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The threats facing Ecuador's Yasuní National Park are emblematic of those confronting the greater western Amazon, one of the world's last high-biodiversity wilderness areas. Notably, the country's second largest untapped oil reserves--called "ITT"--lie beneath an intact, remote section of the park. The conservation significance of Yasuní may weigh heavily in upcoming state-level and international decisions, including whether to develop the oil or invest in alternatives. We conducted the first comprehensive synthesis of biodiversity data for Yasuní. Mapping amphibian, bird, mammal, and plant distributions, we found eastern Ecuador and northern Peru to be the only regions in South America where species richness centers for all four taxonomic groups overlap. This quadruple richness center has only one viable strict protected area (IUCN levels I-IV): Yasuní. The park covers just 14% of the quadruple richness center's area, whereas active or proposed oil concessions cover 79%. Using field inventory data, we compared Yasuní's local (alpha) and landscape (gamma) diversity to other sites, in the western Amazon and globally. These analyses further suggest that Yasuní is among the most biodiverse places on Earth, with apparent world richness records for amphibians, reptiles, bats, and trees. Yasuní also protects a considerable number of threatened species and regional endemics. Yasuní has outstanding global conservation significance due to its extraordinary biodiversity and potential to sustain this biodiversity in the long term because of its 1) large size and wilderness character, 2) intact large-vertebrate assemblage, 3) IUCN level-II protection status in a region lacking other strict protected areas, and 4) likelihood of maintaining wet, rainforest conditions while anticipated climate change-induced drought intensifies in the eastern Amazon. However, further oil development in Yasuní jeopardizes its conservation values. These findings form the scientific basis for policy recommendations, including stopping any new oil activities and road construction in Yasuní and creating areas off-limits to large-scale development in adjacent northern Peru.
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Global Conservation Significance of Ecuador’s Yasunı
´
National Park
Margot S. Bass
1
, Matt Finer
2
*, Clinton N. Jenkins
3,4
, Holger Kreft
5
, Diego F. Cisneros-Heredia
6,7
, Shawn F.
McCracken
8,9
, Nigel C. A. Pitman
3
, Peter H. English
10
, Kelly Swing
7
, Gorky Villa
1
, Anthony Di Fiore
11
,
Christian C. Voigt
12
, Thomas H. Kunz
13
1Finding Species, Takoma Park, Maryland, United States of America, 2Save America’s Forests, Washington D. C., United States of America, 3Nicholas School of the
Environment, Duke University, Durham, North Carolina, United States of America, 4Department of Biology, University of Maryland, College Park, Maryland, United States
of America, 5Division of Biological Sciences, University of California San Diego, La Jolla, California, United States of America, 6Department of Geography, King’s College
London, Strand, London, United Kingdom, 7College of Biological and Environmental Sciences, Universidad San Francisco de Quito, Quito, Ecuador, 8Department of
Biology, Texas State University, San Marcos, Texas, United States of America, 9TADPOLE Organization, San Marcos, Texas, United States of America, 10 School of Biological
Sciences, University of Texas at Austin, Austin, Texas, United States of America, 11 Department of Anthropology, New York University, New York, New York, United States
of America, 12 Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research, Berlin, Germany, 13 Center for Ecology and Conservation Biology, Department of Biology, Boston University,
Boston, Massachusetts, United States of America
Abstract
Background:
The threats facing Ecuador’s Yasunı
´National Park are emblematic of those confronting the greater western
Amazon, one of the world’s last high-biodiversity wilderness areas. Notably, the country’s second largest untapped oil
reserves—called ‘‘ITT’’—lie beneath an intact, remote section of the park. The conservation significance of Yasunı
´may
weigh heavily in upcoming state-level and international decisions, including whether to develop the oil or invest in
alternatives.
Methodology/Principal Findings:
We conducted the first comprehensive synthesis of biodiversity data for Yasunı
´. Mapping
amphibian, bird, mammal, and plant distributions, we found eastern Ecuador and northern Peru to be the only regions in
South America where species richness centers for all four taxonomic groups overlap. This quadruple richness center has only
one viable strict protected area (IUCN levels I–IV): Yasunı
´. The park covers just 14% of the quadruple richness center’s area,
whereas active or proposed oil concessions cover 79%. Using field inventory data, we compared Yasunı
´’s local (alpha) and
landscape (gamma) diversity to other sites, in the western Amazon and globally. These analyses further suggest that Yasunı
´
is among the most biodiverse places on Earth, with apparent world richness records for amphibians, reptiles, bats, and trees.
Yasunı
´also protects a considerable number of threatened species and regional endemics.
Conclusions/Significance:
Yasunı
´has outstanding global conservation significance due to its extraordinary biodiversity and
potential to sustain this biodiversity in the long term because of its 1) large size and wilderness character, 2) intact large-
vertebrate assemblage, 3) IUCN level-II protection status in a region lacking other strict protected areas, and 4) likelihood of
maintaining wet, rainforest conditions while anticipated climate change-induced drought intensifies in the eastern Amazon.
However, further oil development in Yasunı
´jeopardizes its conservation values. These findings form the scientific basis for
policy recommendations, including stopping any new oil activities and road construction in Yasunı
´and creating areas off-
limits to large-scale development in adjacent northern Peru.
Citation: Bass MS, Finer M, Jenkins CN, Kreft H, Cisneros-Heredia DF, et al. (2010) Global Conservation Significance of Ecuador’s Yasunı
´National Park. PLoS
ONE 5(1): e8767. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0008767
Editor: Andy Hector, University of Zurich, Switzerland
Received April 1, 2009; Accepted November 17, 2009; Published January 19, 2010
Copyright: ß2010 Bass et al. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted
use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited.
Funding: The Blue Moon Fund, the Conservation, Food & Health Foundation, and the Forrest and Frances Lattner Foundation funded MF. The US National
Science Foundation (Graduate Research Fellowship Program), Texas State University-Department of Biology, and TADPOLE funded SM. The US National Science
Foundation, the L.S.B. Leakey Foundation, the Wenner-Gren Foundation for Anthropological Research, and Primate Conservation, Inc. funded AD. Establishment
of the Tiputini Biodiversity Station supported by the US National Science Foundation–DBI-0434875 (Thomas H. Kunz, PI, with Laura M. MacLatchy, Christopher J.
Schneider, and C. Kelly Swing, Co-PIs). The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.
Competing Interests: The authors have declared that no competing interests exist.
* E-mail: matt@saveamericasforests.org
Introduction
The western Amazon is one of the world’s last high-biodiversity
wilderness areas [1,2], a region of extraordinary species richness across
taxa [3–9] where large tracts of intact forests remain [10,11]. Indeed, it
is still possible to walk continuously through mega-diverse forest from
southern Peru to southern Venezuela—a distance of ,2,000 kilome-
ters—without crossing a single road. However, numerous major
threats confront the ecosystems of this region—including hydrocarbon
and mining projects, illegal logging, oil palm plantations, and large-
scale transportation projects under the umbrella of IIRSA (Initiative
for the Integration of Regional Infrastructure in South America) [12].
For example, oil and gas concessions now cover vast areas, even
overlapping protected areas and titled indigenous lands [13].
PLoS ONE | www.plosone.org 1 January 2010 | Volume 5 | Issue 1 | e8767
Yasunı
´National Park (Yasunı
´) in Ecuador is a major protected
area within the western Amazon, yet it faces threats emblematic of
those facing the entire region. The park occupies a unique location
at the intersection of the Andes (,100 km from the Andean
foothills), the Amazon (near the western phytogeographic limit of
the Amazon Basin) [14], and the Equator (,1uS) (Figure 1A).
Created in 1979, Yasunı
´covers approximately 9,820 km
2
[15,16],
and is surrounded by a 10 kilometer buffer zone in all directions
except to the east, where it meets the Ecuador-Peru border [17].
The park overlaps ancestral Waorani (or Huaorani) territory, and
is inhabited by at least two clans living in voluntary isolation [16].
In 1989, Yasunı
´and much of the adjacent area that is now the
Waorani Ethnic Reserve were designated a UNESCO Man and
the Biosphere Reserve [18]. Yasunı
´’s climate is characterized by
warm temperatures (averaging 24–27uC for all months), high
rainfall (,3,200 mm annually), and high relative humidity
(averaging 80–94% throughout the year) [19]. Yasunı
´is within
the ‘‘Core Amazon,’’ a particularly wet region with high annual
rainfall and no severe dry season [20]. The park’s elevational
range is small (from ,190 to ,400 m above sea level), but it is
crossed by frequent ridges of 25 to 70 meters [21,22]. Soils are
mostly geologically young, fluvial sediments from erosion of the
Andes [22,23]. Yasunı
´protects a large tract of the Napo Moist
Forests terrestrial ecoregion [24] and the Upper Amazon
Piedmont freshwater ecoregion, which contains numerous head-
water rivers of the Amazon [25].
Several large-scale development projects exist or have been
proposed within the park and its buffer zone. Leased or proposed
oil concessions cover the northern half of Yasunı
´, and four oil
access roads have already been built into the park or its buffer
zone (Figure 1B). These roads have facilitated colonization,
deforestation, fragmentation, and overhunting of large fauna in
the northwestern section of the park [26–34] and illegal logging in
the south and west [26,35]. Under IIRSA, the Napo River, which
borders the northern side of the park, may be dredged in order to
become part of a major transport route connecting Brazil’s port of
Manaus with Ecuador’s Pacific coastal ports [36]. Moreover, large
oil palm plantations have been established near the park, just
north of the Napo River. Despite these incursions, intact forest still
covers the vast majority of Yasunı
´[32,34].
One of the most serious issues confronting Yasunı
´is that
Ecuador’s second largest untapped oil fields lie beneath the largely
intact, northeastern section of the park (in the ‘‘ITT’’ Block,
containing the Ishpingo, Tambococha, and Tiputini oil fields;
Figure 1B). The adjacent Block 31 contains additional untapped
reserves underlying Yasunı
´. Efforts by scientists and conservation-
ists stopped a new oil-access road into Block 31 planned by Brazil’s
Petrobras, but Ecuador could re-auction this block at any time. In
response to strong opposition to oil drilling in Yasunı
´, the
Government of Ecuador launched the novel Yasunı
´-ITT Initiative
in 2007. The Initiative offers to keep ITT oil permanently
underground and unexploited in exchange for financial compen-
sation from the international community or from carbon markets
[37–38]. The Initiative’s primary goals are to respect the territory
of indigenous peoples, combat climate change by keeping
,410 M metric tons of CO
2
out of the atmosphere, and protect
the park and its biodiversity.
The global conservation significance of Yasunı
´—a site often
referred to anecdotally as one of the most biodiverse places on
Earth (e.g., [39,40])—may thus weigh heavily in upcoming state-
level and international decisions affecting the park. A preliminary
assessment of Yasunı
´’s biodiversity was conducted in 2004 in
response to Petrobras’ planned road [27]. We build upon that
effort here and provide the first comprehensive synthesis of
biodiversity data for Yasunı
´, assessing species richness, endemism,
and threatened species across various taxonomic groups. We
compare our findings to those from other regions, and discuss the
global conservation significance of Yasunı
´by evaluating its
potential to sustain a high percentage of Amazonian biodiversity
in the long term. We then assess the threats to Yasunı
´’s
Figure 1. Ecuador’s Yasunı
´National Park. A) Location of Yasunı
´National Park at the crossroads of the Amazon, Andes, and the Equator. B) Oil
blocks and oil access roads within and surrounding the park. ITT = Ishpingo-Tambococha-Tiputini oil fields, NWC = Napo Wildlife Center, TBS = Tiputini
Biodiversity Station, YRS = Yasunı
´Research Station. The image background is the Blue Marble mosaic of MODIS satellite images.
doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0008767.g001
Yasunı
´National Park
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conservation values from oil development. We close with policy
recommendations drawing upon these findings.
