Posts Tagged ‘Amazon’

Amazon and Washington Post – It isn’t rocket science

April 3, 2018


The Amazon contains 390 billion trees of 16,000 species (approximately)

October 19, 2013

Something to remember for your next game of Trivial Pursuit.

The Amazon contains 390 billion trees and 16,000 species and half the trees are accounted for by just 227 species.

Nobody actually counted them.

The ~6-million-km2 Amazonian lowlands were divided into 1° cells, and mean tree density was estimated for each cell by using a loess regression model that included no environmental data but had its basis exclusively in the geographic location of tree plots. A similar model, allied with a bootstrapping exercise to quantify sampling error, was used to generate estimated Amazon-wide abundances of the 4962 valid species in the data set. We estimated the total number of tree species in the Amazon by fitting the mean rank-abundance data to Fisher’s log-series distribution.

The data is generated by a mathematical model.  It is not clear how the 16,000 species is estimated from just 4,962 valid species. “This is very valuable information for further research and policymaking” says Hans ter Steege. It must be – after all a paper has been published in Science! According to the mathematical model roughly 6,000 tree species in the Amazon have populations of fewer than 1,000 individuals, which automatically qualifies them for inclusion in the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Species. But these species are so rare that scientists may never find them.

( I can’t help thinking that there must be very many species of tree coming to the end of their “natural” existence which we know nothing about. And does it matter?).

H. ter Steege et al, Hyperdominance in the Amazonian Tree FloraScience, 2013; 342 (6156): 1243092 DOI: 10.1126/science.1243092


A map of Amazonia showing the location of the 1430 Amazon Tree Diversity Network (ATDN) plots that contributed data to this paper.

Field Museum Press Release: 

Researchers, taxonomists, and students from The Field Museum and 88 other institutions around the world have provided new answers to two simple but long-standing questions about Amazonian diversity: How many trees are there in the Amazon, and how many tree species occur there? The study will be published October 17, 2013 in Science.

The vast extent and difficult terrain of the Amazon Basin (including parts of Brazil, Peru, Columbia) and the Guiana Shield (Guyana, Suriname, and French Guiana), which span an area roughly the size of the 48 contiguous North American states, has historically restricted the study of their extraordinarily diverse tree communities to local and regional scales. The lack of basic information about the Amazonian flora on a basin-wide scale has hindered Amazonian science and conservation efforts.

“In essence, this means that the largest pool of tropical carbon on Earth has been a black box for ecologists, and conservationists don’t know which Amazonian tree species face the most severe threats of extinction,” says Nigel Pitman, Robert O. Bass Visiting Scientist at The Field Museum in Chicago, and co-author on the study.

Now, however, over 100 experts have contributed data from 1,170 forestry surveys in all major forest types in the Amazon to generate the first basin-wide estimates of the abundance, frequency and spatial distribution of thousands of Amazonian trees.

Extrapolations from data compiled over a period of 10 years suggest that greater Amazonia, which includes the Amazon Basin and the Guiana Shield, harbors around 390 billion individual trees, including Brazil nut, chocolate, and açai berry trees.

“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,” says Hans ter Steege, first author on the study and researcher at the Naturalis Biodiversity Center in South Holland, Netherlands.

The authors termed these species “hyperdominants.” While the study suggests that hyperdominants – just 1.4 percent of all Amazonian tree species – account for roughly half of all carbon and ecosystem services in the Amazon, it also notes that almost none of the 227 hyperdominant species are consistently common across the Amazon. Instead, most dominate a region or forest type, such as swamps or upland forests.

The study also offers insights into the rarest tree species in the Amazon. According to the mathematical model used in the study, roughly 6,000 tree species in the Amazon have populations of fewer than 1,000 individuals, which automatically qualifies them for inclusion in the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Species. The problem, say the authors, is that these species are so rare that scientists may never find them.

Ecologist Miles Silman of Wake Forest University, another co-author of the paper, calls the phenomenon “dark biodiversity”.

“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 Silman.

