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Peru's Manu National Park Home to Most Amphibians and Reptiles on Earth [VIDEO]

Feb 20, 2014 11:38 AM EST

Amphibian and reptile biodiversity is greatest in the world at Peru's Manu National Park, according to a new study.

The new research, published in the journal Biota Neotropica, identifies 287 reptiles and amphibians in the park, which encompasses high-altitude cloud forests, lowland Amazonian rainforest and Andean grasslands.

Manu National Park's collection includes 155 amphibian and 132 reptile species, enough to edge out Yasuní National Park in Ecuador, which previously held the biodiversity record for amphibians and reptiles.

On top of having the world's greatest biodiversity of amphibians and reptiles, Manu National Park is also home to more than 1,000 bird species and more than 1,200 butterfly species. The park was recognized as a UNESCO Biosphere Preserve in 1977 and a World Heritage Site in 1987.

"For reptiles and amphibians, Manu and its buffer zone now stands out as the most diverse protected area anywhere," said study co-author Rudolf von May, a post-doctoral researcher in University of California, Berkeley's Museum of Vertebrate Zoology. Von May's research collaborators included biologists from Southern Illinois University in Carbondale and Illinois Wesleyan University.

During the course of documenting the park's reptiles and amphibians, von May and his colleagues also identified several species new to science.

"There is no place like Manu where we can preserve such an exceptionally large amount of biodiversity, as well as the evolutionary processes that contribute to maintain and promote biodiversity," said study co-author Alessandro Catenazzi, an assistant professor of zoology at SIU-Carbondale. "It is our responsibility to make sure this biological legacy is passed on to the next generations."

The researchers attribute Manu National Park's remarkable species diversity to its large area and steep topographic variation. The park only represents an estimated 0.01 percent of the Earth's land area, but is home to 2.2 percent of all amphibians and 1.5 percent of all reptiles known worldwide, the biologists said.

The park's biodiversity is threatened, however, by the chytrid fungus, which has caused a decline in the number of frogs there, as it has elsewhere around the world. Deforestation for subsistence living, gold mining and oil and gas drilling are encroaching on the buffer zone around the park, the researchers said in a statement, noting that these pose threats not just to wildlife, but to the indigenous tribes that call the park home.

"All of this is threatening the biodiversity in the park and the native peoples who live in settlements in the park," von May said.

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