Results and Discussion
Species Richness
Distribution maps of amphibian, bird, mammal, and vascular
plant species across South America (Figure 2) show that Yasunı
´
occupies a unique biogeographic position where species richness of
all four taxonomic groups reach diversity maxima (i.e., quadruple
richness center, see Figure 3). For amphibians, birds, and mammals,
these are not just continental, but global, maxima of species richness
at local scales (#100 km
2
) [5,41–43]. The same is true of tree
community richness (see below). This relatively small (28,025 km
2
)
quadruple richness center encompasses just 0.16% of South
America and less than 0.5% of the Amazon Basin. Yasunı
´is the
only strict protected conservation area (considered here as IUCN
levels I–IV; see [44,45]) within the quadruple richness center,
covering just 14% of its area, while 79% of the center currently
coincides with active or proposed oil concessions. In addition to the
park, the adjacent Waorani Ethnic Reserve and a disjunct stretch
just across the border in northern Loreto, Peru, account for much of
the remaining area of the quadruple richness center.
To substantiate the mapping results, we synthesized data sets
from field inventories and publications to establish Yasunı
´’s
‘‘local’’ and ‘‘landscape’’ species richness. The former reflects
the complexity of a community, or alpha diversity, while the latter
is a measure of the total richness within an area, or gamma
diversity, and is a product of the alpha diversity of its local
communities and the degree of beta differentiation among them
[46]. Local richness is defined here, as it is in the maps for
vertebrate taxa (Figure 2A–2C), as the total species occurring in
#100 km
2
. In the field inventories described below, local richness
is typically sampled in areas ranging from a fraction of a hectare to
a few hundred hectares. Landscape richness is defined here as the
total number of species occurring in areas typically #10,000 km
2
(after Pitman [23]), conveniently roughly equivalent to the size of
Yasunı
´in its entirety. Species richness data qualified as ‘‘known,’’
‘‘documented,’’ or ‘‘confirmed’’ refer to species actually collected,
sighted, or otherwise known by experts to occur within an area.
Data qualified as ‘‘expected,’’ ‘‘estimated,’’ or ‘‘projected’’ refer to
species anticipated for an area based upon expert opinion or
statistical analyses. Due to data limitations, the field inventory
analyses focus more on amphibians, reptiles, birds, mammals, and
vascular plants, than on fish and insects. We compare Yasunı
´’s
richness to that documented for other sites, in the western Amazon
and globally. These comparisons support the mapping results,
and suggest that Yasunı
´is among the world’s most biodiverse
sites, both at landscape (Table 1) and local spatial scales
(Table 2).
Figure 2. Species richness patterns of northern South America. Species richness for A) amphibians, B) birds, C) mammals, and D) vascular
plants. See Materials and Methods for details.
doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0008767.g002
Yasunı
´National Park
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The world’s greatest amphibian diversity on a landscape scale is
found in the upper Amazon Basin of Ecuador and Peru, and in the
Atlantic Forest of eastern Brazil, according to a recent analysis
reflecting distribution data and expert opinion (with richness
assessed in ,3,000 km
2
grids) [6]. Data from field inventories
support this finding. The 150 amphibian species documented to
date throughout Yasunı
´is a world record among comparable
landscapes. Yasunı
´’s known total exceeds the IUCN database total
of species known, inferred, and projected to occur in an area of
similar size in the greater Iquitos region of northern Loreto, Peru
(141 spp./11,310 km
2
) [47], and exceeds known field records
from a much larger area sampled in that region (112 spp./
,30,150 km
2
) [48,49]. Yasunı
´also tops field counts for amphibian
diversity from other intensively sampled western Amazon sites:
Tambopata in southern Peru (99 spp./1600 km
2
) [50] and around
Leticia, Colombia (123 spp./927 km
2
) [49,51]. The vast majority
of Yasunı
´’s species are frogs and toads (141 spp.), more than are
native to the United States and Canada combined (99 spp.) [47].
At a local spatial scale, the Tiputini Biodiversity Station (TBS; see
Figure 1B) currently holds the world record for amphibian alpha
diversity (139 documented spp/6.5 km
2
) [52,53]. This exceeds a
recent count from Leticia, Colombia, previously described as
having the richest frog assemblage in the world (98 spp./12 km
straight line distance) [49,51].
Reptile landscape richness in Yasunı
´is extremely high as well,
with 121 species documented in the park. A smaller area just south
of Iquitos is nearly as rich (120 spp./577 km
2
) [54,55], indicating
that high South American reptile landscape richness may extend
across the Ecuador-Peru border between Yasunı
´and Iquitos.
Indeed, another count in northern Loreto, Peru exceeds that of
Yasunı
´, although for a much larger area (143 spp./,43,425 km
2
in
the greater Iquitos region [49,56]), with sampling throughout
this area and slightly beyond (J. R. Dixon, pers. comm). By a
considerable margin, Yasunı
´’s documented landscape richness of
reptiles surpasses reports for the southwestern Amazon (Tambo-
pata, Peru: 110 spp./1600 km
2
) [50] and for all Brazilian Amazon
Figure 3. Richness center overlap. Richness center overlap of four key focus groups—amphibians, birds, mammals and vascular plants. A richness
center is defined as the top 6.4% of grid cells for each taxonomic group (see Materials and Methods for details). 4 groups =area where richness
centers for all four groups overlap; 3 groups = richness centers for three groups overlap; 2 groups = richness centers for two groups overlap;
1 group = richness center for just one group occurs; 0 = richness center for none of the four groups.
doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0008767.g003
Yasunı
´National Park
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sites except one [57,58]. Globally, Yasu
´also leads Malaysia’s
Kinabalu Park in number of known reptile species (112 spp./
750 km
2
) [59], and although higher reports exist for Africa, they are
for much larger areas [60]. To our knowledge, Samuel, Rondoˆnia
(within the Brazilian Amazon), is the only site globally with greater
documented reptile richness than Yasunı
´’s within an equivalent or
smaller area (129 Squamata spp./560 km
2
) [57,58]. That Yasunı
´
outmatches nearly all intensively sampled sites is notable, given the
limited area sampled within the park [53,61]. At a local scale, the
forests protected by Yasunı
´may indeed be the richest globally. TBS
appears to hold the alpha diversity record for reptiles, with 108
documented species in 6.5 km
2
[52,53]. It greatly exceeds
intensively sampled western Amazon sites to the south (e.g., Cusco
Amazo´nico in Tambopata: 89 spp./,100 km
2
) [50,62] and well-
studied Central American localities (e.g., Barro Colorado Island,
Panama: 81 spp. of Squamata/3 km
2
, and La Selva, Costa Rica: 81
spp. of Squamata/15.1 km
2
) [57,58]. Yasunı
´’s local richness in
reptile species surpasses even the richest site known in Africa (89
spp. in the 150 km
2
Mt. Nlonako area in Cameroon) [63].
Considered together, the Yasunı
´herpetofauna—271 species of
amphibians and reptiles—is the most diverse assemblage ever
documented on a landscape scale, even higher than record totals
from northern Peru (255/greater Iquitos area of ,43,425 km
2
)
[48,49,56] and from southern Peru (210 spp./1600 km
2
of
Tambopata) [50]. Remarkably, Yasunı
´harbors roughly one-third
of the Amazon Basin’s amphibian and reptile species, despite
covering less than 0.15% of its total area (Table 3). On Yasunı
´’s
border, TBS holds the world record for local richness of known
herpetofauna (247 spp./6.5 km
2
) [53], far exceeding other western
Amazon localities such as those within Tambopata [50].
Yasunı
´has high fish richness documented in some of its rivers,
and may be a global center for fish landscape richness, but world-
wide data are still being compiled [64,65]. All of Yasunı
´’s major
rivers ultimately flow into the Napo River in Ecuador or Peru. The
Napo River Basin is part of the Upper Amazon Piedmont
freshwater ecoregion, which is considered ‘‘Globally Outstanding’’
because experts project its species richness and endemism to be so
high [25]. The Napo River Basin has 562 fish species documented
[66]. This is more than the 501 species reported for the entire
Bolivian Amazon, which contains a potential hotspot of fish
biodiversity [67]. The fish diversity for Yasunı
´includes 382 known
species [68], with a total of 499 estimated (K. Swing, unpub. data).
The number of known species in Yasunı
´alone exceeds that of the
entire Mississippi River Basin (,375 estimated spp.), one of the
three largest watersheds in the world [64]. Just the lower Yasunı
´
River Basin, in the northeast corner of the park within the ITT oil
block, has 277 fish species documented [66].
The Tropical Andes contain the greatest resident bird richness
on the planet at the landscape scale (as assessed in grids of
,12,000 km
2
), but the Amazon, including Yasunı
´, is not far
behind [42]. Remarkably, Yasunı
´as a whole contains at least 596
documented bird species, representing one-third of the Amazon’s
total native species (Table 3). At local spatial scales, a north-south
stretch of forest in the western Amazon appears to be the richest
known globally, whether highland or lowland. Bird lists from
individual sites within Yasunı
´contain between 550 species (in
6.5 km
2
at TBS) [69] and 571 species (at the 15 km
2
Napo
Wildlife Center) [70]. The only site in the world of a slightly larger,
but still comparable, area where documented bird richness rivals
that of Yasunı
´is in the southern Peruvian Amazon, where over
575 species have been found in the 50 km
2
area around Explorer’s
Inn [71]. Similarly, data from standardized field plots (,1km
2
and ,15 ha) and mist netting studies indicate that local-scale bird
richness within and around Yasunı
´[72–74] is rivaled only by sites
in southeastern Peru [4,69], and exceeds that of sites assessed with
similar sampling methods and effort in Bolivia [72], French
Guiana [75], Central America [74,76], and other tropical areas
globally, including Gabon, New Guinea, and Borneo [72].
For mammals, the Andes and eastern Africa are the richest
regions in the world at the landscape scale, according to a recent
analysis reflecting species distribution data and expert opinion
(assessed in grids of 250,000 km
2
) [77]. Still, western Amazonian
forests, including Yasunı
´, appear to be globally unique in their
ability to support at least 200 coexisting mammal species [5]. Our
Yasunı
´mammal list contains 169 species documented in the park,
with at least 35 more expected there based on range data, for a total
of 204 species. The Yasunı
´fauna includes approximately one-third
of all Amazonian mammals (Table 3), and 44% of all mammals
known from Ecuador (382 spp.) [78]. Considering that Ecuador has
the world’s ninth highest mammal diversity [79], finding nearly half
of the country’s mammals in a single park is remarkable. At a local
scale, the number of coexisting mammal species is also extraordi-
nary. Ten primate species are confirmed to coexist near TBS (A. Di
Fiore, unpub. data, [80]), with two additional expected species
within the park (Saguinus nigricollis, reported in the Block 31 oil
company environmental impact assessment [81], and Saguinus
fuscicollis, which may occur in the southwest portion of Yasunı
´[78]).
The upper estimate of 12 primate species approaches the richest
known sites in the Neotropics (14 sympatric spp. in eastern Peru and
western Brazilian Amazon) [82,83] and west Africa [84], and
exceeds that for comparably-sized regions of southeast Asia.
Importantly, Yasunı
´’s primate richness represents only one major
primate radiation while those in west Africa and southeast Asia
represent three different primate radiations.
Table 1. Landscape-scale species richness, threatened
species, and regional endemics of Yasunı
´National Park.
Species
Richness
a
Threatened
Species
g
Regional
Endemics
i
Amphibians 150 1 20
Reptiles 121 2
Birds 596 2 19
Mammals 169–204
b
84
Fish 382
c
–499
d
0–
Plants 2,704
e
,4,000
f
28–56
h
,400–720
j
a
Total species known for Yasunı
´National Park as a whole (,10,000 km
2
), from
data synthesized for this paper, unless noted.
b
Lower total represents mammal species known to occur in Yasunı
´. Higher total
is an estimate that includes species known or expected to occur in Yasunı
´.
c
Fish species known for Yasunı
´[68].
d
Fish species expected for Yasunı
´(K. Swing, unpub. data).
e
Vascular species known for Yasunı
´(H. Mogollon and J. Guevara, unpub. data, G.
Villa, unpub. data, [92–94]).
f
Vascular plant species expected per 10,000 km
2
in the global plant diversity
center within which Yasunı
´lies [91].
g
Total threatened species known to occur in Yasunı
´, including only those
species listed as Critically Endangered, Endangered, or Vulnerable in the IUCN
Red List of Threatened Species [47]. Data synthesized for this paper, unless
noted.
h
Lower total represents threatened plant species known to occur in Yasunı
´.
