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In Non-Wood News 2 we reported on a study on the diversity of microfungi found in the leaf litter of a tropical rainforest in Costa Rica. The following short extract from an article by the same author of the Costa Rican experiment, Gerald F. Bills, is intended to highlight the importance of their diversity for industrial use, particularly in the discovery of natural products.

Compared to the knowledge and understanding that we have of ecology, biogeography and biotic diversity of terrestrial macroorganisms (including terrestrial macrofungi), knowledge of microfungi is extremely undeveloped.

Many large companies which have massive natural products programmes that utilize thousands of microbial strains annually (e.g. Hoechst, Merck, Nippon Roche, Sandoz, Sankyo and others), need to assess microfungal diversity to meet their specific objectives. Microbiologists working in the screening programmes of these companies use tools for their work, which are firmly grounded in ecology, systematics and physiology, but which often diverge from traditional means of evaluation of fungal diversity to meet the industry's particular objectives. In the industrial quest for microbial diversity, it is the development of chemical products or biotechnological applications via exploitation of microbial biology and chemistry that is foremost, whereas the taxonomists' studies of biodiversity are frequently the end products in themselves.

In inventories of biomes which are deemed of high biological interest or which may harbour species of commercial potential, methods for enumerating microfungi must be made more efficient, and fungal communities should be evaluated in such a way to extract the maximum information. Rapid isolation techniques can be used to deliver high species diversity and obtain quantitative estimates of fungal species diversity and abundance. When methods are standardized, the richness of different fungal communities, the geographic variation within communities or the effectiveness of isolation procedures can be quickly and quantitatively compared. An example of the rapid isolation approach is the experience with microfungi from the Osa peninsula rainforest in Costa Rica (see Non-Wood News 2).

Microorganisms, including microfungi, despite their actual and unrealized economic value and their vast number of species, many of which are presumably rare and highly endemic, have been ignored in the formulation of policy for natural resource management and conservation. Only recently has the value of protecting unique environments of thermophilic bacteria, capable of producing high-value biochemical products come under consideration. Protection of habitats of actynomicetes, whose agrochemical and pharmaceutical products are conservatively valued at US$10 billion annually, has never been considered. Fungi not only produce important commodities (e.g. citric acid, alcohol and edible mushrooms), but a few species also produce extremely high-value biochemical products. For example, the fungal metabolites cyclosporin A and lovastatin are both pharmaceuticals with annual gross sales that exceeds one billion dollars. Unlike commercial plant and animal harvest, sampling microorganisms is virtually non-destructive. Harvesting of microfungi requires only a one-time removal of small quantities of soil, litter, dead wood, dung, small portions of living plants, or diseased plants, or animals that contain enough cells to propagate the target organism. Microorganisms are the most amenable of all organisms to the concept of sustainable use. (Source: G. Bills. 1995. Analyses of microfungal diversity from a user's perspective. Canadian Journal of Botany. Vol 73 (suppl.1): S33-S41)

For more information please contact: Gerald F.Bills, Microbial Biochemistry and Process Research, Merck Research Laboratories
P.O. Box 2000, Rahway, New Jersey 07065 USA
Fax: +1-908-5945468

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In 1995, TRAFFIC Europe-Russia collaborated with regional NGOs and specialists from Zapodevnik (possessing strict nature reserves) to carry out research on the wildlife trade in the Central Asian countries of the former Soviet Union.

None of the countries in the region is of member of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), although Kazakhstan has recently recognized the Convention. The Russian CITES Management Authority (Department of Biological Resources of the Ministry for Environmental Protection of the Russian Federation) is responsible for issuing permits for wildlife and plant and animal parts originating in Central Asia, according to a 1992 decision by the CITES Secretariat.

All the Central Asian countries appear to have state agencies responsible for setting quotas for hunting and harvest, issuing permits for harvesting, and enforcing field control of wildlife use. During the survey, trophy hunting, poaching, trade in animal parts, capturing live animals and trade in rare and endangered plants were addressed wherever possible. Most information collected regards trophy hunting by foreigners. Several countries have imposed a ban on the import of trophies originating from Central Asian countries. At the same time, the survey showed that trophy hunting by foreigners was much better controlled than any other type of wildlife harvest.

Plant collection and trade appeared to be a major problem in Uzbekistan and Tadjikistan. In 1994, the Tashkent-based company Aksuzholding initiated a massive procurement of the Turkestan Soaproot (Allochrusa gypsofiloides) used in traditional Asian cuisine and medicine. Botanists from southern Uzbekistan reported that plantations had literally been destroyed and would require 10 to 15 years for regeneration.

One of the major problems in wildlife management in all the post-Soviet Central Asian states seems related not to "subsistence" poaching as some may have believed, but to the activities of the governments and governmental agencies responsible for wildlife control.

In all countries, endangered species which had been earlier strictly protected by Soviet legislation have begun to be used commercially. In most cases this was supported, or at least agreed to, by scientific institutions. In Kazakhstan, a research programme was started on the limited commercial use of endangered species. The basic idea was that since there are no funds for conservation in the state budget, let the endangered species become the subjects of scientific research which would be funded by foreigners wanting to go trophy hunting.

The TRAFFIC study suggested that steps to improve the control on wildlife harvest in the Central Asian countries of the former Soviet Union would be to establish commissions, open to NGOs, to document all on-going trade and release figures of this trade to the public. (Source: extracted and edited from Chestin, I., Russian Conservation News, Spring 1996.)

For more information please contact:

Dr I. Chestin
Division of Vertebrate Zoology and General Ecology, Biology Department, Moscow State University, Russia

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A study on Kenyan indigenous forests carried out by IUCN gives examples of important disturbances to the whole natural forest ecosystem due to forest uses. The most destructive activities which are taking place are land clearing for agriculture and felling of large trees for timber and charcoal. Other uses, such as extraction of non-wood forest products and hunting, although less dramatic, can cause serious effects. Some 58 tree species are exploited nationally for their bark, for medicine, weaving, basketry, bee-hives covers, and other uses. Muthaiga trees (Warburgia ugandensis) are being lost from parts of the Nairobi forests through over-exploitation of their bark for medicine, although this species normally recovers from damage if debarking is limited and trees are given adequate time to recover. In Kakamega, Olea capensis is being excessively debarked for the same reason.

In SW Mau, Podocarpus latifolius bark is used as a waterproof covering for bee-hives. In the area near Nyangores, 30 percent of all Podocarpus are dead or dying because of this single activity, and bee-hive placement has had to be moved further into the forest where fresh trees are available. Uncontrolled commercial hunting has had a devastating effect on elephants (intensive ivory hunting) and on black rhinoceros (as a result of hunting/trapping for its horn).

The effects of subsistence hunting and trapping of medium-sized mammals has been much less well-documented; although it appears that (a) primates are seldom hunted for food, though some are killed for crop protection; and (b) ungulates (antelopes, buffaloes and pigs) bear the brunt of subsistence and low-level commercial hunting and trapping activities. Long-term hunting and trapping on the boundaries of Trans Mara have already eliminated two species of larger antelopes and even the two most common species of duikers. Very few large ungulates remain in Kakamega, with the result that hunting and trapping are no longer significant local activities. Rare species have generally suffered the most: bongo numbers have been kept low by hunting pressure after their numbers had already been reduced by a rinderpest epidemic, and at the coast, Ader's duiker has been hunted/trapped almost to extinction. (Source: extracted and edited from Wess, P. 1995. Kenya's indigenous forests: status, management and conservation. IUCN.)

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