To date, around 1 million insect species have been identified throughout the world. But, while that may be a mind-boggling number, biologists estimate that there remains at least 4 million more left undiscovered--many of which may lie deep in the heart of the world's largest rainforest. With that in mind, soon a team of researchers will travel 20 days, by boat, into remote regions of the Amazon in hopes of collecting around 100 thousand insect specimens. According to a report from Globo Amazonia, this isn't the first time a team from Brazil's National Institute for Amazonian Research (INPA) has set out in search of new species. The project to collect new species has been ongoing for the last several years and will continue through to 2011. Last year's expedition was cut short, however, when the team's boat sank early on in the voyage, leaving crewmembers stranded.
From June 1 to June 21, the team made up of 20 researchers, will travel hundreds of miles into parts of the Amazon rainforest that have been largely unexplored, setting up more than 60 insect traps along the way. The forest's size and inaccessibility has made it difficult for biologists to do research in the past--but makes the Amazon a virtual treasure-trove of undiscovered species.
Team coordinator José Albertino Rafael :
The Amazon, especially (in the state of) Amazonia, still has a little-known insect fauna. We regularly find new species in any region of the state and much more when we cover the remote areas, still unexplored. So experts from different taxonomic groups will participate in the project, so that much of what we find can be identified and described.
This year, Rafael has no doubt their mission will be successful in adding more insect species to the list of around 1 million that have previously been classified. "A reasonable estimate says there may be more than 5 million species and the Amazon is very rich in biodiversity," he said.
With insects accounting to about two-thirds of total species on the planet, discovering even a fraction of the estimated 5 million that remain unclassified holds the potential to advance scientific understanding of life on earth--not to mention the Amazon rainforest, which is the cradle to so much of it.