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Bolivian Park May Be Most Diverse Place on Earth

Madidi's diverse life includes roughly 200 species of mammals, 300 types of fish and 12,000 plant species
Related: Earth, Travel

A parrot snake, one of at least 50 species of snake in Madidi National Park. (WCS)

Madidi National Park, in northwest Bolivia, may be the most biologically diverse place on earth, according to the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS).

A list of species living there was released this week in a presentation at the World Conservation Congress in Jeju, South Korea. The report follows yesterday's release of the 100 most threatened species, some of which live in Madidi National Park.

According to a WCS release, a full 11 percent of the world's bird species live in the park. Madidi's diverse life also includes more than 200 species of mammals, almost 300 types of fish and 12,000 plant species. [Images: Newly Identified Bolivian Plant Species]

The report, compiled by more than 50 scientists from around the world, counts a total of 1,868 vertebrates, including 1,088 species of birds. Only eleven countries have more bird species than Madidi, and the entire United States contains less than 900 types of birds.

Animals in the park range in size from the 660-pound (300 kilograms) lowland tapir, an Amazonian herbivore, down to the tiny insectivorous Spix's disk-winged bat, which weighs just 0.14 ounces (4 grams). Record numbers of jaguars also make their home in the park.

Bird species include large predators like the harpy eagle, which dines on sloths and monkeys. There are also 60 species of hummingbird in the park, including the tiny festive coquette.

Life thrives in the park's many habitats, ranging from lowland tropical forests of the Amazon to snow-capped peaks of the High Andes.

"With Madidi's almost 6,000-meter (19,685 feet) altitudinal range, no other protected area captures the diversity of South American habitats that pushes these numbers through the ceiling," said Robert Wallace, Madidi landscape program director for the WCS.

Data on animals and plants have been collected for decades in the 7,335-square-mile (19,000 square kilometers) park, which is almost as large as New Jersey. Research was done in collaboration with the Bolivian Park Service (SERNAP).

Even with all this research, much is unknown about the park, particularly in the tropical montane or cloud forests. Despite significant efforts from the scientific team, about two-thirds of the park's total biodiversity has yet to be observed or reported by scientists, the WCS said in its release, highlighting the need for further research in the region.

Madidi National Park is a top tourist attraction in Bolivia and part of a larger protected region known as the Madidi-Tambopata Landscape, one of the largest such complexes in the world. Despite existing protections, some life in the area is threatened by development such as road construction, logging and agricultural expansion.

Reach Douglas Main at dmain@techmedianetwork.com. Follow him on Twitter @Douglas_Main. Follow OurAmazingPlanet on Twitter @OAPlanet. We're also on Facebook and Google+.

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Copyright 2012 OurAmazingPlanet, a TechMediaNetwork company. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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