Amazon Rainforest Home to 227 Tree Species and About 390 Billion Individual Trees

First Posted: Oct 19, 2013 08:27 AM EDT

A team of researchers has finally generated the first estimate of the abundance, frequency and spatial distribution of the Amazonian trees based on 10 years of data. There are over 390 billion individual trees in the greater Amazonia and over 16,000 species in which half belong to 227 'hyperdominant' tree species.

Over 1.4 billion acres of dense forest make up the Amazon basin that is one of the world's natural major carbon sink. But the Amazonian diversity has been a a mystery for long.

The latest study includes data from over 100 experts who conducted 1,170 forest surveys in the greater Amazonia region including the Amazon Basin and the Guina Shield. The analysis of data reveals that the greater Amazonia harbors over 390 billion individual trees that include chocolate, acai berry and Brazil nut.

"We think there are roughly 16,000 tree species in Amazonia, but the data also suggest that half of all the trees in the region belong to just 227 of those species! Thus, the most common species of trees in the Amazon now not only have a number, they also have a name. This is very valuable information for further research and policymaking," Hans ter Steege, first author of the study and researcher at the Naturalis Biodiversity Center in South Holland, Netherlands, said in a statement.

These tree species were termed 'hyperdominants'. The study suggests that the hyperdominants, that make up to 1.4 percent of all the Amazonian tree species, make up roughly half of all carbon and ecosystem service in the Amazon. And none of the 227 hyperdominant species are consistently common across the Amazon. Rather they dominate swamps or upland forests.

This new finding throws light on the rarest tree species existing in Amazon.  Based on the mathematical model used in the study, approximately 6,000 tree species in Amazon have a population of less than 1,000 individuals, which makes them eligible for the IUCN red list.

"Just like physicists' models tell them that dark matter accounts for much of the universe, our models tell us that species too rare to find account for much of the planet's biodiversity. That's a real problem for conservation, because the species at the greatest risk of extinction may disappear before we ever find them," says Mike Silman, an ecologist  and co-author of the paper.

The study is published in the journal Science.

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