DSC_5010_ed_sm_edited.jpg

ASA Research

We conduct basic and applied research in the Peruvian Amazon that is the foundation of science-based conservation. From biological inventories, population monitoring, and in-depth studies of rainforest ecology to the impacts of national policy and the issues facing our local communities, our projects aim to generate and share the information needed to effectively protect the Amazon, its plants and animals, and sustainable livelihoods.

Projects

butterfly_Catonephele_1x2_banner.jpg

Lepidoptera diversity & biology

Southeastern Peru is among the most biodiverse places on Earth. A single 65 km stretch of road leading from the Andean city of Cusco to the lowland rainforest of Manu National Park, for instance, is known to contain 2,500 species of butterflies alone. That's more than 3 times all the butterflies found in all of North America, and there are still an estimated 500 species remaining to be discovered in this region alone.

Beyond the Manu statistic very little is known about the plant and animal species found in SE Peru, how abundant they, or what are their regional distributions, and essentially nothing is known about even the basic natural history of the vast majority of species—what are their host plants, what important role do they play in the rainforest as predators, prey, or pollinators?

We focus on the Lepidoptera—butterflies and moths—as a model study group. These insects are diverse and abundant and, as plant-feeding insects, are highly representative of Amazonian biodiversity.

Traps allow us to passively monitor the butterfly population at Finca Las Piedras each month to learn more about the long-term impacts of climate change on the Amazon's diverse biological community.

The Lepidoptera diversity and biology project offers many opportunities for training the next generation of biologists and conservationists in southeastern Peru and beyond.

Long-term project goals

Create a comprehensive butterfly list at Finca Las Piedras

This is an essential first step to conducting further ecological research. To date only a handful of such lists exist for SE Peru, and none are current.

Generate a region-wide database of butterfly distribution records

Essentially, where do different species occur within SE Peru? This information will allow us to prioritize highly diverse parts of the region for future conservation efforts.

Identify butterfly host plants

With as many as 20% of the world's plants threatened with extinction, identifying the species relied upon by butterflies in SE Peru is critical for evaluating the threat status of species in the region.

Monitor populations over time

Global warming is causing the SE Peruvian Amazon to become hotter and drier, yet we know almost nothing about the impacts on the region's plants and animals. We are trapping butterflies monthly to study these effects at Finca Las Piedras, the first study of its kind in SE Peru.

Summary of project results to date

Butterfly and moth species

documented in SE Peru

Number of new butterfly host

plant records discovered

Publications in peer-reviewed

scientific journals

 

Students & early-career

professionals trained

685

XX

XX

XX

Project partners

DJI_0177_ed_aguajal.jpg

Plant phenology

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.

We are monitoring the phenology of two species of great economic and ecological importance in SE Peru, Brazil nuts and 'aguaje' palms, to explore the impacts of climate change on the production of their fruit. These two species are prized by local people and wildlife alike for their highly nutritious and tasty fruit, and together they represent the most important non-timber forest products that are sustainably harvested anywhere in the Amazon.

Brazil nuts (Bertholletia excelsa) are 'emergent' trees, meaning they tower over the rest of the rainforest canoy. They grow in great densities in SE Peru and their nuts are an important seasonal resource for people and wildlife.

thumbnail_Perez 2016.png

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

Study species

Brazil nut (Bertholletia excelsa)

This is the SE Peruvian Amazon's leading non-timber forest product and, after gold and timber, the third most important export commodity of any kind in the region. Brazil nuts grow on giant emergent trees and fall to the ground once per year during the annual rainy season. The trees grow in sufficient densities here that their harvest from natural forest is economically viable, and so the government has set aside approximately 1 million hectares as concessions for sustainable Brazil nut extraction. Although the collection of Brazil nuts is ostensibly sustainable, overharvest and lack of tree planting (to replace trees that die of old age) threaten the activity's long-term viability. Climate change further threatens the system yet its impacts remain remain poorly understood.

We are studying Brazil nut phenology in SE Peru to monior the impacts of climate change and other stressors on this ecologically and economically important species. Our goal is to ensure the long-term sustainability of the Brazil nut harvest which represents an incredibly rare win-win for both people and nature in the Amazon.

 

 

Aguaje (Mauritia flexuosa)

Mauritia or 'aguaje' palms grow in dense stands known in SE Peru as 'aguajales'. Although they are limited in extent compared to other rainforest habitats, these areas have great value—delicious and highly nutritious, aguaje fruit is an important food for both local people and wildlife. Aguajales are also incredibly rich carbon sinks, and they play a large role in the regulation of hydrological cycles.

As with Brazil nuts, climate change threatens to disrupt aguaje phenology, which will have cascading effects on the local economy and on wildlife that depends on this abundant seasonal resource. Trees are also often cut down to harvest aguaje fruit as climbing techniques are not universally practiced. Our goal is to monitor the impacts of climate change and other human activity on this important local resource to contribute to its long-term protection.

DSC_1011_ed_sm.jpg

Biological inventories & Monitoring

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.

Species recorded at Finca Las Piedras

Amphibians

Arachnids

Birds

Fishes

Insects

Mammals

Plants

Reptiles

TOTAL

46

18

262

26

445

31

144

50

1,022

Study groups

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. Birds are integral to the rainforest ecosystem, especially as seed dispersers, and monitoring their populations is critical to restoration efforts.

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. Aquatic resources, including the fish and other animals that inhabit them, are under threat in SE Peru due to widespread illegal gold mining and other human activities. Our goal is to document the species found at our study sites to better inform aquatic conservation efforts in the region.

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, describe new species, and study their biology. This is a long-term effort given some estimates put the number of unknown rainforest taxa in the millions. A better understanding of this key group of organisms will greatly boost efforts to conserve a representative sample of the region's nearly unmatched biodiversity.

Mammals

We document mammals using active and passive survey techniques, especially camera traps. Our efforts have shown that Finca Las Piedras and its surroundings have an intact mammal community and 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. These species play a disproportionate role in regulating the rainforest ecosystem and studying their populations is of key importance.

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, especially due to the amphibian fungal disease Chytridiomycosis. Amphibians, in particular, are sensitive to environmental stress and are important indicators of habitat quality. 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

We can't live without the Amazon, please help us save it:

 

  • Facebook
  • Instagram
  • YouTube

7224 Boscastle Ln - Hanover, MD 21076 - USA

+1 (443) 445-0994  -  info@sustainableamazon.org

© 2021 by Alliance for a Sustainable Amazon. All rights reserved.          

Privacy Policy

2020-top-rated-awards-badge-hi-res_Great