“My co-authors and I have watched a growing number of new actors, including scientists, members of conservation organisations, journalists and foreign-policy makers, struggle to understand the situation in the Yasuni region,” Finer told environmentalresearchweb. “We decided that it was imperative to produce a concise overview of the region, which is now a complicated and confusing array of overlapping protected areas, indigenous reserves and crude-oil concessions.”

The article is the first major work to carefully and quickly walk readers through the region's problems, say the scientists, who compiled their report by collecting and analysing all available information – biological, social, political and historical – related to Yasuni.

The region is arguably the most biodiverse place on the planet, possibly thanks to its unique location at the junction of the Amazon Basin, the Andes Mountains and the equator. It is also home to an indigenous rainforest community known as the Waorani (or Huaorani) and their relatives, the Tagaeri and Taromenane, who still live in voluntary isolation with no peaceful contact with the outside world. But to complicate matters, Yasuni, once entirely Waorani territory, also sits atop large, untapped crude-oil fields and contains valuable timber species, attracting major oil companies and illegal loggers.

This unprecedented situation means that over the last few years the area has been at the centre of some serious and even bloody conflicts.

The team, which includes researchers from Duke University, US, Ciudadanos por la Democracia in Ecuador, the University of Maryland, US, and the Neotropical Conservation Foundation in Washington DC, also hopes that its report will lead to a better understanding of Ecuador's revolutionary Yasuni-ITT Initiative. This is Ecuador's proposal not to drill the large oil fields located at the centre of the Yasuni Biosphere Reserve in exchange for alternative sources of revenue generated by the international community, explains Finer. This money would then be spent on renewable-energy projects in the country.

“We hope that our article provides the necessary background information to interested parties so that they can better understand why Ecuador has launched this new proposal and why it is important for other nations to support it,” he said.

Finer and co-workers stress that the Yasuni-ITT Initiative is a key solution to the oil-induced conflicts in the region. They also say that the Ecuadorian government's recent delimitation of a Zona Intangible, an area to the south of the reserve that is off limits to activities, such as logging and oil, has greatly helped protect the Tagaeri and Taromenane communities, who react violently towards loggers and other unwanted invaders. A new military checkpoint on the Shiripuno River, one of the main gateways to the Zona Intangible, has been another crucial step towards stopping the illegal logging that threatens the uncontacted Waorani.

The team currently has two additional Yasuni-related articles under review. The first is an in-depth analysis of biodiversity and global-conservation activities in the Yasuni National Park and the second is a comprehensive analysis of the Yasuni-ITT Initiative. “We hope that together, these three papers provide specialists and decision makers with the critical background information needed to more effectively engage in the important conservation issues of the region,” said Finer.

The researchers published their work in Environmental Research Letters.