While the authors are confident that these hyperdominants also dominate the vast expanses of Amazonia where scientists have never set foot, they do not know why some species are hyperdominant and others are rare.

The authors note that a large number of hyperdominants – including Brazil nut, chocolate, rubber, and açai berry – have been used and cultivated for millennia by human populations in Amazonia.

“There’s a really interesting debate shaping up,” says Pitman, “between people who think that hyperdominant trees are common because pre-1492 indigenous groups farmed them, and people who think those trees were dominant long before humans ever arrived in the Americas.”

Ancient Sarmatian burial tomb of noble descendant of the Amazon warrior-women found intact

August 8, 2013
Sarmatian (Amazon) warriior woman (image from RealmsofGold)

Sarmatian (Amazon) warriior woman (image from RealmsofGold)

It is thought that the predecessors of the ancient warrior-women of the Sauromatian culture of central Asia dating from the 6th to the 4th century B.C.  could have been the inspiration for the Amazons of Homer’s Iliad. The Iliad possibly dates from the 8th or the 7th century B.C and describes

a race of fierce women who mated with vanquished male foes and kept only the female children they bore, were believed to occupy the area around the Black Sea. Amazon women also crop up in Greek myths. One of the labors of Hercules, for example, required him to acquire the girdle of the Amazon queen, Hippolyte.

… The works of the Greek historian Herodotus, written around the 5th century B.C., describe a group of female warriors who lost to the Greeks at the battle of Thermodon. Herodotus’ Amazons were taken prisoner and put on ships, but overwhelmed and killed the Greek crew. Unable to sail themselves, the women drifted to the shores of the Black Sea, to the territory of the Scythians, a nomadic culture of Iranian descent. The women, Herodotus says, intermarried with the Scythian men, and convinced their new husbands to move northeast across the flat grassy plains, high mountains, and searing deserts of the Russian steppes, where the group eventually evolved into the Sauromatian culture.

The Sauromatians were succeeded by the Sarmatians from around the 4th century B.C. who were also nomadic and fierce warriors who held their warrior-women  – now evolving into “noble” women –  in high regard:

The culture, which had been expanding its territory, soon shifts its focus. “They become raiders and traders, with forays to the west to interface with the Romans, and they relocate to cities and to areas along large trade routes,” …… “Their wealth increases. We see that in their burial items. We see strong, powerful women, but their role changes. We find burials of women that still retain cultic artifacts, indicating that they were a priestess of some sort, but there is much more gold and more secular ornamentation — more golden cups, more golden jewelry, elaborate things — and less weaponry. This type of evolution is a normal manifestation of culture.” 

Filippovka "Tsar Tumulus" mounds (Google Maps)

Filippovka “Tsar Tumulus” mounds (Google Maps)

The Sarmatians held sway for about 900 years until about 400 AD when they were overrun by barbarians from the West. Now a completely intact tomb of a Sarmatian noble woman dating from about 2500 years ago has been found at the  “Tsar Tumulus” mounds near Filippovka in Southern Russia reports RiaNovosti.

MOSCOW, August 6 (RIA Novosti) – Archaeologists have found the intact burial chamber of a noble woman from a powerful tribe that roamed the Eurasian steppes 2,500 years ago in southern Russia, an official said Tuesday.

The Sarmatians were a group of Persian-speaking tribes that controlled what is now parts of southern Russia, Ukraine and Central Asia from around 500 BC until 400 AD. They were often mentioned by ancient Greek historians and left luxurious tombs with exquisite golden and bronze artifacts that were often looted by gravediggers.

sarmatian trasures (image from

sarmatian trasures (image from

But the burial site found near the the village of Filippovka in the Orenburg region has not been robbed – and contained a giant bronze kettle, jewelry, a silver mirror and what appears to be containers for cosmetics, said history professor Gulnara Obydennova who heads the Institute of History and Legal Education in the city of Ufa.

“The find is really sensational also because the burial vault was intact – the objects and jewelry in it were found the way they had been placed by the ancient nomads,” she told RIA Novosti.

