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An introduction to the Botany of the Los Amigos Conservation Area

Module by: John Janovec. E-mail the author

Summary: An overview of the Botany of Los Amigos Project

Introduction to the Botany of the Los Amigos Conservation Area Project John Janovec The Botanical Research Institute of Texas

Introduction

The Amazonian wilderness harbors the greatest number of species on this planet and is an irreplaceable resource for present and future generations. Amazonia is crucial for maintaining global climate and genetic resources, and its forest and rivers provide vital sources of food, building materials, pharmaceuticals, and water needed by wildlife and humanity.

The Los Amigos watershed in the state of Madre de Dios, southeastern Peru, is representative of the pristine lowland moist forest once found throughout most of upper Amazonian South America. Threats to tropical forests occur in the form of fishing, hunting, gold mining, timber extraction, impending road construction, and slash and burn agriculture. The Los Amigos watershed, consisting of 1.6 million hectares (3.95 million acres), still offers the increasingly scarce opportunity to study rain forest as it was before the disruptive encroachment of modern human civilization. Because of its relatively pristine condition and the immediate need to justify it as a conservation zone and as a corridor between Manu National Park and the Tambopata-Candamo Reserved Zone, this area deserves intensive, long-term projects aimed at botanical training, ecotourism, biological inventory, and information synthesis.

On July 24, 2001, the government of Peru and the Amazon Conservation Association, represented by Enrique Ort?z, signed a contractual agreement creating the first long-term permanently renewable conservation concession. To our knowledge this is the first such agreement to be implemented in the world. The conservation concession protects 340,000 acres of old growth Amazonian forest in the Los Amigos watershed which is located in southeastern Peru. This watershed protects the eastern flank of Manu National Park and is part of the lowland forest corridor that links it to Bahuaja-Sonene National Park. The Los Amigos conservation concession will serve as a mechanism for the development of a regional center of excellence in natural forest management and biodiversity science. Some overall goals of the Los Amigos Conservation Area program are to:

  • Protect the Los Amigos watershed;
  • Develop a world-class research center and model private protected area;
  • Train a new generation of Latin American ecologists and resource managers;
  • Create sustainable economic and social benefits for the local populations;
  • Develop new watershed conservation models for Amazonian eco-development;
  • Develop new ecosystem management understanding and practices;
  • Monitor and compare the ecological health of pristine ecosystems versus those experiencing logging, mining and agricultural disruption;
  • Empower a cadre of Peruvians who will act as the long-term guardians, mentors, planners and conservation actors in the region.

Initiation of the Botany of the Los Amigos Conservation Area Project

Several major projects are being implemented at the Los Amigos Conservation Area. Louise Emmons is initiating studies of mammal diversity and ecology in the Los Amigos area. Other projects involve studies of the diversity of arthropods, amphibians, reptiles, and birds. Robin Foster has conducted botanical studies at Los Amigos, resulting in the labeling of hundreds of plant species along two kilometers of trail in upland and lowland forest. Los Amigos has also been a major field site for Robin's rapid identification laminated photographic field guides to tropical plants. Michael Goulding is leading a fisheries and aquatic ecology program, which aims to document the diversity of fish, their ecologies, and their habitats in the Los Amigos area and the Madre de Dios watershed in general.

With support from the Amazon Conservation Association, and in collaboration with US and Peruvian colleagues, the Botany of the Los Amigos project has been initiated. At Los Amigos, we are attempting to develop a system of preservation, sustainability, and scientific research; a marriage between various disciplines, from human ecology to economic botany, product marketing to forest management. The complexity of the ecosystem will best be understood through a multidisciplinary approach, and improved understanding of the complexity will lead to better management. In essence, we must be informed to make wise management decisions about Amazonian forests. These forests hold the greatest number of species on our planet and are an irreplaceable resource for present and future generations. The future of these forests will depend on sustainable management and development of alternative practices and products that do not require irreversible destruction.

