Sunday, August 28, 2011

As war fades, science moves in

War has often been the bane of science: not only does it kill people and divert resources, but it's hard to do much exploration when the shooting is going on.
(It also has direct and dire effects on many species: the kouprey, the wild bovine of Cambodia, was almost pushed into extinction as soldiers, guerrillas, and peasants shot the animals for food, while land mines, bombing, and artillery no doubt did still more damage.)
Columbia's Las Orquídeas National Park was closed for 13 years due to rebel activity. With a victory by the Colombian armed forces, however, has has come an opportunity. Scientists moved in and described the mountainous region as a paradise of untouched species. One group went into the nearly roadless area on muleback and hauled out 900 plants. Scientists are still sorting out which of these - dozens, at the least - are new to science. New expeditions may add new animals as well - in fact, it's almost certain they will. Heedless of the dangers of unexploded ordnance. lingering rebels, and the terrain, Colombian scientists and international partners like New York Botanical Garden biologist Paola Pedraza-Peñalosa are determined to understand the regions' flora and fauna so conservation plans can be made.

Science, truly, has many heroes.

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