Picture of the Week—Spike-headed Katydid

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Yasuní National Park, in the Ecuadorian Amazon, is one of the most biodiverse places on the planet, according to scientists who recently completed a study examining the park's plant and animal populations. A single hectare (2.47 acres) of land, for example, contains 655 tree species, more than you would find in all of the continental United States and Canada. Even more impressive, that hectare would contain around 100,000 different insect species (such as the spiny-headed katydid, Panacanthus cuspidatus, seen above).

The scientists aren't certain why the biodiversity of Yasuní is so high, but several factors, including its location at the intersection of the equator, Andes and Amazon, certainly contribute. But there is reason to worry that this biodiversity may not last. The park is isolated from other protected areas in the region, of which there are few. And despite its designation as a national park, oil extraction, along with the building of access roads, has been permitted in places. The biggest threat to Yasuní and its biodiversity is probably oil, the scientists say. Ecuador's second-largest field of untapped oil lies under the northeastern section of the park. The Ecuadorian government has proposed a plan to keep that oil off-limits from development, but lack of funding threatens the government's plans.

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(Photo credit: Bejat McCracken. H/T Eurekalert)

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