Another Legacy Sealed...

Terry Erwin of the Smithsonian Institution with Beulah Garner of the British Natural History Museum in situ at Tiputini evaluating captures from a flight intercept trap, November 2013.

In 1994, Dr. Terry Erwin, a lifelong Smithsonian entomologist, first came to Yasuní, explicitly to evaluate the environmental impacts of a newly opened oil road on the diversity of insects. Upon arrival, Terry was already famous for expanding tremendously our perception of how many species may inhabit the planet Earth alongside humans. Before his preliminary calculations were published in 1982, scientists had estimated the total number of species for Earth to be a little over 1 million, maximum. His early canopy studies, however, suggested that there could be 30 million species of arthropods alone. Since then, the projected total has been controversial, but the mainstream scientific community generally settles on a sum of less than 10 million. Meanwhile, Terry went on to argue, after decades more experience, myriad specimens collected and hundreds of new species described, that the real number is probably over 50 million. The hyper-diversity of eastern Ecuador fascinated Terry so much that after completing the original work of his contract in the oil concession, he returned to the region, specifically the Tiputini Biodiversity Station, many times during the rest of his life. His best estimate of insect species per hectare of equatorial western Amazonia was 100,000. This means that in Yasuní, an area no larger than a football stadium is home to as many insect species as the U.S. and Canada combined.

Unfortunately, Terry passed away on May 11, 2020 at 79 years of age. It was a true privilege to have so many opportunities to share time and anecdotes with Dr. Erwin in the field and we will sorely miss him.