Mapping the Amazon?

According to the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), the Amazon rainforest contains tens of thousands of important plant, animal, and other species that are unique to the region.

Yet, estimations of the biodiversity of the Amazonian rainforest vary and a large number of its species are unknown. The WWF estimates that only 1% of its flowering plants have been studied for medicinal potential.

What information is missing from current maps of the Amazon rainforest? What technologies can help provide this missing information?

Share any links, research documents, visualizations, or other resources that you have seen!

Relating to the WWF’s estimate that only 1% of its flowering plants have been studied for medicinal potential, here’s a TED talk from Mark Plotkin about his experience working with indigenous community healers - and a personal example of using the medicinal plants of the Amazon to heal himself:

This is an interesting example of the potential contained in a lot of these unmapped Amazonian plants, and how they could be beneficial to medicine if we can protect them.

Thanks for sharing this video, @TerryMulligan!

Another piece of information that is missing from our current understanding of the Amazon are the Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs). VOCs are like human pheromones…“They attract insects for pollination and seed dispersal, respond to stresses, and even send warning signs to neighboring plants that predators are attacking. [All plant species] emit a different VOC signature — like a fingerprint — which can change based on the season or if the plant is under [stress].”

This information would be invaluable to climate change research and contribute to our knowledge of the Amazon basin.

In this exciting study, a team of Harvard-led researchers is using “smelling the forest” to measure carbon dioxide levels in the rainforest: Drones over the Amazon

What this question makes me think of is Google maps. With Google maps you can zoom into you any city block and feel like you’re there, move the camera around to see lots of details. Maps of the Amazon are often more along the lines of canopy cover because the data is gathered from above via satellite or drones rather than having something on the ground, but what if there was a way to apply the granularity of Google maps technology to on-the-ground views in the Amazon? Then scientists could really dig into the visual imagery, and they could locate plants or wildlife worth taking a closer look at in person, or at least to know exactly what is where. Can there be small, non-harmful roaming cameras at the ground level gathering data? Like this? Of course, scaling is a challenge, and you wouldn’t want these breaking and creating Amazon junk, but, maybe worth the thought experiment.

@Dianachaplin thank you for pointing out that many maps of the Amazon currently are often focused on canopy cover…and love this idea of applying the granularity of Google maps technology to on-the-ground views in the Amazon!

Here’s another interesting find: Seek: Seek by iNaturalist · iNaturalist. Seek is a mobile app that uses computer vision to identify plants & animals. It presents opportunities for exploring Earth’s biodiversity - and it’s free!

What other ways might we be able to use technology to make mapping and identification of plants and animal species in the Amazon rainforest more accessible?

(Aerial) spectrographic tree (type) mapping. Knowing what types of trees (and their relative abundances) will help inform conservation AND reforestation efforts.

Thank you, @marz62! We also have a new discussion on agriculture that we’ve just recently posted - any possible input you might have there would be great!