Higher total is an estimate that includes threatened plant species known or
expected to occur in Yasunı
´.
i
Total regional endemics known to occur in Yasunı
´, from data synthesized for
this paper, unless noted. Dashes indicate unknowns. See text for further
description of regional endemics.
j
Estimated range of total regional endemic plant species that occur in Yasunı
´.
See text for derivation of estimates.
doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0008767.t001
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´National Park
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Yasunı
´has amongst the highest local bat richness for any site in
the world [85]. Rigorous comparison of Yasunı
´’s local richness
with that of the Andes and Central America indicates that Yasunı
´
has higher documented and projected richness, and is among the
richest of Amazonian sites [85]. Whereas 117 bat species are
estimated to occur on a regional scale within the Amazon Basin
[86], Yasunı
´is projected to harbor comparable richness on just a
local scale [85]. Using the same protocol and effort, ten plots of
1 ha within the same size area (,7.07 km
2
) were sampled at
Yasunı
´’s TBS, at Bombuscaro River in Podocarpus National Park
in Ecuador’s Andes, and at La Selva in Costa Rica. (La Selva was
included in the study because its bat assemblage is so well studied
that it could be used to assess the accuracy of different estimation
methods.) In the sample plots, documented phyllostomid species
were highest in Yasunı
´by a statistically significant margin
(TBS = 44 spp., La Selva = 31 spp., Podocarpus= 22 spp.) [85].
Using a statistical tool—Jackknife 2—to estimate total richness
from the field data, phyllostomid richness was projected to be
highest at TBS (TBS = 58 spp., La Selva = 39 spp., Podocar-
pus = 25 spp.). Rarefaction of capture data from TBS and La Selva
to the number of individuals captured at Podocarpus showed that
both sites were statistically richer than Podocarpus (TBS = 3764.8
spp., La Selva = 2763.6 spp.). Rarefaction of capture data from
TBS to the number of individuals captured at La Selva showed
TBS to be the richest of the three (TBS = 4461 spp.). Capture
data at TBS represented only 64% of the projected total richness.
While Jackknife 2 was considered the best of the tested estimators,
its projection of La Selva’s phyllostomid richness was ,20% lower
than the known total. Assuming that Jackknife 2 underestimated
phyllostomid richness at the other sites to the same degree (i.e.,
,20% underestimate), and given the typical proportion of
phyllostomids within Neotropical rainforest bat assemblages,
Table 2. Local-scale species richness of Yasunı
´National Park.
Group No. of Species Sample Area Locale Source
Amphibians 139 6.5 km
2
TBS [53]
Reptiles 108 6.5 km
2
TBS [53]
Birds 571 15 km
2
NWC [70]
Birds 285 1 km
2
TBS [74]
Birds 284 1 km
2
YRS [73]
Primates 10 6.5 km
2
TBS [80]
Bats 58 7.07 km
2
TBS [85]
Bats .100 (projected) 7.07 km
2
TBS [85]
Trees ($1 cm dbh) 655 (mean) per ha (in 25 ha plot) YRS [96]
Trees ($10 cm dbh) 293 1 ha Capiro
´n [101]
Trees ($10 cm dbh) 282 1 ha (in 25 ha plot) YRS R. Condit, pers. comm.
Trees ($10 cm dbh) 251 (mean) per ha (in 25 ha plot) YRS [96]
Trees ($10 cm dbh) 242 (mean) per ha (n = 19) Within and close to Yasunı
´Data taken from [101]
Epiphytes 313 6.5 km
2
TBS [93]
Epiphytes 146 0.1 ha TBS [93]
Lianas ($1 cm) 109 1 ha (sampled with non-contiguous
transects totalling 0.2 ha)
Yasunı
´and Waorani Ethnic Reserve [206]
Lianas ($1 cm) 98 (mean) 1 ha (sampled with non-contiguous
transects totalling 0.2 ha) (n = 6)
Yasunı
´and Waorani Ethnic Reserve [95]
Lianas ($2.5 cm) 50 0.1 ha (sampled in non-contiguous
transects, all within 1 ha plot)
Yasunı
´and Waorani Ethnic Reserve [95]
Lianas ($2.5 cm dbh) 27 0.1 ha (transect) YRS [92]
Lianas (all dbh size classes) 96 0.2 ha (transect) YRS [92]
Lianas (all dbh size classes) 65 0.1 ha (transect) YRS [92]
NWC = Napo Wildlife Center, TBS = Tiputini Biodiversity Station, YRS = Yasunı
´Research Station. No. of Species represents total species actually documented in the
Sample Area through field inventories, unless otherwise noted. Tree and liana data are largely from terra firme forests.
doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0008767.t002
Table 3. Yasunı
´National Park’s conservation value in terms of
protecting Amazonian species.
Yasunı
´
a
Amazonia
b
Amazonian Species
in Yasunı
´(%)
Area
9,820 km
2
6,683,926 km
2
0.15%
Amphibians 150 527 28%
Reptiles 121 371
c
33%
Birds 596 1,778 34%
Mammals 169–204 627 27–33%
Fish 382–499 3,200
d
12–16%
Plants 2,704–,4,000 40,000
c
7–10%
a
Total species known for Yasunı
´, from data synthesized for this paper, unless
otherwise noted in Table 1.
b
Unless noted, Amazonia species totals are total estimated native species
defined by ecoregions [207], using maps of [208].
c
Estimate from [2], compiled through literature reviews and consultations with
experts.
d
Fish species expected for the Amazon Basin [209].
doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0008767.t003
Yasunı
´National Park
PLoS ONE | www.plosone.org 6 January 2010 | Volume 5 | Issue 1 | e8767
overall bat species richness for TBS was projected to be .100
coexisting species. This was nearly double the total projected for
Podocarpus (,50 spp.) [85], and considerably more than La
Selva’s documented total (74 spp.) [87]. Furthermore, TBS has
significantly higher diversity than the Andes or Costa Rica, as
measured by both the Shannon-Weiner and Simpson diversity
indices. Indeed, TBS has the highest Shannon-Weiner diversity
index for any bat assemblage in the world (H9= 3.04) [85],
exceeding the global record from a savanna ecosystem in Bolivia
(H9= 2.88) [88].
For insects, global data are preliminary, but Yasunı
´appears to
harbor extremely rich ant [40,89] and beetle [7] assemblages. A
single hectare of forest in Yasunı
´is projected to contain at least
100,000 insect species (T. Erwin, pers. comm.), approximately the
same number of insect species as is found throughout all of North
America [90]. This comparison illustrates again how extremely
diverse Yasunı
´is at local scales. The Yasunı
´per-hectare insect
estimate represents the highest estimated biodiversity per unit area
in the world for any taxonomic group (T. Erwin, pers. comm.).
For vascular plants, Yasunı
´is among the richest areas globally at
a landscape scale. Yasunı
´falls within one of only nine centers of
global plant diversity, defined in a recent assessment as those areas
having more than 4,000 estimated vascular plant species per
10,000 km
2
[91]. Yasunı
´is not, however, in the top five richest
centers (Costa Rica-Choco´ , Atlantic Brazil, Tropical Eastern
Andes, Northern Borneo, and New Guinea, each with more than
5,000 estimated spp./10,000 km
2
) [91]. Field inventory data lag
behind that assessment, with just over 2,700 vascular plant species
currently documented for Yasunı
´: 138 lianas [92], 313 epiphytes
[93], 140 pteridophytes [94], and 2,113 trees and shrubs—with
1,813 identified (H. Mogollon and J. Guevara, unpub. data) and
another 300 unidentified but morphologically distinct (G. Villa,
unpub. data). Yasunı
´’s total richness of vascular plants climbs to at
least 3,213 with expected species, including 161 additional trees
and shrubs collected from provinces bordering Yasunı
´(H.
Mogollon and J. Guevara, unpub. data) and 486 lianas collected
either in Yasunı
´or in the Waorani Ethnic Reserve [95].
At the local scale, Yasunı
´does appear to protect the richest area
in the world of woody plant species. Yasunı
´holds at least four
global records for documented tree and liana richness: mean
number of tree and shrub species per ha (size classes $1 cm dbh,
per 25–50 ha plot sampled) [96]; mean number of larger tree
species per ha (size classes $10 cm dbh, per 25–50 ha plot
sampled) (Tables 2 and 4, and [96]); liana species $2.5 cm in
comparable 0.1 ha plots [92]; and liana species of all size classes in
0.1 ha plots [92]. Yasunı
´also holds a projected global record for
tree and shrub species richness, from the Center for Tropical
Forest Science (CTFS) Yasunı
´plot. With over 1,100 species-level
taxa of trees and shrubs documented in the first 25 hectares of
Yasunı
´’s CTFS plot [96], census of the remaining 25 hectares is
projected to bring the total to over 1,300 species ($1 cm dbh)
[97]. This would make it by far the richest CTFS 50 ha plot yet
sampled in the world (Table 4). Yasunı
´also holds three world
records in diversity measures for woody plant species. The Yasunı
´
CTFS plot has the highest average diversity of trees and shrubs per
ha, as measured by both the Shannon-Weiner and the Fisher’s
alpha diversity indices, and per 25 ha, as measured by the Fisher’s
alpha diversity index (with the Shannon-Weiner not available for
25 hectares across plots) (see Table 4, references therein, and
[98]). At the local scale, Yasunı
´also holds the global lowland forest
record for documented epiphytes in 0.1 ha, surpassing even some
Andean counts [93]. Together, these studies suggest that a typical
hectare of terra firme forest in Yasunı
´contains upwards of 655 tree
species [96]—more than are native to the continental United
States and Canada combined [99]—and well over 900 total
species of vascular plants [92,93,95,96].
The forests harboring record-setting global woody plant species
richness are not restricted to Yasunı
´alone. While plots sampling
trees and shrubs down to 1 cm dbh have not been established
throughout the Amazon Basin, plots for larger trees have
($10 cm dbh) [9,23,100,101]. These confirm that the world’s
richest 1 ha tree plots occur in Amazonia, and that Amazonia’s
richest plots occupy a large east-west band of forest stretching
along the equator from Yasunı
´to Manaus, 1,700 kilometers to the
east [9,100,101]. Thus, the richness in tree species found in Yasunı
´
does not extend north-south throughout all western Amazon
forests [23]. It is still too early to determine which areas of this
equatorial band have the most diverse tree communities at the
1 ha scale. To date, Yasunı
´and forests within 200 kilometers of
Yasunı
´boast the fifth, sixth, and seventh most diverse 1 ha tree
plots of the more than one hundred established in this equatorial
band (Cuyabeno =307 spp. [102], Boca Curaray =308 spp. [101],
Capiro´ n =293 spp.) (N. Pitman, unpub. data, [101]), exceeding all
previous counts published as world records [103]. Even when
compared to Malaysian forests, the richness of this narrow east-
west band of Amazonian forests is apparently unmatched [104].
As can be seen from the above field data, sample areas and
effort are generally not standardized throughout the tropics. We
sought to address this uncertainty in three ways. First, we
distinguished between ‘‘documented’’ species totals—i.e., where
identifications have been confirmed by us or other experts and
thus we consider them to have minimal error—and ‘‘estimated’’
totals—i.e., where richness numbers may be higher, but uncer-
tainty is greater. Second, given that area has a major effect on total
richness [46,98], and that diversity in its strict sense is
appropriately measured as the number of species in a sample of
standard size [46], we divided our richness analyses into two area-
based scales, local and landscape richness (after Whittaker [46]
and Pitman et al. [23]). Third, we consistently noted the size of
sampled areas from which richness records are drawn. When
studies did not give the size, we made our own rough calculations
[49]. The reader is thus alerted to any comparisons between
unequal areas, providing transparency about, but not minimizing,
the uncertainty of comparisons within the two area-based scales of
analysis. In light of our precautions, we consider the field analyses
and conclusions to be as reliable and conservative as possible (see
Text S1 for more details on uncertainty in the data). With regard
to the extent and boundaries of the quadruple richness center, we
also must acknowledge the uneven sampling across Amazonia
[5,100,105,106]. Yet the most standardized and therefore
definitive field inventory comparisons of Yasunı
´’s local richness
with other sites are those for trees and shrubs (Table 4,
[23,98,100,101]), birds [72–75], and bats [85]. For all these taxa,
Yasunı
´’s known or expected richness is among the highest in the
world. Thus, while the boundaries and full extent of the quadruple
richness center may change, the field data substantiate its general
location.
