Lonely Planet Writer

Expedition reveals incredible diversity in Bolivian national park

A two-and-a-half year expedition in a remote part of Bolivia has uncovered a treasure trove of data on what has proven to be the world’s most biodiverse national park.

Researchers from the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) discovered more than 120 potentially new species of plant, butterfly, and vertebrate during their epic trek. As a result of the work, Madidi National Park is now considered the most biologically diverse protected area on the planet.

Incredible animal diversity discovered in Bolivian national park
A giant cowbird snacks on the ticks of a lowland tapir (Tapirus terrestris) in the Madidi river. Photo by: Milieniusz Spanowicz/Wildlife Conservation Society.

In terms of species, it is home to 265 mammals, 1018 birds, 105 reptiles, 109 amphibians, at least 314 fish, 5515 plants with 1544 butterfly species and sub-species also confirmed within the park.

Researchers discover new species in Bolivia
A potentially new frog species of the genus Microkayla. Photo by: Milieniusz Spanowicz/Wildlife Conservation Society.

The incredible expedition finished last November at the base of the Andean peak of Chaupi Orco, which is 6044m above sea level. It had taken researchers through grasslands and gallery forests in Machariapo, the mountainous puna at Laguna Celeste, elfin forests in Tigremachay, and Amazonian forest at Alto Madidi.

Blue dragonfly in Madidi National Park
A brilliant blue dragonfly. Photo by: Milieniusz Spanowicz/Wildlife Conservation Society.

Dr Robert Wallace of the WCS said: “The massive amounts of images and data collected will provide us with the baseline information needed to protect this natural wonder for future generations of Bolivians and the world.” Of all the species recorded in the Madidi landscape, 200 of them were newly discovered in Bolivia while 124 are considered as “candidate new species”.

Incredible biological diversity found in Bolivia
A new species of whorltail iguana of the genus Stenocercus. Photo by: Milieniusz Spanowicz/Wildlife Conservation Society.

The potentially new species included 84 types of plant not seen anywhere else before along with 5 butterfly species, 19 fish, 8 amphibians, 4 reptiles, and 4 mammals.

Bolivia's Madidi National Park is full of diverse species
Vicuña (Vicugna vicugna). Photo by: Rob Wallace/Wildlife Conservation Society.

As part of the Identidad Madidi project, the story of the expedition has been shared widely around the country by both young and old. Lilian Painter of the Wildlife Conservation Society said: “The comments from both social media followers and schoolchildren suggest Bolivia is falling in love with Madidi. Instilling a love of biodiversity in the leaders tomorrow is perhaps one of the most important legacies.”