2014 the huanganas returned to the national park and the population stabilized.

“Two theories explain the disappearance of huanganas, one by a natural migration cycle and another by an epidemic that affected them so they decided to flee.”

The huanganas. Photo courtesy of LaMula.pe

Why is there so much biological diversity?

The area of Manu National Park, located between the Andes and the Amazon, is the main reason for its vast biodiversity according to Gabriel Quijandría, the Peruvian former Deputy Minister of Strategic Development of Natural Resources.

“It is a meeting point of the lowland Amazon area and the Andean region, the area ranges from 4500 meters (14,763 feet) of altitude to the Amazonian plain, which gives the area an important diversity and ecosystem niches,” said Quijandría. “[This] explains why there is so much variation of species.”

Lead researcher Álvarez points out that there are 14 different types of ecosystems that give the protected area the status of one of the most biodiverse places in the world.

“From the data collected in 2015 to the information processed this year 2016, we have found between 28 to 32 species of mammals and 32 to 34 species of birds for the Red Team-Network update camera trap footage,” she said. “The biological richness is due to the 14 ecosystems that this protected area has.”

Álvarez added that aside from being one of the most biodiverse places in the world, Manu National Park is among the best conserved and protected.

“The only thing that affects Manu National Park is climate change; no activity has damaged its environment. When we arrived in 2011, we walked kilometers and kilometers and did not find anyone, only traces of uncontacted [indigenous people]. It is incredibly pristine.”

Tapir (Tapirus terrestris). Photo courtesy of Manu National Park
Photograph of a puma (Puma concolor) taken by a camera trap. Photo courtesy of Manu National Park

The threats

There are some looming threats to Manu National Park, chief among them small-scale agriculture that clears buffer zone forest areas for cultivation. There are also plans for oil exploration projects and the construction of a road that would also penetrate the buffer zone, which would threaten its biodiversity, according to Quijandría.

Manu’s National Park buffer zone is home to indigenous communities and vast biodiversity. It lies to the west of the park protecting its core; and because most access is limited to this area, this is where human impact is at its greatest.

“In the case of Manu the pressure is due to the agricultural activity in the buffer zone, which is in the upper area,” said Quijandría. “The park always had a geographical advantage which pushed it away from productive activities that could affect it. But let’s not forget that this protected area is next to the Camisea gas extraction project.”

According to Quijandría, Luis Otzuka, the regional Governor of Madre de Dios, wants to build a penetration road in the area. The road has been described as local, but Quijandría said he is concerned that this road seems to be wider. He is also concerned over Otzuka’s ties to gold mining and potential future threats to the area.

For Álvarez, the relevance of her team’s study lies in recognizing the importance of wildlife and protected areas that must remain intangible to protect the biodiversity of the world in which we live in.

“In Manu there is wildlife that should exist in all national parks,” she said. “There are not many studies that focus on wildlife; people generally study the carbon storage in forests. But the wildlife we have is amazing, and we emphasize on that.”

This story was reported by Mongabay’s Latin America (Latam) team and was first published in Spanish on our Latam site on November 4, 2016.