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The tree fern Dicksonia, covered with Sphagnum
The tree fern Dicksonia, covered with Sphagnum, Yanachaga-Chemillén National Park, central Peru


With a land area of 1,285,215 km² — three times larger than the state of California — Peru is the third largest country in South America and the largest of the Andean countries. For many years, Peru has been recognized among biologists and conservationists as a country with exceedingly rich biodiversity that is a high priority for conservation. Peru is home to more than 19,000 species of flowering plants and gymnosperms — about as many vascular plant species as occur in the United States, an area more than seven times that of Peru. Not only is the Peruvian flora very rich in species, but a large proportion of them — at least 28 percent — are endemic, occurring nowhere else in the world. Because plants comprise the basic element of biological communities, providing a viable habitat for all organisms, Peru also supports a great diversity of faunal species with high levels of endemism. So great is Peru’s biodiversity that it is considered one of the megadiversity countries, along with others in South America such as Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, and Ecuador.

For more than 30 years, the Missouri Botanical Garden (MBG) has worked to increase knowledge of Peru’s floristic resources and has developed a comprehensive program of botanical and ecological research, capacity building for university students and local communities, and conservation and sustainable development. Collaborating with Peruvian organizations, MBG concentrated initially on areas in northern and eastern Peru that are poorly known botanically but are considered exceptionally rich — particularly the area around Iquitos, the northeastern Marañón region, and the Cenepa River Basin in northern Peru and the Madre de Dios River region in southeastern Peru. More recently, following analyses that showed a higher density of unique plants in the Andes than in the lowland rain forests, MBG shifted its primary focus to two middle elevation regions in southern and central Peru that contain some of the most richly diverse and highly threatened areas on Earth — the Cusco area and the Selva Central (central forest), where our work continues.

Currently, MBG’s work in the Selva Central concentrates in three contiguous Protected Natural Areas on the eastern flank of the Andes that form part of the great Amazon River Basin and lie within the homelands of the Yanesha people: the Yanachaga-Chemillén National Park, the San Carlos-San Matías Protected Forest, and the Yanesha Communal Reserve. These Protected Areas, which previously were almost entirely unexplored, cover about 3000 km², possess intact primary forest, and harbor an estimated 6,000 plant species. Through its work in the Selva Central, MBG aims over the longer term to understand the species composition and dynamics of the Andean montane forests and thus to provide the scientific basis to create additional protected areas and strengthen existing policies for wise management of biodiversity throughout the montane regions of Peru.

New species of Chrysochlamys (Clusiaceae), Yanachaga-Chemillén National Park
New species of Chrysochlamys (Clusiaceae),
Yanachaga-Chemillén National Park
Crossothamnus pascoanus, Cerro Chacos, Cordillera de Yanachaga
Crossothamnus pascoanus,
Cerro Chacos, Cordillera de Yanachaga

MBG’s program in Peru has three goals:

  • Providing scientific information to advance conservation of the three Protected Natural Areas in the Selva Central (Palcazu River Watershed) through floristic inventories and ecological surveys of forests using one-hectare tree plots, and disseminating results in printed and online publications
  • Building capacity for science and conservation through training of Peruvian university students, professionals, community people, park guards, and staff of Protected Natural Areas
  • Collaborating with indigenous communities to develop, and training them in, activities that offer viable economic alternatives to wild harvesting, use the natural resources of the region sustainably, and provide sources of nutrition and supplemental income to purchase basic necessities
  • For more information, contact
    Rodolfo Vásquez

    Learn more about the Missouri Botanical Garden's program in South America

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    Director, CCSD, Missouri Botanical Garden, P.O. Box 299, St. Louis, MO 63166 Phone: (314) 577-0871 © 2014