Conclusions on Yasunı
´’s Species Richness
Yasunı
´National Park is globally outstanding for its exceptional
biological richness on both landscape and local scales, across
taxonomic groups. On a landscape scale, the area is: one of the
two richest in the world for amphibian species, the second richest
known to date for reptiles, within the top nine richest centers for
vascular plants (and the top center for trees and shrubs), among
the richest lowland areas for birds, high in mammal richness
(particularly for bats), and very rich in fish species. At the local
scale, species distribution maps (Figure 2) are substantiated by
Yasunı
´National Park
PLoS ONE | www.plosone.org 7 January 2010 | Volume 5 | Issue 1 | e8767
comparisons of field inventories, and suggest that Yasunı
´protects
forests harboring peak global richness for amphibians, birds, and
mammals. Field data further suggest that Yasunı
´protects the
globally richest documented reptile and combined herpetofaunal
communities; a large stretch of forest with the globally richest
documented tree communities; a stretch of one of the globally
richest documented areas for birds; and the projected globally
richest bat and insect communities. Notably, the park’s high
species richness of different taxonomic groups does not extend
uniformly north-south along the Andean foothills (Figures 2A–2D).
Therefore, even within the western Amazon, Yasunı
´stands out.
The high landscape-scale diversity described in the Andes for
some taxa is due in large part to its greater environmental
heterogeneity or ‘‘geodiversity’’ [91]. For example, the Ecuadorian
Tropical Andes have higher landscape-level plant (see Figure 2D),
bird [42], and mammal diversity [77], but Yasunı
´is clearly richer
at local scales for these three groups. At the coarse scales of
analysis used in these and similar studies, typically around
10,000 km
2
, individual cells of analysis in the Andes can
encompass a wide variety of habitats and environmental
conditions (or even multiple mountain ranges). The consequence
is to inflate the richness values well above what one would ever
find at a single location on the ground. While such large
biogeographic areas may indeed have the high richness numbers
reported, it is unlikely that any single site within them approaches
such high numbers. In Yasunı
´, that is not the case, as illustrated in
Figure 2 by the high species richness within the finer resolution
grid cells (100 km
2
) of the three animal groups—amphibians,
birds, and mammals.
It is still unknown exactly why Yasunı
´is so diverse. Richness is
likely fostered by the conditions found at this unique location at
the intersection of the Andes, the Amazon, and the Equator.
Pitman et al. [23] have speculated that the most important factors
behind Yasunı
´’s high plant diversity are the high rainfall and
relatively aseasonal climate. This hypothesis is consistent with
global-scale diversity trends and climate-richness relationships
documented for plants and other groups of organisms (e.g.,
[107,108]). High annual rainfall coupled with a limited dry season
appears to be a major factor for the high amphibian diversity as
well [41]. Average annual rainfall in Yasunı
´(,3,200 mm) is
considerably higher than the average across Amazonia
(,2,400 mm) [109]. Moreover, unlike the southwestern Amazon,
temperatures in Yasunı
´never fall below the critical plant-chilling-
damage temperature of 10uC [19,110]. This combination of ever-
wet and ever-warm conditions is due to Yasunı
´’s being at a
geographic crossroads—in close proximity to both the equator and
the Andes [93]. Separately, Kraft et al. [111] found that ecological
‘‘strategy differentiation’’ among species is another major factor in
the maintenance of Yasunı
´’s high tree diversity. Its aseasonality,
resulting in year-round availability of fruit and flowers, may be an
important factor in the park’s exceptional number of coexisting
birds [112] and mammals [5] and overall high animal biomass.
Other potential factors abound, such as possible climatic stability
over evolutionary time-scales [113], but well-supported explana-
tions for the region’s diversity are still elusive.
Threatened Species
Yasunı
´is home to a considerable number of globally threatened
species, i.e., those listed by the IUCN as Critically Endangered,
Endangered, or Vulnerable [47] (Tables 1, 5, 6, 7). These include
13 documented vertebrate species and an estimated 56 plant
species (28 documented in the park, with another 28 expected). An
additional 15 vertebrate species are Near Threatened, along with
an estimated 47 plant species (30 documented, 17 expected).
The tree Rollinia helosioides is the only Critically Endangered
species (i.e., facing an extremely high risk of extinction in the wild)
Table 4. Global comparison of shrub and tree species richness in the Center for Tropical Forest Science (CTFS) Forest Dynamics
Plots.
Site Country
Tree Spp.
($1 cm dbh,
Mean/ha)
Tree Spp.
($10 cm dbh,
Mean/ha)
Tree Spp.
($1 cm dbh,
Total)
Fisher’s alpha
(Trees $1cm
dbh, Mean/ha)
Total
Census
Area (ha) Source
Yasunı
´National Park Ecuador 655 251 1,104 187.1 25 [96]
Lambir Hills National Park Malaysia 618 247 1,182 165.3 52 [104]
Pasoh Forest Reserve Malaysia 495 206 814 123.9 50 [210]
Khao Ch ong Wildlife Refuge Thailand 612 24 [211]
Yunnan Province (Xishuangbanna) China 468 20 [211]
Bukit Timah Nature Reserve Singapore 276 113 329 60.0 2 [212]
Korup National Park Cameroon 236 87 494 48.0 50 [213]
Palanan Wilderness Area Philippines 197 100 335 43.4 16 [214]
Barro Colorado Island Panama 169 91 301 34.6 50 [215]
Okapi Faunal Reserve (Ituri) D.R. of Congo 161 57 420 29.5 40 [216]
La Planada Nature Reserve Colombia 154 88 228 30.6 25 [217]
Sinharaja World Heritage Site Sri Lanka 142 72 205 24.4 25 [218]
Doi Inthanon National Park Thailand 104.9 66.6 162 19 15 [219]
Ken-Ting National Park Taiwan 104 61 125 3 [220]
Huai Kha Khaeng W. Sanctuary Thailand 96 65 251 23.3 50 [221]
Luquillo Experimental Forest Puerto Rico 73.3 42.1 138 16 [222]
Northern Taiwan (Fushan) Taiwan 110 25 [211]
Mudumalai Wildlife Sanctuary India 24.7 19.8 71 5.9 50 [223]
doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0008767.t004
Yasunı
´National Park
PLoS ONE | www.plosone.org 8 January 2010 | Volume 5 | Issue 1 | e8767
documented in Yasunı
´(Table 7). Of other plant species
documented or expected in Yasunı
´, seven are Endangered (i.e.,
facing a very high risk of extinction in the wild). Among these is
Cedrela fissilis, a tree targeted by illegal loggers. Most of its natural
subpopulations within Ecuador have already been destroyed
[114].
Eight of the threatened vertebrates are mammals, which likely
qualifies Yasunı
´as a threatened mammals hotspot (defined by
Ceballos et al. [43] as being the top 5% of 10,000-km
2
cells in a
global grid). Yasunı
´has important populations of two globally
Endangered mammal species, the White-bellied Spider Monkey
(Ateles belzebuth) and the Giant Otter (Pteronura brasiliensis). The
White-bellied Spider Monkey was uplisted from Vulnerable to
Endangered in 2008 because it is thought to have declined by at
least 50% over the past 45 years (three generations), largely due to
over-hunting and habitat loss [115]. Similarly, the Giant Otter
may experience a halving of population size over the next 20 years
due to accelerating habitat destruction and degradation [116].
Yasunı
´and the Pastaza River are the Giant Otter’s most
important refuges in Ecuador [117]. Fewer than 250 sexually
reproductive individuals are estimated to remain in-country, with
Table 5. Threatened and Near Threatened species totals for
Yasunı
´National Park.
IUCN Category Amphibians Reptiles Birds Mammals Plants Total
Critically
Endangered (CR)
––1
1
Endangered (EN) 2 4
6
Vulnerable (VU) 1 2 2 6 23
34
Near Threatened
(NT)
1–5930
45
Total
227175886
Threatened species are those listed as Critically Endangered, Endangered, or
Vulnerable, while Near Threatened species are those listed as such or as the
older category of Lower Risk/Near Threatened, in the IUCN Red List of
Threatened Species [47]. Only species known to occur in Yasunı
´National Park
are included in the totals.
doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0008767.t005
Table 6. Threatened and Near Threatened vertebrates known to occur in Yasunı
´National Park.
Class Family Species Common Name IUCN
Amphibians Bufonidae Atelopus spumarius (complex) Pebas Stubfoot Toad VU
Bufonidae Rhinella festae Valle Santiago Beaked Toad NT
Reptiles Podocnemididae Podocnemis unifilis Yellow-spotted River Turtle VU
Testudinidae Geochelone denticulata South American Yellowfoot Tortoise VU
Birds Psittacidae Ara militaris Military Macaw VU
Parulidae Dendroica cerulea Cerulean Warbler VU
Anatidae Neochen jubata Orinoco Goose NT
Accipitridae Harpia harpyja Harpy Eagle NT
Accipitridae Morphnus guianensis Crested Eagle NT
Furnariidae Synallaxis cherriei Chestnut-throated Spinetail NT
Thamnophilidae Thamnophilus praecox Cocha Antshrike NT
Mammals Mustelidae Pteronura brasiliensis Giant Otter EN
Atelidae Ateles belzebuth White-bellied Spider Monkey EN
Trichechidae Trichechus inunguis Amazonian Manatee VU
Tapiridae Tapirus terrestris Lowland Tapir VU
Dasypodidae Priodontes maximus Giant Armadillo VU
Atelidae Lagothrix poeppigii Poeppig’s Woolly Monkey VU
Felidae Leopardus tigrinus Oncilla VU
Phyllostomidae Vampyressa melissa Melissa’s Yellow-eared Bat VU
Callitrichidae Saguinus tripartitus Golden-mantled Tamarin NT
Felidae Leopardus wiedii Margay NT
Felidae Panthera onca Jaguar NT
Canidae Atelocynus microtis Short-eared Dog NT
Canidae Speothos venaticus Bush Dog NT
Myrmecophagidae Myrmecophaga tridactyla Giant Anteater NT
Tayassuidae Tayassu pecari White-lipped Peccary NT
Phyllostomidae Vampyrum spectrum Spectral Bat NT
Phyllostomidae Sturnira oporaphilum Tschudi’s Yellow-shouldered Bat NT
Listings in the IUCN column are from the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species [47]. Abbreviations: EN =Endangered (facing a very high risk of extinction in the wild),
VU = Vulnerable (facing a high risk of extinction in the wild), and NT = Near Threatened (close to qualifying for or is likely to qualify for a threatened category in the near
future).
doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0008767.t006
Yasunı
´National Park
PLoS ONE | www.plosone.org 9 January 2010 | Volume 5 | Issue 1 | e8767
Table 7. Threatened plant species known to occur in Yasunı
´National Park.
