Copal Resin Ecology Project

COPAL PROJECT RESEARCH UPDATE: SPRING 2009

Harvesting canela moena bark at Brillo Nuevo
Harvesting canela moena bark at Brillo Nuevo
 
CACE has been studying the ecology of copal resin from Burseraceae trees and associated insects since 2006 at the Jenaro Herrera field station operated by the Institute for Investigation of the Peruvian Amazon (IIAP). This work progressed to measuring the sustainable harvest of resin formed by weevils and experiments to harvest the resin by cutting into the bark (See Research Update 2007 and Research Update 2008). In 2008, we began studying copal in the lab and exploring value-added products from copal resin that could be made by rural people in the Amazon to support local communities and forest conservation. Our partners in this new phase are faculty and students from Penn State University’s Engineering Leadership Development Program (ELDP), the Instituto del Bien Comun (IBC) – a Peruvian conservation and indigenous support organization, and the Federation of Native Communities of the Ampiyacu River (FECONA). This work has three major goals: 
Penn State students and Bora Indian copal survey team
Penn State students and Bora copal survey team
 
Copal candle in machimango fruit shell
Copal candle in machimango fruit shell
 
1. Assess copal abundance and help develop value-added forest products in traditional Amazon communities

Following up on last summer's visit to indigenous communities in the Ampiyacu River, six Penn State students, IBC, FECONA and CACE representatives traveled to the Bora village of Brillo Neuvo in March 2009. Our teams began assessing the abundance of copal in the high forest and made prototypes of various value-added products from copal and other plants. Some products were incense and scented candles made from copal resin and the aromatic bark from “canela moena” (cinnamon like tree) and the “clavo de olor” (aroma like clove) vine. Women also wove belts with “chambira” palm fiber dyed with an array of natural plant dyes. This inventory work in the Ampiyacu River area will continue in Brillo Nuevo and the Ocaina village of Puerto Izango this summer. CACE will also visit several Maijuna Indian villages near the Sucusari River to explore developing copal and other non-timber projects in this area. 

Bora woman with chambira fiber belts
Bora Indian woman with chambira fiber belts
 
Extracting essential oil from copal resin at Penn State
Extracting essential oil from copal resin at Penn State lab
 
2. Explore development of copal oil for the fragrance industry

The most lucrative way to add value to copal resin may be to extract essential oil from it for use in perfumes and other scented products. The inspiration to explore this avenue came from a recent meeting in Peru between Center director Campbell Plowden and Haley van Oosten – the founder and president of the fragrance company L’Oeil du Vert. Her company creates specialty fragrances from plants that it sells under its name and designs aromatic blends for other clients. The Center has started working with Penn State students and faculty to measure the yield of essential oil from raw copal resin. It also plans to bring a sturdy copper alembic pot to Peru this summer to test transforming copal resin to oil with local people in the field. If copal resin can be sustainably harvested and sold for a reasonable profit, the enterprise could provide another long-term incentive for the preservation of some threatened Amazon forests.  

Haley van Oosten sampling aroma of copal resin
Haley van Oosten sampling aroma of Peruvian copal
 
Assassin bug hunting with resin on copal tree
Assassin bug hunting with resin on copal tree
 
3. Analyze the chemical composition of resin from different species of copal

While there are more than 50 species of Burseraceae trees in the Amazon, only some yield harvestable amounts of resin when attacked by weevils or wounded. Identifying the chemical composition of the resin from these species will improve our understanding of the ecological relationships between these trees and key insects and indicate which species yield the most valuable essential oil. Penn State ELDM students have begun to analyze the chemical composition of resin samples from diverse copal species at the Jenaro Herrera field site on the Ucayali River. The first stage has been preparing samples with organic solvents in a distillation apparatus and a microwave “bomb.” The second stage will be to identify the volatile chemicals in each resin type through analysis in a Gas Chromatograph-Mass Spectrophotometer (GC-MS). The Center thanks Penn State Chemistry professor Dr. Dan Sykes for his assistance with this project.  

Dr. Dan Sykes analyzing copal resin in GSMS machine
Dan Sykes analyzing copal resin in GC-MS machine
 
© Photos by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology