More than 1,200 new species found in the Amazon in past decadeUnited Kingdom
Brightly coloured tarantulas that propel excrement at enemies one metre away, translucent "glass frogs" with skin so thin you can watch their hearts beat, blind ants that date back 120m years, and tiny predatory flowers that lure insects to their death with a murderous fragrance are among more than 1,200 species that have been discovered in the Amazon over the past 10 years.
A new report by WWF highlights the need for greater efforts to conserve the world's greatest treasure trove of biodiversity. The South American rainforest, which covers an area one and a half times bigger than the European Union, is being threatened by loggers, ranchers, palm oil plantations, soy farms and climate change.
The report was presented at the United Nations biodiversity meeting in Nagoya, Japan, where delegates focussed today on ways to channel about $4bn to help developing nations save forests. Several delegations reported progress in this and other areas, breathing life into the negotiations that are supposed to end Friday with a new global pact to preserve wildlife and natural habitats.
During the last 50 years, at least 17% of the forest – an area twice the size of Spain – has been lost to human activities, damaging globally important ecological services such as carbon storage, climate stabilisation and the protection of countless species, the WWF says.
From 1999 to 2009, the report says a new species was discovered every three days. The list includes "Beni" (Eunectes beniensis), the first new anaconda species identified since 1936 which is 4m long and can eat jaguars; a "vermicelli tree" that grows a tangle of yellow noodle-like tendrils; a tiny blind subterranean catfish and a bald parrot whose body is so spectacularly coloured that scientists are astonished it was not discovered before.
"This report clearly shows the incredible diversity of life in the Amazon," said Francisco Ruiz, who heads WWF's work in the region. "It also serves as a reminder of how much we still have to learn about this unique region, and what we could lose if we don't change the way we think about development."
The discoveries clearly thrilled many of the scientists involved in compiling the report. Fernando Rivadavia found the Amazon sundew (Drosera amazonica), which secures nutrition on the arid white quartz savannas by digesting insects that are attracted by its sweet perfume and then trapped on its sticky glandular tentacles.
"Pleased hardly describes how ecstatic I felt when I finally discovered this plant after 10 years of searching for it," he said.
As well as the new forms of piranha, monkey and purple tarantula, countless other newly discovered insects and plants were not listed in the report and many more species are expected to be found in the years ahead.
WWF says all of the species are threatened by deforestation and agricultural expansion. The organisation is working with regional government to protect wildlife and their habitat. It says that 17% of the newly protected areas in the world are in the Amazon, which is home to 30 million people including several isolated indigenous groups.
Ahmed Djoghlaf, executive secretary of the United Nations Convention for Biological Diversity said he hoped that similar projects could be established to identify and protect species in other big forests. "This Amazon plan of action is a pioneer. We will now see how we can do the same for Congo, Borneo and elsewhere," he said.
Brazil claimed today to lead the world in establishing reserves, having increased protected areas to cover 14.9 per cent of the country's land, up from 8 per cent in 2006. Deforestation continues but the rate has slowed to its lowest level in 21 years.
However, Braulio Dias, secretary of biology and forests in the Brazilian government, said his country would not sign up in Nagoya to a UN target of halting species loss worldwide by 2020 because it was not feasible.
Rather than the Amazon, he said the main challenge was conversion of savanna to agriculture. With this likely to continue, he said a more realistic target was to reduce biodiversity loss to at least 50 per cent and, where feasible, zero.
Such a compromise is likely to be opposed by the EU and many conservation groups, which say more ambitious goals are essential to halt the alarming decline of non-human life on earth.
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