Thursday, April 25, 2013

B for Brazil

The second stop on my virtual journey through the DNA Barcode cosmos is Brazil. 

If you are interested in Brazil's DNA Barcoding efforts the best way to start is having a look at the BrBOL website from which I stole this pretty cool banner image. 

Home to 60% of the Amazon Rainforest, which accounts for approximately one-tenth of all species in the world, Brazil is considered to have the greatest biodiversity of any country on the planet. It is also the country with the most known species of plants (55,000), freshwater fish (3000) and mammals (700). With 170,000 to 200,000 species Brazil is home to around 9.5% of all the species worldwide but researchers have estimated the country's total biota at 1.8 million species. A quick search on BOLD told me that about 5,000 of those species have been assigned a DNA Barcode.

A Brazilian consortium with almost one hundred member institutions aims to increase this number considerably. The Brazilian Barcode of Life (BrBOL) project consists of 11 projects aimed at different taxonomic groups and scientific fields.

As I am still very much into ichthyology I had a closer look the current status for the fishes of Brazil for which there is also a BrBOL project that plans to generate DNA Barcodes for 2,100 species. A search for "Brazil" and "Actinopterygii" in BOLD's public record section showed 4192 public records forming 646 BINs which likely represent species. I believe it is fair to say that 600 species of the Brazilian bony fish have been barcoded and are publicly accessible. More than 28% of the planned work has been done already and for those that are interested in more detail there is an interesting paper that was recently published in BMC Genetics.

More than one-fifth of the Amazon Rainforest in Brazil has been completely destroyed, and more than 70 mammals are endangered. The threat of extinction comes from several sources, mostly deforestation and poaching. Currently, 15.8 million acres of tropical ecosystem have been completely eliminated to farm sugarcane for ethanol production. There are plans to plant an additional 4.5 million acres during the next four years. 70-85% of Brazil's transportation energy is derived from ethanol, or various mixtures of ethanol and petroleum-based fuels. Only about 15-20% comes from imported petroleum. This massive national biofuel program has been devastating to tropical wildlife diversity, and to the global climate.

A national program such as BrBOL represents a modern approach to speed up cataloging a country's biodiversity.  The more we know about what lives around us the more we appreciate and care about it. And only that will motivate us to be creative when it comes to protect it.

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