Peru’s Manu national park sets biodiversity record

A recent study shows that the Manu National Park in Peru’s southern Cusco and Madre de Dios regions has scored a new biodiversity record.

The study published in the journal Biota Neotropica cataloged 155 amphibian and 132 reptile species from the park and its buffer zone, putting Manu at the top of the list of natural protected areas in terms of amphibian and reptile diversity.

The western side of the Amazon Basin, especially the region at the foothill of the Andes, exhibits extraordinary levels of biodiversity compared with other regions on the planet.

Up until recently, Yasuní National Park in Ecuador ranked first with 150 amphibian and 121 reptile species according to a study published in PLoS ONE in 2010.

Both Manu and Yasuní protect large areas of undisturbed lowland rainforest, but Manu National Park also protects high-elevation cloud forests and Andean grasslands.

The new list of amphibians and reptiles at Manu was published by Alessandro Catenazzi, assistant professor at Southern Illinois University Carbondale, Edgar Lehr, assistant professor at Illinois Wesleyan University, and Rudolf von May, postdoctoral research fellow at the Museum of Vertebrate Zoology at University of California, Berkeley.

With support from the National Geographic Society, the National Science Foundation, the Rufford Small Grants Foundation, the Amazon Conservation Association, and the Wildlife Conservation Society, the team surveyed multiple elevations and examined hundreds of museum specimens collected at dozens of locations in Manu National Park and its buffer zone. Analysis of DNA sequences and frog calls allowed the team to identify additional species.

“The number of species recorded in Manu is noteworthy if we consider that the national park represents only 0.01% of the planet’s land area, but houses 2.2% of all amphibians and 1.5% of all reptiles known worldwide,” the experts behind the study said in a press release.  “Amphibians such as frogs, toads, salamanders, and caecilians, and reptiles such as snakes, lizards, turtles, and caimans thrive there.”

Manu is also known for other long-held records of biodiversity: more than 1,000 species of birds (about 10% of the world’s bird species) and more than 1,200 species of butterflies have been recorded in the park.

Additionally, Manu and its buffer zone are areas of high cultural importance, because they are home to several indigenous ethnic groups, including the Matsiguenka, Harakmbut, and Yine, as well as groups living in “voluntary isolation” such as the Mashco-Piro who live as nomadic hunter-gatherers in the region.

Scientific research conducted over the past four decades recognized Manu National Park as a globally irreplaceable site. Herpetologists first surveyed the region in the 1970’s, primarily along the road that connects the city of Cusco to villages in the cloud forests of the Kosñipata Valley.

Starting in the 80’s, research was broadened to include remote lowland rainforest locations inside the park such as Cocha Cashu Biological Station.

Subsequent herpetological expeditions have continued to reveal new species of amphibians and reptiles, especially in the endemic-rich cloud forest and high-Andean grasslands. For example, one of the most recent discoveries was the glass frog Centrolene sabini, the world’s 7000th known amphibian species.

The team of researchers predicts that additional species will be described in the upcoming years, as a result of increased use of DNA analysis, study of frog calls, and other techniques.

Discovery of species not previously reported from the park will similarly contribute to increase the number of amphibians and reptiles known for Manu.

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