Family Species Common Names Habit IUCN
Annonaceae Rollinia helosioides Tree CR
Apocynaceae Aspidosperma darienense Tree EN
Meliaceae Cedrela fissilis Missionaries’ Cedar Tree EN
Meliaceae Trichilia elsae Tree EN
Myristicaceae Virola surinamensis Baboonwood Tree EN
Alismataceae Echinodorus eglandulosus Aquatic Herb VU
Annonaceae Cremastosperma megalophyllum Tree VU
Asteraceae Critonia eggersii Liana VU
Begoniaceae Begonia oellgaardii Terrestrial Herb VU
Begoniaceae Begonia sparreana Terrestrial Herb VU
Dichapetalaceae Dichapetalum asplundeanum Tree VU
Fabaceae s.l. Inga yasuniana Tree VU
Gesneriaceae Reldia multiflora Terrestrial Herb VU
Lecythidaceae Couratari guianensis Fine-leaf Wadara Tree VU
Magnoliaceae Talauma neillii Tree VU
Malpighiaceae Bunchosia cauliflora Shrub, Tree VU
Marantaceae Calathea gandersii Terrestrial Herb VU
Meliaceae Cedrela odorata Cigar-box Wood, Red Cedar Tree VU
Meliaceae Trichilia solitudinis Tree VU
Proteaceae Euplassa occidentalis Tree VU
Rubiaceae Palicourea anianguana Shrub, Small Tree VU
Rubiaceae Simira wurdackii Tree VU
Sapotaceae Micropholis brochidodroma Tree VU
Sapotaceae Pouteria gracilis Tree VU
Sapotaceae Pouteria nudipetala Tree VU
Sapotaceae Pouteria pubescens Tree VU
Sapotaceae Pouteria vernicosa Tree VU
Sapotaceae Sarcaulus vestitus Tree VU
Annonaceae Rollinia dolichopetala Tree NT
Annonaceae Rollinia ecuadorensis Tree NT
Annonaceae Tetrameranthus globuliferus Tree NT
Annonaceae Trigynaea triplinervis Tree NT
Cecropiaceae Pourouma petiolulata Tree NT
Chrysobalanaceae Licania velutina Tree NT
Fabaceae s.l. Inga sarayacuensis Tree NT
Fabaceae s.l. Senna trolliiflora Tree NT
Gesneriaceae Besleria quadrangulata Subfructescent Herb NT
Gesneriaceae Nautilocalyx ecuadoranus Terrestrial Herb NT
Gesneriaceae Pearcea hypocyrtiflora Terrestrial Herb NT
Lauraceae Nectandra microcarpa Tree LR/nt
Loranthaceae Psittacanthus barlowii Parasitic Shrub NT
Marantaceae Calathea paucifolia Terrestrial Herb NT
Marantaceae Calathea plurispicata Terrestrial Herb NT
Marantaceae Calathea veitchiana Terrestrial Herb NT
Melastomataceae Clidemia longipedunculata Shrub, Small Tree NT
Melastomataceae Miconia abbreviata Small Tree LR/nt
Melastomataceae Miconia lugonis Tree NT
Memecylaceae Mouriri laxiflora Tree NT
Olacaceae Minquartia guianensis Black Manwood Tree LR/nt
Rubiaceae Alseis lugonis Tree NT
Yasunı
´National Park
PLoS ONE | www.plosone.org 10 January 2010 | Volume 5 | Issue 1 | e8767
Yasunı
´harboring an estimated 20 groups, each consisting of a
reproductive pair and averaging five individuals (V. Utreras,
unpub. data in [27,117]).
Yasunı
´is also home to numerous globally Vulnerable species
(i.e., facing a high risk of extinction in the wild), including six
more mammals. Poeppig’s Woolly Monkey (Lagothrix poeppigii),
Lowland Tapir (Tapirus terrestris), and Giant Armadillo (Priodontes
maximus) are believed to have experienced population declines of
at least 30% over the past three generations (45 years) due
primarily to hunting and habitat loss [118–120]. Similar declines
are forecast over the next several generations for the Amazonian
Manatee (Trichechus inunguis) and Oncilla (Leopardus tigrinus)
[121,122]. Decline of Melissa’s Yellow-eared Bat (Vampyressa
melissa) is estimated to have been .30% over the last 10 years
[123].
Yasunı
´contains the toad species complex Atelopus spumarius,
currently listed as Vulnerable. This genus is experiencing drastic,
widespread population declines and extinctions throughout its
species’ ranges in Mesoamerica and South America which are
closely linked to the chytrid fungus Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis
[124,125]. Ron [126] predicted those areas in Ecuador most
hospitable to this pathogen to be in the Andes above 1,000 m,
whereas Yasunı
´does not extend above 400 m. However, B.
dendrobatidis has been detected in amphibian individuals of at least
eight species at lower elevations (,300 m) in the Yasunı
´region
[127]. No epidemic-caused declines have been detected in any
amphibian populations in the Yasunı
´area, but at least one anuran
(Leptodactylus pentadactylus) has been observed exhibiting symptoms
of chytridiomycosis, the disease caused by the B. dendrobatidis
infection [127].
The Gran Yasunı
´Important Bird Area, which includes both the
park and adjacent Waorani Territory, contains several rare bird
species [128], including 7 species listed as Vulnerable or Near
Threatened (Tables 5 and 6). The Wattled Curassow (Crax
globulosa) has been reported, but not confirmed, for Yasunı
´(and
thus is not included in our tallies). This species was previously
known from riverine forests in eastern Ecuador [129], but may
have been extirpated from the country [47]. Populations for most
of the rare birds of the Gran Yasunı
´Important Bird Area—such as
the Harpy Eagle (Harpia harpyja) and Crested Eagle (Morphnus
guianensis)—are declining due to hunting pressures and habitat loss
and degradation in other parts of their ranges [130,131].
The park is also home to several species experiencing such
rapid population declines that in 2008 they were Red-listed for
the first time by the IUCN, as Near Threatened (i.e.,closeto
qualifying for, or likely to qualify for, a threatened category in the
near future). Among these is the Golden-mantled Tamarin
(Saguinus tripartitus), with a projected decline of around 25% over
the course of three generations (18 years), due primarily to
anticipated high rates of oil-related deforestation [132]. The
Margay (Leopardus wiedii), Short-eared Dog (Atelocynus microtis), and
White-lipped Peccary (Tayassu pecari) were also newly listed as
Near Threatened in 2008 due to increasing threats and declining
populations [47]. Due to habitat loss from deforestation, the
Margay may be adequately protected only in Amazonian mega-
reserves such as Yasu
´[133]. Yasunı
´is among the most
important sites in Ecuador for the Jaguar (Panthera onca) [33],
listed as Near Threatened since 2002 [47]. In addition to the
Short-eared Dog, the park harbors another canine species—the
Bush Dog (Speothos venaticus)—that is also Near Threatened. Bush
Dogs and Jaguars have been documented at TBS with camera
traps (K. Swing, pers. comm.). In sum, Yasunı
´protects a
considerable number of threatened species, and is likely a global
hotspot for threatened mammals.
Endemism
Assessing endemism in the western Amazon continues to be a
major challenge. Vast areas have yet to be surveyed by scientists,
and in consequence many species distributions are poorly known
[100,105,134]. At present, better information appears to be
available for amphibians and birds than for other groups.
Although not generally viewed as protecting part of a region with
globally outstanding endemism, Yasunı
´does in fact harbor a
considerable number of regional endemics. It has 43 documented
vertebrates and an estimated 220–720 plants (Table 1) that are
regional endemics, defined here as species completely, or mostly,
confined to the Napo Moist Forests ecoregion [135]. This
251,700 km
2
area forms the northwestern part of the Napo area
of endemism, one of eight such areas posited for the Amazon
[136].
Yasunı
´is home to 20 amphibian species that are endemic to
the Napo Moist Forests (Table 8), including two Pristimantis
species endemic to the park. This number may rise, as 13 species
discovered at TBS are new to science [53]. An additional
21 species have the vast majority of their ranges within the
Napo Moist Forests, including the Near Threatened Rhinella
festae. Duellman [137] indicated that the upper Amazon Basin
in Ecuador and Peru is notable for its high amphibian
endemism.
Family Species Common Names Habit IUCN
Rubiaceae Coussarea cephae
¨loides Shrub, Small Tree NT
Rubiaceae Coussarea dulcifolia Shrub, Small Tree NT
Rubiaceae Coussarea spiciformis Shrub, Small Tree NT
Santalaceae Acanthosyris annonagustata Tree NT
Sapotaceae Pouteria platyphylla Tree LR/nt
Sapotaceae Pradosia atroviolaceae Tree LR/nt
Tiliaceae Pentaplaris huaoranica Large Tree NT
Ulmaceae Ampelocera longissima Tree NT
Listings in the IUCN column are from the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species [47]. Abbreviations: CR =(facing an extremely high risk of extinction in the wild),
EN =Endangered (facing a very high risk of extinction in the wild), VU = Vulnerable (facing a high risk of extinction in the wild), and LR/nt or NT =Near Threatened (close
to qualifying for or is likely to qualify for a threatened category in the near future).
doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0008767.t007
Table 7. Cont.
Yasunı
´National Park
PLoS ONE | www.plosone.org 11 January 2010 | Volume 5 | Issue 1 | e8767
Yasunı
´lies within the Upper Amazon-Napo lowlands Endemic
Bird Area [138]. Six of the ten range-restricted birds listed for this
Endemic Bird Area are confirmed for Yasunı
´, including the Near
Threatened Cocha Antshrike (Thamnophilus praecox). Ridgely and
Greenfield [129] consider an additional 16 bird species to be
endemic to eastern Ecuador and adjacent northeastern Peru, of
which 13 are confirmed for Yasunı
´. Thus, at least 19 regionally
endemic birds inhabit the park (Table 8).
At least four mammal species within Yasunı
´are endemic to the
Napo Moist Forests ecoregion (Table 8). Two of them—Yasunı
´’s
Round-eared Bat (Lophostoma yasuni) and Streaked Dwarf Porcu-
pine (Sphiggurus ichillus)—are endemic to the Ecuadorian Amazon
[78]. In fact, the only known specimen of L. yasuni was collected
inside the park [78,139]. The Golden-mantled Tamarin and
Equatorial Saki (Pithecia aequatorialis) cross over into Peru, but
appear to be restricted to the Napo Moist Forests ecoregion
[132,140]. Yasunı
´is the only protected area for the Near
Threatened Golden-mantled Tamarin. Adequate data on bats
and rodents in this region are not available to indicate whether it is
a center of endemism for mammals overall.
Given the park’s extremely high plant richness, there is potential
for a high number of regional plant endemics. Five species
documented in Yasunı
´National Park have not been found
anywhere else in the world: two herbaceous plants in the Begonia
family, Begonia oellgaardii and Begonia sparreana; another herb,
Tiputinia foetida (Thismiaceae), representing a new genus that lacks
chlorophyll; and two trees, Tetrameranthus globuliferus (Annonaceae)
and Mouriri laxiflora (Memecylaceae) (Table 7 and [141]). In
addition, dozens of plant collections from the park represent
species new to science that experts have not yet named, and that
may not have been collected elsewhere. Kreft et al. [93] found that
at least 10% of the 313 vascular epiphytes in Yasunı
´are endemic
to the upper Napo region. Balslev [142] provides another estimate
for regional plant endemism. His study examined distribution
patterns of plants that occur in Ecuador, and sampled plants
representing various life histories and taxonomic families that had
both accurate distribution and altitudinal data (n = 536). Included
were 128 species known to occur in the Ecuadorian Amazon. Of
these, 18% (23 spp.) were endemic to an area larger than, but
overlapping with, the Napo Moist Forests ecoregion. Interestingly,
Pitman et al. [101] documented an abrupt shift in tree community
structure at the genus level near the Ecuador-Peru border, so tree
communities in Yasunı
´are distinct from those in adjacent Peru.
Together, these studies suggest that there are roughly ,400–720
regional endemic plant species in Yasunı
´(10%–18% endemism
rate [93,142] 64,000 estimated plant species in 10,000 km
2
in the
plant richness center encompassing Yasunı
´[91]).
The total number of regionally endemic vertebrate species
protected within Yasunı
´is not high compared to the numbers
found in ‘‘biodiversity hotspots’’—areas prioritized for conserva-
tion because of their endemism and vegetation loss [1]. However,
the higher estimate for regionally endemic plant species protected
in the park is just under 50% of the first threshold that qualifies an
area as a biodiversity hotspot. The preliminary data are notable,
given Yasunı
´’s small size relative to most of the biodiversity
hotspots, and suggest that the Napo Moist Forests may be globally
outstanding for plant endemism. Furthermore, Yasunı
´is the only
stable national park that is currently protecting these regional
endemics (see below).
Yasunı
´’s Additional Conservation Values
Yasunı
´National Park is one of the most biodiverse places on
Earth, whether assessed on a landscape or local scale, particularly
for amphibians, reptiles, birds, bats, and trees. Part of this high
Table 8. Regionally endemic amphibians, birds, and
mammals of Yasunı
´National Park.
