Researchers in Colombia can now make sense of its rich biodiversity --200 square miles of some of the richest tropical rainforest on Earth, which had remained inaccessible to all but a small group of armed guerrillas for more than four decades, was recently opened to some lucky visitors in the rural municipality of Anori, according to the National Geographic.
Colombia is regarded as the second most biodiverse country in the world, but its fauna and flora have evaded study because of the war. When the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) guerrillas signed a peace agreement with the Colombian government in 2016, the violence in many rural zones decreased significantly. The end of the war meant biologists and other researchers could now explore the country’s forests, rivers, and mountain zones.
This expedition in Anori - located roughly 80 miles northeast of Colombia’s second-largest city, Medellin - is one of 20 sponsored by the Colombian government through the Colombia Bio Programme. It brought together a team of demobilized guerrillas from the FARC, university researchers, UN peacekeepers, and local community members.
“In terms of biodiversity, we’re in a spectacular place. When we look at a biodiversity map of Colombia we see there are two places that stand out: the Andes and Pacific Choco,” said biology professor Juan Fernando Diaz. With Anori sitting right where the two meet, this could mean discovering new species, according to Diaz.
In fact, the team uncovered a silvery palm plant with long, blade-shaped leaves. Dino Tuberquia, a biology professor at CES University in Medellin, explained that the plant was likely the first evidence of the noli palm (Chelyocarpus dianeurus) in the area, and could even be a new species. The palm can grow 18 feet (6 meters) tall with massive, circular leaves that reach up to 6 feet (2 meters) in diameter. It was previously only known to grow in a small part of Colombia’s Pacific coast.
Among the cornucopia of species, the botany team also identified a critically endangered wax palm (Ceroxylon sasaimae), which had only been rediscovered in the wild in 2011. There are no more than 200 left on the planet.
Obed Quiroz (left) and Lina Bolivar (right), part of the botany team, said the leaves shown above look like Chelyocarpus dianeurus but have significant morphological differences, suggesting it could come from a new species. During the trip, the research team also identified a tree-dwelling mouse, two types of flowering palm, and an orchid species. Some of these findings could be new to science.
While the primary goal of such expeditions remains the understanding of the Colombian biodiversity, the Colombian government also wants them to be the stepping stone in creating new businesses based on the country’s plant and animal resources, from bird watching to pharmaceutical research. And with new areas being opened to researchers and ultimately to nature lovers, Colombia is poised to become an ecotourism hub.