Aims The overall aim of this study is to provide the data needed for Amazonian conservation and the sustainable management of the region. To this end I model the hypothetical distribution of plant species richness across the Amazon Basin, the distribution of the proportion of this species richness that can be accounted for by described species, and hence the distribution of the biodiversity which remains unknown.
Location Amazonia, Neotropics.
Methods Species richness across the Amazon Basin is estimated by comparing the occurrences of 1584 species of Magnoliophyta whose taxonomy and geographical distributions are relatively well known. These data are used to collate checklists for squares of 1° latitude by 1° longitude. Comparison of the checklists allows estimation of the relative expected diversity in the vicinity of each degree square. Summing the distributions of the hypothetical real ranges gives the proportion of the biodiversity that can be accounted for by described species. Subtraction of the second distribution from the first gives a distribution of the contribution to the overall biodiversity that the model predicts, potentially, results from as yet undescribed species.
Results Collections documented in recent botanical monographs show an extremely biased distribution with the best knowledge being found in a very few relatively well-collected areas. At the degree square level, this model predicts that gamma biodiversity in the Amazon Basin is uniformly high across most of the basin. The model predicts that four large areas of the basin are particularly poorly known, and that they should contain large numbers of uncollected species.
Main conclusions The model presented here highlights the difficulties of quantifying Amazonian plant diversity and its distribution. The low density of collections, and especially their extremely clumped distribution, undermines confidence in theories that seek to explain the apparent distribution of biodiversity. The model's prediction is substantially different from published predictions of the distribution of alpha diversity. Testing of this model in the areas identified as lacunae would require collecting programmes designed to collect fertile material of rare species. If the model's predictions are approximately accurate, the plant biodiversity of the Amazon Basin is considerably underestimated.