Class Species Com mon Name
Amphibians Allobates insperatus
Allobates zaparo Zaparo Poison Frog
Rhaebo sp.nov.1
(cf. glaberrimus)
Ameerega bilinguis Ecuador Poison Frog
Hyloxalus sauli Santa Cecilia Rocket Frog
Hyloxalus sp. nov. 1
(cf. bocagei)
Hylomantis hulli
Osteocephalus alboguttatus Whitebelly Treefrog
Pristimantis achuar
Pristimantis aureolineatus
Pristimantis kichwarum
Pristimantis librarius
Pristimantis orphnolaimus Lago Agrio Robber Frog
Pristimantis paululus Amazon Slope Robber Frog
Pristimantis pseudoacuminatus Sarayacu Robber Frog
Pristimantis sp. 2
Pristimantis sp. 3
Pristimantis sp. 4
Pristimantis waoranii
Bolitoglossa equatoriana Ecuador Mushroomtongue
Salamander
Birds Mitu salvini Salvin’s Curassow
Aramides calopterus Red-winged Wood-Rail
Geotrygon saphirina Sapphire Quail-Dove
Phaethornis atrimentalis Black-throated Hermit
Leucippus chlorocercus Olive-spotted Hummingbird
Galbula tombacea White-chinned Jacamar
Nonnula brunnea Brown Nunlet
Thamnophilus praecox Cocha Antshrike
Epinecrophylla fjeldsaai Yasunı
´Antwren
Myrmotherula sunensis Rio Suno Antwren
Herpsilochmus dugandi Dugand’s Antwren
Gymnopithys lunulata Lunulated Antbird
Grallaria dignissima Ochre-striped Antpitta
Hylopezus fulviventris White-lored Antpitta
Poecilotriccus calopterus Golden-winged Tody-Flycatcher
Tolmomyias traylori Orange-eyed Flycatcher
Heterocercus aurantiivertex Orange-crested Manakin
Cacicus sclateri Ecuadorian Cacique
Ocyalus latirostris Band-tailed Oropendola
Mammals Lophostoma yasuni Yasunı
´Round-eared Bat
Sphiggurus ichillus Streaked Dwarf Porcupine
Saguinus tripartitus Golden-mantled Tamarin
Pithecia aequatorialis Equatorial Saki
Regionally endemic amphibians and mammals are restricted to the Napo Moist
Forests ecoregion [135]. Birds are restricted to Upper Amazon-Napo lowlands
Endemic Bird Area or otherwise noted as regionally endemic by Ridgely and
Greenfield [129]. Amphibian common names are from [224]. Only species
known to occur in Yasunı
´National Park are included in the list.
doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0008767.t008
Yasunı
´National Park
PLoS ONE | www.plosone.org 12 January 2010 | Volume 5 | Issue 1 | e8767
diversity stems from a considerable number of threatened species,
particularly mammals, and of regionally endemic amphibians,
birds, and likely plants as well. What makes Yasunı
´even more
special is the potential to sustain this biodiversity in the long term
due to its 1) large size and wilderness character, 2) intact large-
vertebrate assemblage, 3) IUCN level-II protection status in a
region lacking other strictly protected areas, and 4) likelihood to
maintain wet, rainforest conditions as climate change-induced
drought intensifies in the eastern Amazon. In the following
paragraphs, we elaborate on each of these qualities in turn.
Peres [143] argues that large (at least 10,000 km
2
) reserves
connected to relatively intact surrounding landscapes are key to
maintaining Amazonian biodiversity long-term (labeling these
‘‘mega-reserves’’). Similarly, Mittermeier et al. [2] establish the
unique global conservation value of areas meeting two criteria—
high endemism and intactness (.10,000 km
2
in area, .70% intact,
,5 people/km
2
)—and label these ‘‘high biodiversity wilderness
areas.’’ Assessing Yasunı
´under these criteria, the park protects
nearly 10,000 km
2
of forest within Amazonia, one of only five high
biodiversity wilderness areas [2]. Moreover, the park is still
surrounded by mostly intact forest, particularly to the south in
Ecuador and to the east into Peru. To the west, the park is adjacent
to the ,6,000 km
2
Waorani Ethnic Reserve, also generally intact.
Yasunı
´encompasses the eastern portion of ancestral Waorani
Territory, and has a relatively low (though growing) human
population density, with mostly indigenous populations as inhab-
itants and neighbors [16,144]. Thus, Yasunı
´retains all mega-
reserve and wilderness characteristics, due to its large size, intact
core area, largely intact surrounding forests, location within a high
endemism region (Amazonia), and small human population.
Yasunı
´is most likely large and intact enough to accommodate
viable populations of virtually all of its large or wide-ranging
vertebrates. Although hunting is becoming unsustainable along the
oil access roads and major rivers [26,28,30,31,33,34,145], the
majority of the park’s forest is probably still home to a largely
intact assemblage of top predators, seed dispersers, herbivores, and
seed predators [31,33]. For example, preliminary analyses of five
years of camera-trap data at TBS show top predators to be
abundant and diverse in northern Yasunı
´(K. Swing, pers. comm.).
Densities of jaguars in the forest at this research station appear to
be amongst the highest documented in the literature, and five
feline and two canine species coexist there (K. Swing, pers.
comm.). Apart from providing another argument for Yasunı
´’s
extraordinary conservation value, the park’s intact large-vertebrate
assemblage increases its ability to protect plant and animal
communities over the long term. For instance, species such as
Woolly and Spider Monkeys are important seed dispersers in
Yasunı
´for more than 200 species of tropical trees (A. Link and A.
Di Fiore, unpub. data; [146]); for some large-seed species they are
the only dispersers (A. Link and A. Di Fiore, unpub. data).
Elsewhere in the Amazon Basin, hunting of the large vertebrates
responsible for these functions (e.g., jaguars, large primates, tapirs,
and peccaries) is thought to be driving insidious, long-term
changes in the composition and structure of plant communities,
even in the absence of deforestation [147,148].
Yasunı
´is also a ‘‘lonely’’ park. It is currently the only strict
protected area (considered here as IUCN levels I–IV) in the region
capable of protecting the biodiversity of the Napo Moist Forests
(Figure 4A). The only other national park fully within the Napo
Moist Forests ecoregion is La Paya Natural National Park in
Colombia, which is less than half the size of Yasunı
´, and is
experiencing slash-and-burn agriculture, cattle grazing, overex-
ploitation of aquatic fauna, illegal hunting and trapping of wildlife
[149], and clearing for illicit drug crops [150]. To the west of
Yasunı
´are the foothills of the Andes, where the species
composition changes substantially. Also to the west, the Huaroani
Ethnic Reserve has no specific protected area designation, and
while a legal Annex to its designation specifies that activities be
restricted to subsistence ones, it paradoxically requires inhabitants
not to interfere with hydrocarbon exploration or exploitation [17].
To the south, the closest national park (Cordillera Azul) is more
than 500 kilometers away and comprises mostly high-elevation
forest rather than lowland moist forest. To the east, there is not a
single strict protected area in all of northern Peru, although two
areas are ‘‘reserved’’ but not designated for national protection
(Gu¨ eppi and Pucacuro Reserved Zones) (Figure 4B), and several
areas are proposed for regional-level conservation. The protection
actually afforded Yasunı
´under the title of ‘‘national park’’ is in
some respects only on paper, as exemplified by the extensive,
ongoing oil extraction activities and permitted oil access roads.
Still, the government’s management plan for the park reflects its
IUCN Category II designation [151], and on-the-ground
biodiversity conditions appear to be much better within the park
than in areas directly adjacent [29,31], suggesting that its legal
designation has significant conservation value.
Furthermore, Yasunı
´may serve as a refuge for Amazonian
species responding to climate change. The western Amazon,
unlike its eastern counterpart, has a high probability of
maintaining relatively stable climatic conditions in the coming
decades [20,152–155]. Increased drought conditions during the
dry season may be the most critical consequence of climate change
in the Amazon [155], and climate models indicate a much higher
probability of dry season intensification in the eastern than in the
western Amazon [155]. Increased drought in the east may favor a
shift from rainforest to seasonal forest, whereas the northwest
Amazon is likely to maintain rainforest conditions [109]. Much of
the Amazon, particularly the central region, may experience
‘‘novel’’ climatic conditions by the end of this century [156],
conditions for which there is no contemporary counterpart. In
contrast, the high precipitation in the western Amazon is
controlled by regional factors (e.g., the Andes forming a barrier
to westward-moving moist air) that are not expected to disappear
under any climate change scenario yet proposed [20,154]. Indeed,
the Napo Moist Forest region may have maintained relatively
wetter conditions during dry climatic periods in the past [157].
Because of their projected climatic stability, Miles et al. [152] found
that the forests of the western Amazon could potentially serve as a
refuge for populations of the moist forest plant species of the
Amazon, a large percentage of which they predict will become
‘‘non-viable’’ elsewhere. Furthermore, climate change is expected
to push tropical species ranges upslope [158], and thus corridors
are needed to facilitate migration and range shifts [20].
Recognizing those factors, Miles et al.’s [152] central conclusion
was that, to ensure the greatest resilience of Amazonian
biodiversity, the highest priority should be given to strengthening
and extending protected areas in western Amazonia that
encompass lowland and montane forests. In that context, Yasunı
´
has unique value. It not only protects a lowland forest, but also,
given its proximity to the Andes, could also serve as a key
‘‘stepping-stone’’ for climate-change driven species migrations
between the Amazon forests and upslope forests found in Sumaco,
Llanganates, and Sangay National Parks. Still, protected area
corridors would be needed between Yasunı
´and these parks to
allow upslope migrations.
Threats to Yasunı
´’s Conservation Values
Despite its being a ‘‘strict’’ protected area, current and pending
oil projects in Yasunı
´threaten all four of the key strengths outlined
Yasunı
´National Park
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above. Ecuador is a small nation that relies on the oil industry for
half of its total export earnings and for over one-third of its annual
federal budget [159]. Three fields in Yasunı
´—Ishpingo-Tambo-
cocha-Tiputini—contain ,850 million barrels of crude oil, or
,20% of Ecuador’s known reserves (the ITT Block; Figure 1B). In
addition, adjacent Block 31 has significant reserves that could be
developed with the potential for sharing ITT infrastructure. Thus,
pressure to drill in ITT has understandably been intense.
In that context, the announcement of Ecuadorian President
Rafael Correa in June 2007 to postpone ITT drilling plans and
seek an alternative way forward was very progressive. Ecuador has
calculated that government earnings from exploitation of ITT’s
crude oil are roughly equivalent to the carbon market value of the
oil, both around $7 billion [38]. Furthermore, the total value to
Ecuador of pursuing the Yasunı
´-ITT Initiative is considerably
higher, even from a strictly economic point of view. By precluding
new oil production infrastructure and access routes, the Yasunı
´-
ITT Initiative would help keep forests in this region intact,
generating benefits through maintenance of forest carbon,
ecosystem services, and biodiversity. Although no market valua-
tion exists specifically for Yasunı
´, recognized economists, including
Robert Costanza, have established that standing tropical forests
offer significant financial value. The Yasunı
´-ITT Initiative will
generate economic benefits even beyond the park. Ecuador plans
to invest the carbon monies it receives from the Initiative not only
in the management and conservation of Yasunı
´, but also in the
country’s entire protected area network (SNAP) and indigenous
territories, and in other conservation and sustainable development
projects [38]. SNAP includes lands already prioritized as globally
valuable investments for conservation dollars, including sizeable
portions of the Tropical Andes and Tumbes-Choco´ -Magdalena
hotpots [1,160]. The Ecuadorian government now has a high-level
team developing and promoting the Yasunı
´-ITT Initiative, making
Ecuador’s revolutionary initiative a viable proposal on the
international stage.
Explicit in the messaging of the Yasunı
´-ITT Initiative was the
recognition of the potential threats oil production could pose to the
biodiversity of the region. Threats come from both direct and
indirect impacts [13,27,161,162]. Direct impacts of oil develop-
ment include immediate deforestation for the project’s production
plant, drilling platforms, access routes, and pipelines, along with
contamination from any project-related spills, leaks, or accidents.