The vault – located 4 meters (13 feet) underground – was found in the “Tsar Tumulus,” a group of two dozen mounds where hundreds of golden and silver figurines of deer, griffins and camels, vessels and weapons have been found since the 1980s.

The woman’s skeleton was still covered with jewelry and decorations, and her left hand held a silver mirror with an ornamented golden handle, Obydennova said.

The descendants of the Sarmatians include Ossetians, an ethnic group living in the Caucasus region, who speak a language related to Persian.

From Realmsof Gold:

Accomplished horse-breeders and horsemen, Sarmatians were nomadic Indo-European tribes closely related to the Scythians. The Roman historian Ammianus Marcellinus describes Sarmatian tribesmen as “tall and handsome, their hair inclines to blond; by the ferocity of their gaze they inspire dread. They delight in danger and warfare.” 

A fascinating feature of Sarmatian society was the high status accorded to women. Sarmatian warrior queens were renowned in antiquity. Herodotus affirmed that the Sarmatians were descendants of the Amazons and Scythians, whose women “frequently hunted on horseback with their husbands; in war taking the field; and wore the very same dress as the men.” The Sarmatian tradition had it that “no girl should wed till she had killed a man in battle.” In ancient kurgans, sumptuous female burials often included swords and arrowheads together with elegant jewelry inlaid with dazzling gems in the Hellenistic style. Eastern campaigns of Alexander the Great (356-323 BC) spread Greek influences throughout his huge empire and exposed local artisans to new styles. The composite style that emerged is known as Hellenistic. 

The Sarmatians were overrun by the invasions of the Goths and Huns in the 3rd and 4th centuries AD. – 

Further uncertainties in the Carbon cycle

July 4, 2013

The Carbon cycle is far from being fully understood or quantified. The absorption and release of carbon dioxide by the oceans and from biological plants and fungii – both on land and in the ocean – are a long way from being established. The amount of Carbon locked up in the earths crust is equally subject to great uncertainty.

A new paper shows that deep soils hold much higher levels of carbon than is usually assumed.

R. J. Harper, M. Tibbett, The hidden organic carbon in deep mineral soilsPlant and Soil, July 2013, Volume 368, Issue 1-2, pp 641-648

Abstract: Current estimates of soil organic carbon (SOC) are based largely on surficial measurements to depths of 0.3 to 1 m. Many of the world’s soils greatly exceed 1 m depth and there are numerous reports of biological activity to depths of many metres. Although SOC storage to depths of up to 8 m has been previously reported, the extent to which SOC is stored at deeper depths in soil profiles is currently unknown. This paper aims to provide the first detailed analysis of these previously unreported stores of SOC. ….. Mean SOC mass densities for each of the five locations varied from 21.8–37.5 kg C m−2, and were in toto two to five times greater than would be reported with sampling to a depth of 0.5 m.

PhysOrg reportsCurrent estimates of soil organic carbon are based largely on measurements to depths of 30 cm. This approach has evolved in North America and Europe, where soil is generally more shallow. 

However, many plant species have roots extending many metres deep, suggesting there is also carbon stored at such depth and inspiring researchers to explore the storage potential of deeper soils in older landscapes such as the Amazon or Australia. Researchers in the Amazon had previously sampled soils to 8 m. 

The researchers took soil measurements from samples taken to almost 40 metres deep at a range of sites in south-western Australia. They found that small amounts of carbon were present throughout the soils all the way to the bedrock, and that deep soils store up to five times more carbon than is normally reported.

Lead researcher Professor Richard Harper, an expert in water management and sustainability at Murdoch University said the findings extend our concept of the amounts and potential of carbon stored in soils.

“This carbon has been previously overlooked, and this opens up several lines of inquiry – for example, what happens to this carbon with land use change such as deforestation and reforestation?” Professor Harper said.

“There is likely more carbon stored in the world’s soils than previously considered. What will happen to this carbon – that is, will it be released as a result of either land-use change or climate change – is unknown. This is what we are working on now,” he said.


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