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New research project: Silent forests - Defaunation as the missing piece in forest governance

Animals such as the tapir are very important seed dispersers, necessary to maintain the diversity of trees in the Amazonian rainforest. Photo by: Michelle Bender (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

New research project: Silent forests - Defaunation as the missing piece in forest governance

Focali member Torsten Krause (LUCSUS-LU) has secured a three year international post-doc grant from VR – the Swedish Research Council. He will work closely with communities in the Amazon region of both Ecuador and Colombia e.g. by studying how participatory forest monitoring can be a viable option to secure long-term successes in forest conservation that includes animal species and not just trees. Since as he states: "By not including animals as an important part of the forest ecosystem and mostly paying attention to forest cover; an incomplete and inaccurate sense of conservation success is being created. In the long run the disappearance of animals also threatens the trees and the entire forest ecosystems at large."


Description of the project:

Tropical deforestation and forest degradation is a global problem. Forests store vast amounts of carbon, are home to hundreds of thousands of species and provide many benefits to people worldwide. The urgency and need to reduce forest loss is clearer than ever before. Particularly in the Amazon region of South America, well known for its large tropical rainforests, a number of initiatives to reduce deforestation are being implemented, many of them in forests owned and used by indigenous communities. Yet, the main goal for forest conservation is usually the protection of trees. After all, trees are the symbol of a forest, and trees also store carbon. But a healthy forest requires animals that live in it. This, however, is currently often neglected in many forest conservation schemes. Studies show that many forests in the Amazon region, including those areas that are protected, are increasingly empty of the most sought after game species like tapir, collared and the white-lipped peccary and large monkeys (for example the wooly, spider and howler monkeys). This phenomenon — where a forest is seemingly healthy and well conserved but lacking native large animals — is called empty forest syndrome. 

 

By not including animals as an important part of the forest ecosystem and mostly paying attention to forest cover; an incomplete and inaccurate sense of conservation success is being created. In the long run the disappearance of animals also threatens the trees and the entire forest ecosystems at large. Moreover, many people in the Amazon rainforest rely to a great extent on hunting and fishing for food, either for their own consumption, or to sell the meat. However, the favored animals for hunting (for instance the tapir, many monkey species or large birds) are essentially the gardeners of the forest. These animals eat the fruits and seeds of trees and then transport the seeds to other parts of the forest, where the seedling have a higher chance to germinate and grow into a tree. Animals such as the tapir are very important seed dispersers that are necessary in order to maintain the diversity of trees in the Amazonian rainforest.

 

This research studies to what extent the forest animal species are currently being protected in forest conservation projects in two countries that have tropical Amazonian rainforests – Ecuador and Colombia. Subsequently, the role of hunting and its impacts on tropical rainforest is investigated. Fieldwork will be carried out in several Indigenous communities in the Amazon region of both Ecuador and Colombia. I will use surveys, interviews and experimental games in order to give recommendation on how to better and more effectively include animal species into the design and implementation of forest conservation project. In Ecuador and also Colombia, commercial hunting is illegal. But a lack of control from government and the absence of enforcement of these laws allows for a thriving black market for wild meat. In addition, also hunting for the very own consumption, as food for people living in these forests is often harmful to many species, particularly when it is not sustainable and too may individuals are hunted than can reproduce. Towns in the Amazon region are growing fast due to more and more mining and oil exploitation project and the construction of roads. This leads to an increase in pressures on the forests and drives many species to extinction.

 

The main approach I will use is to work very closely with local communities that own forests. Only with people is it possible to develop and strengthen forest conservation in meaningful and sustainable ways. An important and promising method is that people living in the communities carry out participatory forest monitoring. This is a viable option to secure long-term successes in forest conservation that includes animal species and not just trees. 

 

But participatory forest monitoring that includes animal species is not widely carried out yet. However, without the involvement of communities in monitoring, and by only focusing on trees and tree cover to determine successful conservation, the long-term effectiveness of forest conservation is unlikely and incomplete. My research will therefore contribute to further develop a method, as well as improve our understanding of local hunting behavior and its role for future forest conservation mechanism.

Read more about Torsten Krause here

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