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ASA Reforestation

Deforestation has taken a great toll across large parts of the Amazon as the global human footprint rapidly expands. Reversing this decline requires a strategy that is as diverse as the causes of forest loss, and we are employing a number of strategies to restore the Amazon in southeastern Peru.

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Our reforestation strategy is three-fold. First, we are planting thousands of native trees that will one day provide food and shelter for wildlife, store carbon to mitigate climate change, and rebuild a healthy Amazonian food web. Second, we maintain experimental plots to test best practices in agroforestry and demonstrate how others can manage the land in a way that is productive but also protects biodiversity and the ecosystem services that the rainforest provides. And third, we are working with our local community to protect and restore more than 25,000 acres of natural forest used for the sustainable harvest of Brazil nuts, a rare win-win for people and nature in the Amazon.

Projects

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Restoration at Finca Las Piedras

Restoring the Amazon means planting trees—lots of them. We are restoring the rainforest at Finca Las Piedras by planting native species that are threatened with unsustainable logging elsewhere, and we're doing it in a way that rebuilds a healthy, functioning ecosystem that will provide for the needs of both people and wildlife.

Spanish cedar or cedro (Cedrela odorata) is a commercially important species native to SE Peru and one of many we are planting at Finca Las Piedras. It has been logged nearly to extinction across most of its range in the Amazon.

ASA staff members with a freshly planted big-leaf mahogany (Swietenia macrophylla). One of the world's most prized timbers, this species has been logged to commercial extinction in SE Peru. It is now protected at Finca Las Piedras.

Restoration goals

Protect endangered species

Unsustainable logging of prized tropical hardwoods for the international market is driving many species to the brink of extinction across the Amazon. We are planting species such as Spanish cedar, big-leaf mahogany, and ironwood, among many others, to restore their populations and secure their future.

Create wildlife corridors

Tree clearing in the Amazon leaves behind a patchwork of rainforest fragments that are too small on their own to sustain healthy populations of wildlife. We are working to reconnect forest fragments so that plants and animals are able to disperse again aross the landscape and keep the rainforest functioning.

Carbon storage

Deforestation is one of the most important contributors to global climate change. That's because trees store lots of carbon, and nowhere is the carbon storage potential of trees greater than in the Amazon. Planting trees here is one of the best ways we can mitigate the impacts of climate change, as Amazonian trees grow large and store their carbon for hundreds of years, keeping it out of the atmosphere and helping to restore balance to the global climate.

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Experimental agroforestry

The southeastern Peruvian Amazon is among the regions on Earth being most heavily impacted by global climate change. The region's annual dry season, in particular, is becoming longer and harsher, yet the impacts of these changes on the rainforest's biological communities remain almost completely unknown—and unstudied.

-best practices

---alternatives to monocultures - agroforestry. what is agroforestry?

---chemicals - biochar, alley cropping

---dealing with invasive species

-replicable so they are adopted

-native species - meant to restore diverse forests with multiple values, rather than just monocultures

Cacao, the seeds of which are used in chocolate making, is native to the Amazon.

Copoazu alley cropped with Inga edulis, a fast-growing nitrogen fixer.

Biochar is essentially charcoal that is incorporated into the soil for use in agriculture or agroforestry.

Cacao-Brazil nut agroforestry system

This system combines two important Amazonian natives—Brazil nut (Bertholletia excelsa) trees and cacao (Theobroma cacao), the nuts of which are used to make chocolate. Planting these species together has many benefits for both people and the environment. Cacao begins to produce fruit at only several years and is harvested throughout the year, providing relatively quick and steady income to farmers. Brazil nuts grow more slowly but, once they begin to produce fruit, the earnings from their harvest grow each year. The system achieves this all while protecting rather than degrading the soil, and is a stable land cover that is vastly more friendly to biodiversity than typical local monocrop agriculture.

Inga-copoazu agroforestry system

Copoazu (Theobroma grandiflorum) is a relative of T. cacao whose pulp is commonly used to make juices and ice cream in SE Peru. The species has great market potential beyond the region, although local production is currently limited. Our experimental plot contains rows of copoazu interspersed with rows of Inga edulis—a technique known as alley cropping—which is a fast-growing native in the bean family that enriches the soil while shading out invasive African cattle grass and other weeds. The plot is also testing the effectiveness of biochar as an enhancement to the soil. Biochar was once used by indigenous Amazonians to make fertile farmland out of poor tropical soils. The technique is not commonly used today but has great potential to increase agricultural productivity without the cost and detrimental impacts of heavy chemical use.

Click above to read more about the incredible aguaje palm of SE Peru.

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The Brazil Nut Corridor project

The southeastern Peruvian Amazon is among the regions on Earth being most heavily impacted by global climate change. The region's annual dry season, in particular, is becoming longer and harsher, yet the impacts of these changes on the rainforest's biological communities remain almost completely unknown—and unstudied.

Increases in the length and severity of the dry season might have many consequences for Amazonian species. Plants, for example, might alter the timing of fruiting and flowering—phenology, as plant ecologists call it—as the normal climatic cues they rely on change. Such a change could have important consequences for plant reproduction, as well as for local people and wildlife that depend on the predictable availability of seasonal forest resources.

