Palms may be the most useful group of plants in tropical American forests and in this project we study the effect of extraction and trade of palms on forests in the western Amazon, Andes, and Pacific lowlands of South America. In 2008 the European Community’s 7th Framework programme signed a contract with six European and four South American universities and research institutions to execute a multidisciplinary research project concerning the effects of extraction of palm products from tropical rainforests with the aim of providing scientific bases for the implementation of sustainable management and harvesting procedures.
We determine the size of the resource by making palm community studies in the different forest formations and determine the number of species and individuals of all palm species. The genetic structure of useful palm species is studied to determine how much harvesting of the species contributes to genetic erosion of their populations, and whether extraction can be made without harm. We determine how much palms are used for subsistence purposes by carrying out quantitative, ethno-botanical research in different forest types and we also study trade patterns for palm products from local markets to markets that involve export to other countries and continents. We study different ways of palm management and we propose sustainable methods to local farmers, governments, NGOs and other interested parties. Finally we study national level mechanisms that govern extraction, trade and commercialization of palm products, to identify positive and negative policies in relation to resilience of ecosystems and use this to propose sustainable policies to the governments. The results are disseminated in a variety of ways, depending on need and stake holders, from popular leaflets and videos for farmers, reports for policy makers to scientific publications for the research community. The team behind the proposal represents 10 universities and research institutions in Europe and northwestern South America (Aarhus and Copenhagen universities in Denmark, Universtät Bonn in Germany, Universidad Autónoma de Madrid in Spain, Institut de Recherche pour le Developpment in France, Kew Gardens in the UK, Universidad Nacional, Bogotá in Colombia, Pontificia Universidad Católica del Ecuador, Univarsidad Nacional Mayor de San Marcos in Peru, and Universidad Mayor de San Andres in Bolivia).
During the first three years of the project its various activities has produced a large amount of information and many papers (popular and scientific) have been published. The great challenge that remains is to bring together all this information in a synergistic conclusion, which is the challenge over the next two years (2012–2013). It is also a great challenge to the project to incorporate the results of other research. In this respect the special issue of the Annals of Botany that appeared towards the end of 2011 is of great inspiration. The focus of that issue is much more on genetic manipulation and developmental biology than the research of our PALMS project, which is more oriented to the ecology and socioeconomics of palm uses. We are convinced that this special issue of the Annals of Botany will contribute to more synergy between palm researchers in different disciplines, and we believe this will place the results of our project in a more forceful context.
Guest post by Dennis Pedersen. You can read more about the project at http://www.fp7-palms.org/