After Three Centuries of Research, Ecologists Identify More Than 11,000 Amazon Tree Species

Amazon rainforest
The view from an observatory tower in the Amazon forest in Amazonas state, Brazil, January 10, 2015. Ecologists believe the rainforest may contain up to 16,000 different tree species. Bruno Kelly/Reuters

Ecologists, drawing on 300 years of research, have created the first list of every known tree species in the Amazon—analyzing more than 500,000 plant samples and finding 11,676 different tree types.

Their findings, which were published Wednesday in the journal Scientific Reports, drew on samples collected as far back as 1707. The list they created was made possible due to the worldwide digitization of museum information, the BBC reported.

Nigel Pitman, a tropical field ecologist at Chicago's Field Museum and one of the study's authors said that the list is intended to serve as an index that other scientists could elaborate and expand on, The New York Times reported.

"This is an effort to pull together this 300-year-long research on this incredibly diverse region and convert it into a simple tool that anybody can use," Pitman said. "It's the best we can do now for someone who wants to know what trees have been collected in the Amazon."

For the report's authors, the final list proved cheering news. In 2013, they had previously estimated that the Amazon contains around 16,000 species of tree—a figure they calculated through extrapolation.

The team believes that the remaining species are out there—either undiscovered in museum records or in the Amazon itself. Unfortunately, identifying the remaining tree types could take decades.