The Southwestern Amazon contains what is probably the largest and least disturbed area remaining of Upper Amazonian and Lower Andean ecosystems. The Department of Madre de Dios, Peru, dominated by the Madre de Dios River basin and tributaries, is an important geopolitical region in the pristine SW Amazon. Research activities will include habitat surveys and botanical inventories of this biologically diverse area, and will result in field guides, online identification tools, and other resources. The study will also integrate historical data from several previous less comprehensive botanical and ecological studies of this area.
The survey and inventory activities supported through this project will provide data and images for a variety of publications and information products to come in digital and print format. The study will also serve as a testbed for connecting inventory data with innovative techniques of information management, as specimen data, images, and ecological datasets will be readily available in the Atrium Biodiversity Information System of the Botanical Research Institute of Texas. This project involves education, training, and outreach activities that will engage a postdoctoral fellow in botany and ecology, a graduate student, Peruvian undergraduate students, and numerous students and teachers that visit the Botanical Research Institute of Texas education program on a yearly basis. This study will bring the interested public closer to the techniques and products of plant and habitat inventory, and to the value, diversity, and beauty of Amazonian ecosystems.
This projectâ€™s primary goals were to carry out botanical inventory and ecological investigations in the Andes-Amazon region of southeastern Peru, with focus on the Los Amigos Conservation Area and other comparative and equally unexplored sites in this region (Departments of Cusco and Madre de Dios, Peru), and to consolidate old and new botanical and ecological data from the region in an online, public-access database. More than 20,000 individual plant collections (pressed and dried herbarium specimens) were made by the Botanical Research Institute of Texas (BRIT) field team over the course of this project. Duplicate specimens were deposited in collaborating Peruvian herbaria and also exported to the BRIT Herbarium in Fort Worth, Texas. The botanical inventory was complemented by ecological inventory of trees in 1/10-hectare plots. A total of 82 plots were inventoried in the Los Amigos Conservation Area and 20 additional plots were inventoried at other comparative sites in the region. Over 2500 species were documented from the 1500 hectares of forest and wetland ecosystems in the Los Amigos Conservation Area. This projectâ€™s collecting activities resulted in the discovery of at least 20 species new to science, and many first-time species records for Peru. Floristic comparisons between Los Amigos and other research sites in Madre de Dios, Peru, suggest that few sites have been as well-inventoried. All activities of this project were closely integrated with the development, testing, and use of the Andes-Amazon Atrium Biodiversity Information System (http://atrium.andesamazon.org) developed at BRIT. A total of 20,000 botanical collection records were added to this growing online database, with over 50,000 associated images, including high-resolution herbarium specimen scans and field images of live plants. One of the major objectives of this project was to provide public access to existing (legacy) datasets about the plants and ecosystems of the Andes-Amazon region of southeastern Peru. Digitization of several herbaria in Peru is ongoing, and these records and images are being added to the Atrium Andes-Amazon Site. Approximately 6000 specimens and associated images have been contributed from the Jenaro Herrera Herbarium (JH) of Iquitos, Peru, the first Peruvian herbarium to be digitized and made available to the public. These will serve as an important resource for future generations of scientists and students. However, the goal of Atrium goes far beyond just putting specimens online. Quantitative data from 35,000 trees representing approximately 1400 species inventoried in the forest plots in the study region have been released for analysis and download in the Atrium Vegetation Survey module (http://atrium.andesamazon.org/vegsurvey_search.php). The dynamic plot-to-voucher linking in the Atrium Digital Herbarium and Vegetation Survey facilitates analysis, interpretation, and publication, and avoids taxonomic obsolescence. All data are freely available for download from Atrium, which also provides a full suite of statistical analysis tools. The bringing together of new and previously dispersed datasets into one information system has allowed an unprecedented opportunity for systematic research, taxonomic discoveries, and floristic synthesis. Three books and over 30 peer-reviewed articles related to this project have been published or are in press at the time of this report. Many of the articles were authored or coauthored by the graduate students and postdoc supported by this grant. Also, a total of 25 published conference abstracts resulted from this project. Digital products include modules and tools within the Atrium Biodiversity Information System environment, including dataset publication, on-demand field guides that are user-customizable, and digital books (floras). This project's data are already being applied to support ongoing conservation planning and decision making in the Andes-Amazon region of southeastern Peru. Broader impacts of this project include the use of the botanical data and images for research on other organisms, such as studies of the fruits and seeds eaten and dispersed by the endangered Lowland Tapir. The botanical and ecological inventory of the vast wetlands of the Amazon region carried out by this project has contributed significantly to a new conservation law formed in Madre de Dios, Peru. With this law in place, the 30,000 hectares of wetland ecosystems in this region of the Amazon receive increased protection. This project has supported the education and training of one postdoctoral researcher, eight graduate students, 13 undergraduate students, and eight high school students, including women and minorities.