Crowdsourcing the Amazon: Brazil Creates the World’s First Botanical Wiki

July 25, 2011 by

News & Alerts, Sightseeing

The rainforest in Brazil

It is an honor—but also a responsibility—for any nation to be entrusted with the care of one of the most the most biodiverse, ecologically sensitive, and globally important regions of the world. The challenges of preserving the massive Amazon Rainforest would be hard for even developed nations to meet, and Brazil, despite its recent growth is still struggling to eradicate basic poverty while defending Mother Nature.

For instance, the Amazon borders eight different countries, none with adequate resources for surveillance, and tempts their impoverished private citizens and sly international interests with a tantalizing wealth of rare hardwoods and precious minerals, as well one third of the world’s species and one fifth of its fresh water. Add to these traditional threats, which have inexorably gnawed away at the rainforest’s edge for centuries, two new challenges: Years of drought and the construction of the world’s third-largest dam. Despite Brazil’s very real commitment to the Amazon, it has proven impossible to preserve the rainforest’s integrity completely.

For instance, there is not even a comprehensive catalog of species in the Amazon, where species go extinct every day. Though the (largely unfulfilled) promise of possibly lucrative medical cures has attracted a bit of investment over the years, such a quest seemed too Quixotic for private companies to fund effectively. Experts estimate that only one fifth of the Amazon’s species have ever been recorded.

Enter crowdsourcing. In the same way that sites like Wikipedia and TripAdvisor collect content from users rather than writing it themselves, the government of Brazil is hoping that scientifically minded private citizens will help catalog the Amazon in their own free time.

Brazil’s Minister of Science and Technology, Aloizio Mercadente, got the idea while visiting Manaus, gateway to the Brazilian Amazon. “If we do not create a new methodology,” Mercadente explained, “then in a hundred years it will not be possible to know all of the Amazon.” In June, he signed a deal with IBM that will allow everyone to contribute to an online compendium of the Amazon.

The botanical Wikipedia, called, will allow high-school students and other internet users to get involved in mapping the country’s vast biodiversity. They will be able to compare plants that come across with the existing database and submit potential new entries for inclusion to an expert committee that will be asked to validate them.” After federally recognized tropical botanists approve a submission, it will be published online for all the world to enjoy.

The first 2500 entries will be uploaded in time for the June 2012 Rio 20+ UN Conference on Sustainable Development, furnished by the catalog of Adolfo Ducke Forest Reserve, a 10,000-hectare (39-square-mile) protected area at the confluence of the Río Negro and Amazon River. If you’re scientifically inclined and interested in participating in this project as a tourist and volunteer researcher, contact them for more information.

-Paige Penland

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