A preliminary study of potential environmental impacts from
exploiting the ITT oil fields, conducted in 2007 by Ecuador’s state
oil company, Petroecuador, revealed that direct impacts would
likely be substantial. According to this report, the project would
require a major processing facility (,6 ha), seven separate
platforms (six for production and one for reinjection), and a
new rail system to access these platforms, which would be spread
along the entire length of the ITT block [163]. Oil-related
Figure 4. Overview of protected areas and oil blocks located within the greater Napo Moist Forest ecoregion. A) Strict protected areas
(IUCN categories I–IV) in the western Amazon. B) All protected areas within the Napo Moist Forests ecoregion. C) Oil blocks covering the Napo Moist
Forests ecoregion.
doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0008767.g004
Yasunı
´National Park
PLoS ONE | www.plosone.org 14 January 2010 | Volume 5 | Issue 1 | e8767
contamination threatens Yasunı
´’s large aquatic mammals, such as
the Endangered Giant Otter and the Vulnerable Amazonian
Manatee [116,122]. Both species have been documented in the
Tiputini and Yasunı
´Rivers [117,164], which would likely be the
principal access routes and infrastructure sites for oil development
in ITT or the adjacent Block 31.
Compared to the direct impacts, the indirect impacts of new oil
development in ITT or Block 31 are likely to be even greater:
colonization and its subsequent secondary deforestation, fragmen-
tation, and unsustainable hunting and fishing. All would intensify
biodiversity loss. As indicated above, preliminary ITT development
plans call for an extensive new transport and pipeline infrastructure.
While plans reference train access, companies are much more likely
to seek permits for building new roads, the most widespread and
proven method of accessing land-based oil reserves. In either case,
there would be unprecedented human access to one of the most
intact portions of the Ecuadorian Amazon [13].
Indeed, oil development and its indirect impacts have played a
major role in turning the Napo region into one of the 14 major
deforestation fronts in the world [165]. Ecuador has had the highest
deforestation rate of any Latin American country for several years
[166,167]. Wunder [168] discussed how oil development typically
decreases overall deforestation in a region, largely by reducing
pressure from agricultural and logging interests. However, Ecuador
was shown to be the primary exception to this phenomenon, mainly
because the oil itself was located deep in primary forest and the
extensive system of oil access roads opened the forest [168]. Access
facilitated colonization and subsequent deforestation by small-
scale migrant farmers pursuing agriculture and cattle ranching
[168–174], with an additional role played by indigenous peoples’
farming of commercial crops [174].
Prior to intensification of oil exploration in the 1970s, the
total deforested area in the Ecuadorian Amazon was only
,410,000 hectares (data [171], synthesized in [172]). Only 4.1%
of the forests were within 5 kilometers of a road [174], the
maximum distance for the practice of successful agriculture [175].
From 1986 to 2001, concentrated oil exploitation in northeastern
Ecuador—with attendant in-migration, farming, and urbaniza-
tion—resulted in deforestation averaging 40,000 hectares per year
[172,174]. For each kilometer of road constructed, ,120 hectares
of agricultural lands have been cleared [174]. Unlike Brazil,
agricultural lands in the Ecuadorian Amazon do not appear to be
abandoned over time, but remain in use by colonists even as more
areas are cleared [174]. By 2001, nearly 33% of the Ecuadorian
Amazon was within 5 kilometers of a road [174]. Researchers have
concluded that oil exploration, production, and associated road
construction programs by the oil industry and the government are
responsible for this fast-paced deforestation [168,176].
Within Yasunı
´, on-the-ground impacts from oil development
have diverged from oil company intentions and their projections in
Environmental Management Plans. Social conditions and pres-
sures have affected the Plans in ways difficult to address. For
example, the U.S.-based Maxus oil company sought innovations
to control environmental impacts when developing Block 16 in
Yasunı
´. From 1992 to 1993, the company constructed a 150-
kilometer road—the Via Pompeya Sur-Iro or informally ‘‘Via
Maxus’’—from the Napo River’s southern shore, through Yasunı
´,
and ending in the Waorani Ethnic Reserve [30,177,178].
However, Maxus did not build a bridge connecting this road to
Ecuador’s highway network [178], as Texaco had done when
constructing the nearby Via Auca in the 1980s [179]. The Via
Auca starts in Puerto Francisco de Orellana (El Coca) with a
bridge crossing the Napo River and ends in Waorani territory, and
has been associated with extensive environmental and social
change [26,179]. In contrast, to reach the Via Maxus, all trucks
and equipment must cross the Napo River on barges [178]. The
corporate intent was that this logistical obstacle to outsider vehicles
and migrants would limit access, and thereby avoid colonization
and secondary deforestation in the park [178].
In addition, the company’s Environmental Management Plan
called for numerous controls on colonization, deforestation, and
hunting [180]. For example, by placing the pipeline underground
and by using an innovative ‘‘geogrid’’ plastic to stabilize the
roadbed, deforestation would be reduced in two ways [177]. The
right-of-way would be narrowed to 25 meters instead of the typical
60 meters, and the clearing to provide logs to stabilize the roadbed
would be reduced by 70% compared to the extent typically lost for
tropical road construction [180]. Remarkably, the Plan stated that
the total area deforested for the Via Maxus, the secondary roads,
and all installations would be only 400 hectares (4 km
2
) [180].
Checkpoints and ground patrols would control colonization, and
high-resolution satellite imaging would be used regularly to verify
control [180]. Corporate officials and contractors would be
prohibited from purchasing meat, fish, or other products from
the Waorani [180]. Frequent audits would ensure compliance with
this Plan [180].
Although most innovations were indeed implemented, environ-
mental impacts in Block 16 in Yasunı
´from the Via Maxus have
been significant [26,27,29–31,34]. The road has attracted
indigenous migration and building of new villages near and within
the park [27,29,30]. Deforestation has resulted, estimated at a rate
of 0.11% per year, with that rate increasing over the years [29].
Proximity to the Via Maxus is the strongest spatial factor in
predicting where deforestation is occurring [29]. A conservative
model based on these data projects that 50% of the forest within
two kilometers of the Via Maxus will be deforested by 2063 due to
settlements and forest conversion [29]. That projected area would
be at least 148 km
2
and 37 times greater than what Maxus had
stated would be deforested in its Environmental Management
Plan. Although forest loss is better controlled within the park than
outside it [29,172], it is undermining Yasunı
´’s conservation values
as a strict protected area and as a potential refuge for species
migrating due to climate change.
Oil development and resulting impacts also threaten Yasunı
´’s
wilderness characters and its largely intact mega-faunal assem-
blage. The Via Maxus fragmented the northwestern section of
Yasunı
´from the rest of the park. Further fragmentation is
occurring because the Via Auca is facilitating illegal logging in
Yasunı
´[26,35]. Irreversible impacts on the park’s biodiversity may
occur even faster from fragmentation than from deforestation,
based on regional analyses [172,174]. Large predator species may
need unfragmented forest areas as large as 1 million hectares to
persist [181]. Rare species, such as the Near Threatened Jaguar,
Margay, Short-eared Dog, and Golden-mantled Tamarin, are also
susceptible to the effects of oil-industry-related deforestation and
fragmentation [132,133,182,183].
The Via Maxus and transport provided by oil companies to
indigenous hunters are facilitating increased hunting in Yasunı
´
[30,31,33,34,145]. Although indigenous populations have hunted
in this region for generations, there is evidence that hunting is
now disrupting populations of large, keystone vertebrates. Local
depletion of the Endangered White-bellied Spider Monkey (Ateles
belzebuth) has been documented along the road [30], and modeling
of field takes by indigenous communities living along the road
indicates that hunting of this primate is unsustainable, along with
that of four other species: Red Howler Monkey (Alouatta seniculus),
White-fronted Capuchin (Cebus albifrons), White-lipped Peccary
(Tayassu pecari), and Poeppig’s Woolly Monkey (Lagothrix lagotricha)
Yasunı
´National Park
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[28,145]. A study from February 2005 to March 2006 registered
40% lower mammal abundance along the Via Maxus compared
to a control area in intact forest distant from roads [31]. A new
camera-trapping study is providing similar results [33]. At least 47
species of wildlife—mostly mammals and fish, but also birds and
reptiles—have been sold by indigenous hunters at a new market at
the entrance of this oil access road [34]. In sum, hunting is
diminishing Yasunı
´’s conservation value in supporting an intact
large-vertebrate assemblage. Also, given that many of the targeted
large vertebrates are important seed dispersers, hunting could,
over time, diminish Yasunı
´’s conservation value in maintaining
animal and plant composition and diversity (A. Di Fiore and A.
Link, unpub. data, [31,147,148]).
Clearly, impacts from oil development in this region cannot
be fully controlled [27], irrespective of corporate intentions and
innovations. These direct and indirect impacts have the potential to
be region wide, as active and proposed oil blocks blanket not just
much of eastern Ecuador, but virtually all of northern Peru as well
(Figure 4C). A striking example from Ecuador illustrates the reality
of this threat. A site known as Santa Cecilia, located just north of
Yasunı
´, had some of the richest amphibian [41] and reptile [57]
diversity in the world. This site is now completely deforested due to
oil-related disturbance and colonization [172,184].
Implications for Conservation
Our findings on Yasunı
´’s biodiversity, its additional conserva-
tion values, and the documented impacts from oil development
regionally and in the park itself form the scientific basis for the
following five policy recommendations. 1) Permit no new roads
nor other transportation access routes—such as new oil access
roads, train rails, canals, and extensions of existing roads—within
Yasunı
´National Park or its buffer zone. 2) Permit no new oil
exploration or development projects in Yasunı
´, particularly in the
remote and relatively intact Block 31 and ITT Block. 3) Create
protected biological corridors from Yasunı
´to nearby higher-
elevation Andean parks for species on the move due to climate
change. 4) Create a system of strict protected areas and no-go
zones (i.e., off-limits to oil exploration and exploitation) in the
northern Peruvian Amazon. 5) Establish a protected corridor
between Yasunı
´and Cuyabeno Wildlife Reserve that, together
with the Peruvian reserves, would form a trans-boundary mega-
reserve with Yasunı
´National Park at its core.
In regard to recommendations 4 and 5, we emphasize that
Ecuador has already created two ‘‘untouchable zones’’ (‘‘zonas
intangibles’’ in Spanish) off-limits to oil activities, one in the
southern part of Yasunı
´and the other just north of it in Cuyabeno.
The former zone was created to protect Ecuador’s last indigenous
peoples living in voluntary isolation, and anthropological evidence
indicates that they cross the border into Peru as well [185]. Thus,
areas off-limits to oil activities are needed in northern Peru not
only to conserve its high biodiversity [101], but the territories of
indigenous peoples as well.
In closing, we reiterate the conclusions of Malhi et al. [155] and
Killeen and Solo´ rzano [20], that keeping the northwestern
Amazon—home to the Basin’s highest biodiversity and the region
least vulnerable to climatic drying—largely intact as a biological
refuge is a global conservation priority of the first order. If the
world’s most diverse forests cannot be protected in Yasunı
´,it
seems unlikely that they can be protected anywhere else.
Materials and Methods
We calculated the congruence of richness centers in South
America for vascular plants, amphibians, mammals, and birds, the
groups for which sufficient data were available. For amphibians,
mammals, and birds, we used extent-of-occurrence maps. Bird
data are from Ridgley et al. [186], mammal data from the Global
Mammal Assessment [187], and amphibian data from the Global
Amphibian Assessment [188]. Species presences for these three
groups were summed across an equal area grid of 100 km
2
(10 km610 km) to generate maps of species richness. While the
species richness for vertebrates could be mapped on a continuous
scale, the plant richness data, obtained from Barthlott et al. [91],
are spatially aggregated into areas having a range of species
richness (e.g., a spatial unit has between 1,000 and 2,000 spp./
10,000 km
2
). We therefore restricted the analysis to match the
form of the plant data. We defined a richness center for plants as
any region containing $4,000 vascular plant species per
10,000 km
2
. Only nine diversity centers worldwide reach this
species density (three of which are in South America) [91]. These
plant species richness centers cover 6.4% of South America, close
to the 5% threshold used in similar studies (e.g., [189]). We used
the same 6.4% area threshold to define richness centers for birds,
mammals, and amphibians (i.e., the richest 6.4% of all grid cells for
these groups were selected). The congruence of richness centers
was determined by spatially overlaying the maps for the four taxa.
The maximum value of four indicates congruent richness centers
for all groups investigated.
