Before climate change and development destroy the irreplaceable ecosystems at Las Orquídeas National Park, botanists from the New York Botanical Garden and the Universidad Nacional de Colombia race to collect orchids, ferns and other exotic plants.
Las Orquídeas National Park is one of the single most biologically diverse places on the planet because it’s located at the intersection of the Chocó and the Tropical Andes, two of the richest biogeographic regions in the world. In the Andes alone, you can find about a sixth of the world’s biodiversity – perhaps two million species of plants, animals, fungi and microorganisms, and only about 10 percent have been identified.
In a three-year project, funded by the U.S. National Science Foundation, the botanists will attempt to create a comprehensive inventory of at least 3,000 plant species believed to thrive at the park, including more than 200 species of orchid for which the park is named.
For thirteen years, Las Orquídeas was largely off limits to scientists because pockets of the park were unofficial territory of armed groups, and the danger made funding hard to come by.
Aside from climate change, the environmental threat is also mining, timber, agriculture and ranching.
The botanists expect to also come across the Andean spectacled bear, rare jaguar, puma, monkeys, deer, amphibians and a variety of birds, bats and insects.