The Brazil Nut Corridor in SE Peru.

Project goals

Birds

The goals of our bird research are to document species' occurences in a poorly studied part of SE Peru and to monitor populations over time. Techniques include opportunistic observations and a standardized, weekly monitoring study conducted at Finca Las Piedras.

Fishes

The streams, swamps, and other wetland habitats of our area are part of the Manuripi River watershed, one of the most diverse yet poorly studied river systems in the world.

Insects & other arthopods

The overwhelming majority of Earth's species are arthropods, especially insects, and we invest heavily in studying them. Our goals are to document arthropod occurrences throughout SE Peru and describe new species. This is a long-term effort given some estimates put the number of unknown rainforest taxa in the millions.

Mammals

We document mammals using active and passive survey techniques, especially camera traps. Our efforts have shown that Finca Las Piedras and its surroundings contain the full complement of top predators and other large mammals, including jaguar, puma, giant anteater, white-lipped peccaries, and giant armadillo, among many others.

Plants

SE Peru is one of the world's most important centers of diversity for plants, yet very little is known about species' regional distributions or abundances. Our plant inventory aims to document the species present at Finca Las Piedras, focusing on fertile individuals (those with fruits and/or flowers). A major part of this effort is the production of a fruit and seed guide that will be a major resource to promote botany and plant ecology in this poorly-known region.

Reptiles & Amphibians

These animals are facing serious threats, particularly due to the amphibian fungal disease Chytridiomycosis. Therefore, we consider surveys of this group to be of great urgency. Data gathered regarding reptile and amphibian presence and abundance will be useful in understanding the impacts of human activity and how we can protect as many species as possible.

Field guides

Sustainable Tropical Agriculture, Agroforestry, & Reforestation

Objectives

Agriculture in the southeastern Peruvian Amazon is centered on intensive production of cash crops, especially papaya at present. As infertile tropical soils are quickly exhausted, farmers must regularly clear rainforest in order to maintain production, leading to a continual expansion of the agricultural frontier.

Our Sustainable Tropical Agriculture projects aim to reduce deforestation by increasing agricultural efficiency, enhancing traditional farming practices, and promoting the cultivation of more environmentally-friendly crops.

Strategy

Research

We promote, support, and carry out research to understand the agricultural practices and crops that lead to the highest yields, the highest incomes for local farmers, and the fewest negative environmental impacts.

Outreach

Our research efforts have no impact if they do not change peoples' actions. A key part of our strategy, therefore, is to support and provide technical assistance Amazonian farmers based on our research, or otherwise on the best available evidence.

 

Agriculture, Agroforestry, & Reforestation Projects in Peru

 

Organic Farming & Agroforestry

In the tropics, agriculture is generally practiced using lots of inorganic inputs—synthetic fertilizers, pesticides, and herbicides. While this often boosts production, at least initially, over time heavy chemical applications damage soils, promote pest resistance, and eventually lead to declining harvests, all while polluting the environment. Through careful planning, however, crop yields can be improved without the negative effects of chemical inputs, promoting the long-term sustainability of agricultural practices. Organic farming methods include the use of organic compost and biochar, reduced tillage, intercropping to promote natural enemies of pests, and structural complexity to reduce the incidence of pests and plant disease. An added benefit of organic farming is that organic agricultural products receive higher prices, especially in international markets, boosting the incomes of local farmers without damaging the environment.

 

Crops grown organically at Finca Las Piedras (or planned) include cacao, pineapple, a variety of citrus, banana, avocado, papaya, tomatoes, cassava, sugarcane, coffee, watermelon, and a diverse variety of other fruit and vegetable species.

Cacao Agroforestry (Theobroma cacao)

 

Cacao (Theobroma cacao), from which chocolate is made, is native to the Amazon rainforest. As many varieties require shade to grow best, it can be grown as part of an ‘agroforestry’ system, in which cacao is grown alongside trees and other plants that provide shade. Cacao agroforestry systems provide a number of benefits as compared to monocultures of other crops: the cacao forest canopy and the litter fall that it produces conserves and even improves the soil, and shade plants provide benefits ranging from increased complexity and thus higher value to biodiversity, nitrogen fixation (e.g., Inga spp.), and long-term economic benefits to farmers (e.g., via timber trees).

We are developing a series of experimental plots to test different organic growing practices to maximize yields using a native variety of cacao known locally as 'chuncho.' Our goal is to promote cacao agroforestry in already cleared and abandoned land along the Interoceanic Highway in southeastern Peru, simultaneously improving local livelihoods and boosting the biodiversity value of agricultural lands, without promoting new deforestation.

Organic Compost and Biochar

 

Tropical soils are notoriously poor—being exposed to intense sun and leached by constant rains, they are not capable of retaining nutrients and thus are relatively infertile. However, with good management, tropical soils can be improved, reducing or eliminating the need for inputs such as synthetic fertilizers. Composting is a simple way to produce nutrient-rich organic material that can be incorporated into poor tropical soils, a cheap, effective, organic fertilizer.

