Burnham’s research part of biodiversity presentation to Ecuador’s Congress


Oct 11, 2013

Yasuni National Park

Yasuni National Park

A statement on biodiversity was delivered to Ecuador's Congress by scientists in September 2013 warning that oil drilling threatens the most biodiverse rainforest on Earth.

Professor Robyn Burnham worked in Yasuní National Park for five years, teaching herself to recognize the local species of woody climbers (lianas). “The diversity really is staggering, in spite of some common species that you can learn quickly,” said Burnham. “Our estimate of about 550 species of lianas comes from many months of work in the field and work in herbaria in Ecuador and the U.S.  It will stand as a benchmark against which other diverse sites are always measured.”

Burnham’s liana research was part the presentation to the Ecuadorian Congress by the Scientists Concerned for Yasuní – a group of more than 100 scientists from Ecuador and around the world with experience in Yasuní National Park. Their presentation detailed the extraordinary biodiversity of the park and strongly warned against allowing new oil drilling in its core. The incredible diversity of amphibian, bird, insect, mammal, and tree species is likely due to the park’s unique and strategic location at the intersection of the Amazon, the Andes, and the Equator.

Since the presentation, the Ecuadorian Congress approved a proposal to open up the remote northeast section of Yasuní National Park to a potentially massive new oil drilling operation. Since the area is within a national park, Congress had to declare the projects to be in the national interest.

“The campaign is much direr this time because the government drilling plans are much more aggressive and extensive than in years past,” said Matt Finer of the Center for International Environmental Law. “They are not nibbling around the edges of the park anymore, but going deep into the core of one of the most important protected areas in the world.”

By targeting the core of the park, the drilling projects also threaten some of the world’s last remaining indigenous people living in voluntary isolation.

Some specific examples cited by the Scientists Concerned for Yasuní about the park:

  • The 153 documented amphibian species represents a world record at the landscape scale (=10,000 km2).
  • The 274 documented amphibian and reptile species represents a world record at the landscape scale. 
  • The 597 documented bird species and the 176 documented mammal species represent some of the highest known totals at the landscape scale.
  • The ten coexisting primate species represents a remarkable diversity at the local scale (=100 km2)
  • The over 3,000 documented vascular plants is among the richest areas globally at the landscape scale.
  • A typical hectare of terra firme forest in Yasuní National Park contains at least 655 tree species, more than are native to the continental United States and Canada combined.
  • The park is part of an equatorial band of forest (stretching from the Ecuadorian Andes to Manaus in Brazil) that contains the richest 1-hectare tree plots in the world.
  • Yasuní National Park is home to 28 Threatened or Near Threatened vertebrate species, such as White-bellied Spider Monkey, Giant Otter, Poeppig's Woolly Monkey, Amazonian Manatee, Lowland Tapir, Giant Armadillo, and Harpy Eagle. Nearly half of these 28 species are facing a high to extremely high risk of extinction in the wild.

Global Conservation Significance of Ecuador's Yasuní National Park, PLOS One

The case against Ecuador's claims of 'low-impact drilling' in Yasuní, Mongabay.com

Ecuador congress approves Yasuni basin oil drilling in Amazon, Reuters