We also conducted an extensive literature review of field studies
investigating the biodiversity of Yasunı
´National Park (Yasunı
´),
synthesized relevant information, and then compared it to
published maps and field inventory research from around the
globe. Results on species richness were grouped into two spatial
categories: landscape-scale richness, typically of #10,000 km
2
,
and local
-
scale richness, of #100 km
2
, but generally on the order
of 100 hectares to a fraction of a hectare (after Whittaker [46] and
Pitman et al. [23]). When comparing Yasunı
´’s landscape richness
to that documented for other areas in field inventories and maps at
this scale, we used species counts established for the entire park
(,10,000 km
2
), as described below. Where total size of areas
sampled was lacking in published field inventories for other
regions, we calculated an estimated size by mapping the given
study site locations on Google Earth 5.0 [49] and using the
software to create a polygon inclusive of all sites.
We compiled lists of amphibian, reptile, bird, mammal, and
plant species that occur in Yasunı
´National Park by collating
published and unpublished inventory lists. Species richness data
labeled in the text as ‘‘known,’’ ‘‘documented,’’ or ‘‘confirmed’’
refer to species actually collected, sighted, or otherwise known by
experts to occur within the boundaries of Yasunı
´National Park, or
collected from the Tiputini Biodiversity Station (TBS) directly
adjacent to the park. Data labeled in the text as ‘‘expected,’’
‘‘estimated,’’ or ‘‘projected’’ refers to species not documented
within the park or TBS, but anticipated to occur there based upon
expert analysis of range distributions or statistical analyses. Much
information is from research at the Napo Wildlife Center and
Yasunı
´Research Station, both located within Yasunı
´National
Park, and from TBS (see Figure 1B).
The amphibian species list was based largely on inventories
carried out at TBS and the Yasunı
´Research Station. The reptile
list was based on inventories at TBS. D. F. Cisneros-Heredia
conducted herpetofaunal inventories at TBS annually from 1997
to 2001, employing the following survey techniques: visual
encounter transects, leaf-litter quadrats, pitfall traps, amphibian
larvae surveys, and random point sampling [52]. S. F. McCracken
conducted amphibian inventories, using leaf-litter quadrat surveys,
at TBS annually from 2002 to 2004, and canopy bromeliad patch
sampling at TBS and the Yasunı
´Research Station in 2006 and
Yasunı
´National Park
PLoS ONE | www.plosone.org 16 January 2010 | Volume 5 | Issue 1 | e8767
2008 (S. McCracken, unpub. data, [190]). Incidental amphibian
and reptile observations recorded by D. F. Cisneros-Heredia and
S. F. McCracken at TBS and by S. F. McCracken at the Yasunı
´
Research Station were included in the amphibian and reptile
species lists. Additional amphibian species records for Yasunı
´
National Park were included from S. Ron [191]. In addition,
confirmed records of reptiles and amphibians based on voucher
specimens collected within Yasunı
´National Park and around TBS
were included. For these, D. F. Cisneros-Heredia examined
amphibian and reptile specimens deposited at the following
herpetological collections: Museo Ecuatoriano de Ciencias Nat-
urales (DHMECN), Universidad San Francisco de Quito (DFCH-
USFQ), Fundacio´ n Herpetolo´gica ‘‘Gustavo Orce´s’’ (FHGO),
National Museum of Natural History, Smithsonian Institution
(USNM), and Universidad Cato´ lica del Ecuador (QCAZ). D. F.
Cisneros-Heredia and S. F. McCracken updated the taxonomy of
both lists. To generate a total of known, inferred, and projected
amphibian species on a landscape scale for greater Iquitos, Peru (in
11,310 km
2
), data were extracted from IUCN Red List of
Threatened Species [47].
The bird list combined tallies from the Napo Wildlife Center
[70], TBS (J. C. Arvin et al., unpub. data, provided by K. Swing,
[69]), and studies conducted in Block 31 [192]. Habitats for the
Napo Wildlife Center list included a large river (the Napo River),
river islands on the southern side of the Napo, the river’s edge,
secondary and primary terra firme forest, and a clay lick. Habitats
for the TBS list included terra firme forest, seasonally flooded forest,
tree-fall gaps, the Tiputini River, and an oxbow lake. Documen-
tation included tape recordings, photographs, sight records,
auditory observations, and substantiated observations by recog-
nized experts dating back to 1991. We counted only species for
which documentation or reliable information was given. P. English
reviewed and updated the taxonomy used.
The mammal list started with data from the Campos [193] list
developed as part of the Ecuadorian government’s Yasunı
´
management plan, and was augmented by data from Utreras
and Jorgenson [194], Tirira [78], and Rex et al. [85]. The entire
mammal list was then reviewed by A. L. Gardner, who provided
additional species for the list and classified species as known,
expected, probable, possible, doubtful, or incorrect for Yasunı
´
National Park. Further additions to the list were provided by C. C.
Voigt and T. H. Kunz (unpub. data), A. Di Fiore (unpub. data,
[195]) and K. Jung (pers. comm.). Taxonomy was updated and
standardized to follow Wilson and Reeder [196]. Species were
then counted as known for Yasunı
´National Park if they were:
documented by Rex et al. [85], specifically listed as occurring in the
park by Tirira [78], classified as known for the park by A. L.
Gardner, and/or observed with up-close certainty in the park or at
TBS by K. Rex, T. H. Kunz, or C. C. Voigt. Species were
counted as expected if they were documented by Rex et al. [85]
and/or listed as occurring in Yasunı
´National Park by Tirira [78],
but had tentative identifications (cf) or were new to science (sp.
nov.). Species were also counted as ‘‘expected’’ if they were listed as
such for Yasunı
´by A. L. Gardner (pers. comm.) and not yet
documented there by other reliable sources. A final review of the
list was done by A. Di Fiore, C. C. Voigt, and T. H. Kunz. We
consider the final list as the only current, accurate source of total
known and expected mammal species for Yasunı
´, both because of
the extensive peer review process it underwent and its updated
taxonomy.
A comprehensive plant list was not compiled de novo. Instead, we
used totals from two comprehensive lists to be published shortly
(G. Villa, unpub. data, H. Mogollon and J. Guevara, unpub. data)
for known and expected vascular plant species in Yasunı
´. We did
compile and verify our own known and expected threatened plant
list. The preliminary list was compiled from a list of plant species of
concern in Yasunı
´developed for Finding Species by H. Mogollon
and J. Guevara (unpub. data) and from data in Valencia et al.
[197]. This was then augmented and corrected by G. Villa, with
known and expected presence in Yasunı
´verified in accordance
with the definitions given above, using online plant lists and
collection records from Aarhus University [198], Center for
Tropical Forest Science [199], Chicago Field Museum [200],
Finding Species [201], Missouri Botanical Garden [202], New
York Botanical Garden [203], and the IUCN Red List of
Threatened Species [47]. Where species names could not be
verified in ITIS [204], they were verified in Jørgensen and Leo´n-
Ya´ nez [205].
The number of expected fish species in Yasunı
´comes from a
1999 synthesis of publications and fish lists from Ecuador and
neighboring countries by K. Swing (unpub. data).
Conservation status for all species comes from the IUCN Red
List of Threatened Species [47]. To determine endemic status,
mammal range maps were reviewed from Tirira [78] and from the
IUCN Red List of Threatened Species [47], and amphibian range
maps from only the latter source. Boundaries of protected areas
used in the figures are from the online 2007 World Database of
Protected Areas, developed by UNEP-WCMC and the IUCN
World Commission on Protected Areas.
Supporting Information
Text S1 Uncertainty of Species Richness Results
Found at: doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0008767.s001 (0.07 MB
DOC)
Acknowledgments
We thank the more than 50 Scientists Concerned for Yasunı
´who
participated in the Yasunı
´Day Conference (October 2004) and/or
contributed to the follow-up technical report (November 2004) [27]. We
also thank Finding Species for organizing the conference, and Tom
Quesenberry for hosting it at the El Monte Sustainable Lodge in Mindo,
Ecuador. The conference, the report, and the additional information the
Scientists Concerned for Yasunı
´provided to us during the process laid the
important groundwork for this paper. We appreciate the thoughtfulness of
feedback from Andrew Hector and two anonymous reviewers. We thank
the EARP group at Texas State University’s Department of Biology for a
final technical review of the manuscript. We also give special thanks to:
Ted R. Kahn for invaluable assistance with the amphibian and mammal
sections, Terry Erwin for information on insects, John G. Blake and Rudy
Gelis for help with the bird list, Juan Guevara and Hugo Mogollon for
providing results from their Yasunı
´tree list and other research help, Alfred
L. Gardner for assistance with our mammal species list, Peter Blank for
statistical advice, Carl Ross for ideas on policy recommendations, and
Tatsiana Tarasova, Carl Ross, Thomas Burman, and Rebecca Kranz for
research help.
We also wish thank Boston University’s Center for Ecology and
Conservation Biology and the Universidad San Francisco de Quito for
establishing the Tiputini Biodiversity Station, and the Pontificia Uni-
versidad Cato´lica del Ecuador for establishing the Yasunı
´Research
Station, sites where much of the research reported herein has been
conducted.
This paper would not have been possible without the many institutions and
their research teams that have dedicated resources to facilitate and/or
undertake research on Yasunı
´National Park. The institutions include
Ecuador’s Ministerio del Ambiente; the Pontificia Universidad Cato´lica del
Ecuador; Universidad San Francisco de Quito; Aarhus University; Boston
University; Duke University; Field Museum of Natural History; Finding
Species; King’s College London; Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife
Research; Napo Wildlife Center; Natural History Museum of London;
New York University; Save America’s Forests; Smithsonian Tropical
Research Institute; TADPOLE Organization; Texas State University;
Yasunı
´National Park
PLoS ONE | www.plosone.org 17 January 2010 | Volume 5 | Issue 1 | e8767
University of Aberdeen; University of Bonn; University of California,
Berkeley; University of California, Davis; University of California, San
Diego; University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign; University of Maryland;
University of Missouri-St. Louis; University of North Carolina, Chapel
Hill; The University of Texas at Austin; University of Turku; and Wildlife
Conservation Society.
We also wish to thank all the staff at the Tiputini Biodiversity Station—
Universidad San Francisco de Quito, especially Jaime Guerra, David
Romo, Kelly Swing, and Consuelo de Romo for coordinating logistical
support for researchers, and David Romo, Gonzalo Banda, and Leo Zurita
for help obtaining visas and research, collection, and export permits. We
also thank Dr. Friedemann Koester, the former director of the Pontificia
Universidad Cato´lica del Ecuador’s Yasunı
´Research Station, and the
station staff, for their long-term work in supporting research in Yasunı
´
National Park.
MSB additionally thanks Richard Condit, James M. Dietz, and an
anonymous student reviewer from the University of Maryland for
reviewing the early draft of this paper. She expresses gratitude to Dr.
Dietz, David Inouye, and her peers in the Sustainable Development and
Conservation Biology Program for their overall support and counsel. She
appreciates the editorial work of Jane Bass. She thanks Rodrigo Sierra,
Jonathan Greenberg, and other scientists who wish to remain anonymous
for sharing deforestation information with Finding Species that was used in
letters and articles on conserving Yasunı
´, and that also informed this paper.
SFM thanks Bejat McCracken for field work assistance. Specimens were
collected under permits issued by the Ministerio del Ambiente, Ecuador.
The research was carried out with permits from, and in compliance with
the rules overseen by, the Texas State Institutional Animal Care and Use
Committee (IACUC).
AD thanks the Ecuadorian Ministry of Environment for its continued
interest in and support for primate field work at the Tiputini Biodiversity
Station and the Yasunı
´Research Station.
THK and CCV wish to thank Kirsten Jung, Detlev Kelm, Felix Matt,
Katja Rex, and Ben Rinehart for field work on bats. This research was
conducted under permits issued by the Ministerio del Ambiente, Ecuador,
and authorized by Boston University’s Institutional Animal Care and Use
Committee.
Author Contributions
Conceived and designed the experiments: MB MSF. Performed the
experiments: MB MSF CNJ HK DFCH SFM NCP PE KS GV ADF CV
TK. Analyzed the data: MB MSF CNJ HK DFCH SFM NCP PE KS GV
ADF CV TK. Wrote the paper: MB MSF CNJ HK DFCH SFM NCP PE
KS GV ADF CV TK. Designed and created figures: CNJ HK.
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