 

Biochar is burned organic material—dead wood from fallen trees, for instance—that is incorporated into the soil to provide nutrients for crops. Biochar was used extensively by indigenous Amazonian peoples as a key part of sustainable swidden or slash-and-burn agriculture.

Copoazu (Theobroma grandiflorum) is an important Amazonian crop that is native to the Madre de Dios region in Peru. Here, seedlings germinate in a shadehouse at Finca Las Piedras. Photo: Geoff Gallice

ASA interns translocate saplings for planting in the ASA's experimental plots at Finca Las Piedras. Photo: Geoff Gallice

Biochar was used by pre-Colombian Amazonian people to convert poor, tropical soils into productive farmland. We are experimenting with biochar and other organic fertilizers in the ASA's experimental plots at Finca Las Piedras. Photo: Geoff Gallice

Reforestation

Unsustainable agriculture largely drives the cycle of deforestation in the Amazon. Every year, many farmers cut forest and burn it, replacing this incredibly biodiverse ecosystem with monocultures of papaya, pineapple, and other local crops.The Amazon's tropical soils are mostly infertile and poorly suited to this type of agriculture, which is why forest must be continually cut down. Much of what is cut is abandoned after a growing season or two, and most of this is prevented from regenerating by fires that burn every year during the Amazon's annual dry season.

 

We're breaking this cycle in Peru by planting trees and maintaining them until they're big and strong enough to survive on their own. Our reforestation efforts are centered mostly at Finca Las Piedras, where we have prioritized planting trees in a number of strategic areas that will one day serve as wildlife corridors, fire breaks, or productive yet sustainable agroforestry systems. This is hard work, but often the only way the Amazon can be restored.

Native Food Forest

Many of the estimated 30,000 or so native Amazonian plant species have important local uses as food, building material, or medicine – many have been used by indigenous Amazonian societies for hundreds or even thousands of years. Traditional uses range from a variety of medicinal application to food and fiber. An entire house can even be constructed using the woody centers and leaves of just two palm species!

 

We are working to convert a large, abandoned agricultural field at our site in Peru into a forest composed mostly of species that produce things of value – not only to us, but to the other animal species that call the rain forest home. Native plants that we will incorporate into our food forest include a variety of palms that produce fruits, building, and thatch material for roofs, timber trees, ‘shiringa’ (rubber), and numerous fruit trees, including a wild variety of cacao, among many others.

Aerial view of the 1.5 ha native food forest at Finca Las Piedras, recently planted with several local and regional species. Photo: Geoff Gallice

Aerial view of the 1.5 ha native food forest at Finca Las Piedras, recently planted with several local and regional species. Photo: Geoff Gallice

Education & Community Engagement

Objectives

The conservation challenges facing the southern Peruvian Amazon are human problems—they're caused by people, affect people, and can only be solved by people. We're working in Madre de Dios to teach people about the importance of the natural environment and its benefits to our communities, and to promote solutions that benefit both people and the natural resources we depend on to live happy, healthy, and sustainable lives.

Strategy

Environmental Education Program

We are working to create awareness of environmental issues and foster an environmentally-conscious society in the southern Peruvian Amazon. Our environmental education projects focus mostly on elementary and high school children in Madre de Dios.

Internships

Our internship program is designed to educate and prepare the next generation of biologists, conservationists, and responsible global citizens to solve the world's diverse environmental challenges. 

Service Learning

The ASA promotes service learning visits to Finca Las Piedras, where visitors—mostly college students from Peru and abroad—help us work towards our mission while gaining skills that they can use to solve environmental issues in their own communities.

Volunteer Program

Volunteers help the ASA achieve its research and conservation objectives while gaining a unique experience in the Amazon rainforest.

 

Education & Community Engagement Projects in Peru

Environmental Education Program

Our first photography exhibit, 'La Fascinante Vida de los Insectos,' (English: 'The Fascinating Life of Insects'), which is directed towards children in Madre de Dios, is being shown in Puerto Maldonado and our field site, Finca Las Piedras. The goal of this expedition is to expose our community's youth to the amazing diversity of life that's in their own backyard. The first step in building a healthy relationship with the environment in the Amazon is fostering an appreciation for nature and an understanding of the other plants and animals that share the Amazon rainforest with us.

 

Stay tuned for future photographic exhibits and educational projects involving our local kids.

ASA Research Assistant in Lepidoptera, Quin Baine, explains the role of camouflage in insect defense during the inauguration of 'La Fascinante Vida de los Insectos' in Puerto Maldonado, Peru. Photo: Geoff Gallice

Internship Program

Our internship program is designed to educate and prepare the next generation of biologists, conservationists, and responsible global citizens to solve the world's diverse environmental challenges, both here in the Amazon and beyond. Interns learn through hands-on engagement in the ASA's diverse projects spanning biological research and monitoring, sustainable tropical agriculture, and education and community engagement.

Click here to learn more about our internships in Madre de Dios, Peru!

ASA Academic Programs Coordinator, Erik Iverson, leads interns through an 'aguajal,' a palm swamp dominated by Mauritia palms and home to unique plants and animals in the southern Peruvian Amazon. Photo: Geoff Gallice

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