The botanical project will provide a foundation of information that is essential to other programs at Los Amigos. By combining botanical studies with fisheries and mammology, we will better understand plant/animal interactions. By providing names, the botanical program will facilitate accurate communication about plants and the animals that use them. Included in this scenario are humans, as we will dedicate time to people-plant interactions in order to learn what plants are used by people in the Los Amigos area, and what plants could potentially be used by people.

To be informed, we must develop knowledge. To develop knowledge, we must collect, organize, and disseminate information. In this sense,botanical information has conservation value. Before we can use plant-based products from the forest, we must know what species are useful. We must know what their names are in order to be able to communicate accurately about them. We must be able to identify them, to know where they occur in the forest, how many of them exist, how they are pollinated and when they produce fruit (or other useful products). Aside from understanding the species as they occur locally at Los Amigos, we must have information about their overall distribution in tropical America in order to better understand and manage the distribution, variation, and viability of their genetic diversity and germplasm. This involves a more complete understanding of the species through studies in the field and herbarium.

Main Collaborators

  • John Janovec, The New York Botanical Garden
  • Fernando Cornejo, ACCA, Puerto Maldonado, Peru

Advisors and Collaborators

  • Scott Mori, The New York Botanical Garden
  • Robin Foster, Chicago Field Museum
  • Adrian Forsyth, ACA & Moore Foundation
  • Michael Goulding, ACA
  • Louise Emmons, National Museum of Natural History, Smithsonian Institution & ACA
  • Hamilton Beltran, San Marcos Museum, Herbarium, Lima, Peru
  • Douglas Daly, The New York Botanical Garden

Site Information

Visit the Site Information link to find out more about the Los Amigos Conservation Area and Research Station. Important imformation and useful maps are provided for viewer reference. In addition, you can visit the Amazon Conservation Office website for more information (www.amazonconservation.org).

Databases

The databasing system is a very intricate part of the botanical project. When plants are collected in the field, information is recorded in the database for each collection. This information relates to characteristics of the location, habitat, and the plant. Images are also databased. Filemaker Pro 5.5 is being used as the central database for organizing and outputting data collected through field and herbarium study. From Filemaker Pro, we can produce paper documents such as descriptions, lists, and specimen labels. We can also export to MS Excel or MS Access for performing tasks related to web database search engines, mapping, statistical analysis, etc. MS Access is used as a bridge between Filemaker Pro and the Internet. As the botanical database for Los Amigos grows, and as it eventually combines with databases for Madre de Dios and the southwestern Amazon in general, the Internet search engine will be updated. Available for current searching are plant lists from Robin Foster and Hamilton Beltr?n plant list. In the next month, a database of plant collections made since May 2001 will be made available, and this will be connected to the Image Galleries, which are also database-driven.

Image Galleries

Image galleries will be available in several formats and at several levels throughout these pages. First of all, each family, genus, and species page will be associated with their own database-driven galleries. The current version of the Image Gallery section is designed as a general hub for viewing all images that have been digitized. For now the images are organized into a few general categories and the searches provide access to browsable lists of images. Currently there are 1029 images available in the gallery. The images were scanned from Fuji Provia and Kodak film 35 mm slides. Dreamweaver Ultradev is used to generate the image search engine.

Future Direction

The first phase of the botanical project focuses on general exploration of the Los Amigos Conservation Area as well as useful plant-based non-timber forest products, and the preparation of checklists and other treatments covering the flora of the area. We believe that the botany program will provide an essential foundation for other scientific projects in the short and long-term. Plant guides will serve as informative tools for building the long-term program of research and conservation at Los Amigos. Our botanical work will also provide information about useful plants that may prove to be sustainable non-timber forest products.

This website is meant as a source of information and images for the Botany of Los Amigos project. Digital identification keys, an expanded database, and plant family web pages will be posted soon. The plant family pages will include genus and species pages. The information, images, and tools will be made available on CD-ROM, used at The Los Amigos Research Station by students, locals, and investigators, and presented on the Internet through this site.

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