The main goal of the Center’s research program is to study the ecology, sustainable harvest, and marketing of select non-timber forest products that are culturally or commercially important to traditional communities in a broad range of the Amazon region. We wish to help forest communities, resource managers, scientists and the general public better understand and use these resources. Investigations may explore the basic ecology of an NTFP, estimate the limits of sustainable harvest in different situations, develop methods for enhancing the population of a key plant or animal population, or identify a substitute product for a vulnerable resource. Studies will be designed to combine traditional knowledge with scientifically-based methodologies. The Center will join with other research institutions and community organizations to conduct field investigations, test and adapt the findings with communities (Community Support), and publicize the results in appropriate formats for forest communities, the scientific community and professional resource managers and the general public (Education and Outreach). Our first project is focusing on the ecology, sustainable harvest, and marketing of copal resin in Peru.
The Mayans and indigenous people throughout the Amazon have used the resin known as “breu” in Brazil and “copal” in other parts of Latin America for thousands of years. They harvested the aromatic and sticky resin from trees in the Burseraceae family to caulk wooden boats and to make incense, medicine, jungle lanterns, and ceramic glaze. While collectors in Mexico and Central America usually wound trees to stimulate resin flow, Amazon harvesters collect resin lumps formed on trees by attacks from a specialized group of bark-boring weevils (Curculionidae - the largest family of beetles). Center founder Campbell Plowden first documented this relationship with Tembé Indian collectors in the eastern Brazilian Amazon. He has since found that other insects including flies, ants, bees, and assassin bugs all use this resin in unique ways to feed, make their nests, or catch their prey. It’s a fascinating example of ecological complexity where the pollinators of some plants depend on a material generated by the attack of a pest on other plants.
In July 2006, the Center launched its first research project to study the ecology and sustainable harvest of copal resin. The first phase of this project is being done at the Jenaro Herrera research station on the Ucayali River in cooperation with the Peruvian Amazon Research Institute (IIAP), a Peruvian government agency dedicated to research on the ecology and sustainable use of forest resources in the Peruvian Amazon. The study is now expanding to field test early results with indigenous and other traditional forest communities in the Ampiyacu and Tahuayo River areas of norther Peru. The study is exploring the following questions:
- Which species of trees are the best producers of copal resin?
- How do different types of weevils affect the amount and quality of resin produced?
- How important is the resin to various flies, ants, and bees that use it for their nests?
- Given the complex role of copal resin in forest ecology, what is a sustainable amount and way for people to harvest this resin?
- What value-added products could traditional harvesters make from copal resin to increase their income from this resource?
The project began in July 2006 and field work is being continued on a monthly basis. See Copal Resin Ecology Project Description for details about the project's background, goals, and methods. Principal project associates are project leader Dr. Campbell Plowden, project manager Angel Raygada and IIAP project liason Euridice Honorio. Other scientific collaborators include a variety of expert ecologists and entomologists with decades of experience working in the Amazon. See Copal Project Updates: Summer 2007,Summer 2008, Spring 2009 and Summer 2009 for progress reports about the project. See our Reports from the Field to read personal accounts from people involved in the project.
You can support this project with donations of financial support or equipment described in our Equipment Wish List. Qualified supporters may join us in Peru as an Amazon Field Volunteer. Click HERE for a brief description of potential volunteer tasks with this project.