No. 10/09

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A special thank you to all those who have sent me links to information and also to Agnese Bazzucchi for her help with this issue.


  1. Bamboo to help house tsunami struck Samoans
  2. Bushmeat may cause the extinction of the Saola (Pseudoryx nghetinhensis)
  3. Honey: A natural way to fight superbugs
  4. Honey in Poland: Honey - again - grows on trees
  5. Honey in Uganda: Turning honey into money
  6. Medicinal Plants: Scientists and healers team up to test AIDS remedy
  7. Mushrooms: Study finds breast cancer fighting properties
  8. Rattan: First association in Cambodia, a step to sustainable rattan industry
  9. Seabuckthorn (Hippophae rhamnoides) ties relations between India and Mongolia


  1. Bhutan: action over prayer flags
  2. Bolivia: Amazon Nuts at exploitative prices
  3. Bolivia: Ecotourism an alternative for Amazon Indians
  4. Cameroon: Baga pygmy population says “Our lives are defined by this forest”
  5. Costa Rica: Culinary ecotourists turn wilderness foraging into dinner
  6. India: Climate change endangering medicinal herbs
  7. Indonesia: Forests fight back against illegal palm oil
  8. Indonesia: Harapan rainforest raises hope amid overexploitation
  9. Kenya: Thirsty eucalyptus trees get the chop
  10. Malaysia discovers huge potential in oil plants
  11. USA: Disease of unknown origin killing Japanese Stiltgrass (Microstegium vimineum)

  1. Biodiversity loss accelerating, UN target will be missed
  2. Development Agencies Call for Indigenous People to Play Role in Forest Management
  3. Fungus Hitting Frogs Hard in Central America’s rainforests
  4. Palm oil industry pledges wildlife corridors to save orangutans
  5. Pan-European Biodiversity Conference focused on ecosystem services, climate change impacts
  6. Rare “Bamboo Lemur” (Prolemur simus) found in more rainforests
  7. Rare gorillas make Facebook debut
  8. UN experts advance plans for West African biodiversity corridor
  9. West Africa's forests are depreciating at an alarming rate
  10. Woody Plants Adapted To Past Climate Change More Slowly Than Herbs


  1. Request for contributions to the next issue of Non-wood News


  1. 4th Global Summit on Medicinal and Aromatic Plants
  2. Forest Day 3
  3. 2010 INBAR Bamboo Tour to China


  1. Other publications of interest


  1. Fungi thrived during mass extinction
  2. Safe havens created for rarest primates



1.         Bamboo to help house tsunami struck Samoans

Source: Sunshine Coast Daily, Australia, 11 October 2009

For years Mr Durnford Dart has run his bamboo farm at Belli Park, Queensland Australia. On Tuesday, 13 October he’s taking time out to fly to Samoa to help with emergency‑house as many Samoans as he can after the devastating tsunami which has left thousands homeless. It’s not the first time he’s been there but this time it’s a voluntary mission to “do what I can” to ease the plight of Samoans with emergency shelter.

Mr Dart first established his commercial bamboo farm, Bamboo Australia, on the Coast 20 years ago, growing edible shoots as a vegetable crop. Then a market for bamboo poles for building emerged, which led to quite an industry for poles for building structures.“Then 15 years ago I built my first geodesic dome, a type of emergency shelter and promoted it to AusAid (the Australian Government agency for overseas development)” he said. Unfortunately the government didn’t take it up for legislative reasons even though they said “it was a great idea”.

But five years back, Mr Dart began to trade with Samoa using bamboo as a viable alternative to importing timbers for structures.  “It started with nothing, then importing plants to propagate,” Mr Dart said.  “On my second visit three years ago I erected a dome for the forestry department; they loved it, but unfortunately it disappeared – someone decided to take it home.”

That was the introduction, which Mr Dart says has now gone full circle with the tsunami impacting heavily on the island’s 160,000 population. “You can put the domes up in two hours, but in the meantime the company making connector plates for them went out of business,” he said. Fortunately, a technical college based in the Samoan capital, Apia, had the tools to make the plates; it got clearance, and they’re coming off the line. When I get there on Tuesday, we will hit the ground running,” he said.

There is one more problem: the bamboo, planted three years ago, takes four years to mature, despite four‑to‑seven metres of rain and volcanic soil. It’s unknown how many shelters can be built in a sort time, but Mr Dart estimates 20 to 50 to start with.

For full story, please see:


2.         Bushmeat may cause the extinction of the Saola (Pseudoryx nghetinhensis)

Source: Critical Ecosystem Partnerhsip Fund. net, 4 September 2009

Conservation biologists based in four countries gathered for an emergency meeting in Vientiane, Lao PDR, August 19–21, to address the peril of extinction facing one the world’s most enigmatic mammals, the Saola (Pseudoryx nghetinhensis)

The Saola inhabits remote valleys of the Annamite Mountains along the border of Lao PDR and Vietnam. It was discovered to world science only in 1992. At the time of its discovery, it was already rare and restricted to a small range. The experts attending the meeting agree that Saola numbers appear to have declined sharply since then, dangerously approaching the point of disappearance. Today, the Saola's own increasing proximity to extinction is likely paralleled by only two or three other large mammal species in Southeast Asia (such as the Javan Rhinoceros).

Saola resemble the desert antelopes of Arabia, but are more closely related to wild cattle. The animal's prominent white facial markings and long tapering horns lend it a singular beauty, and its reclusive habits in the wet forests of the Annamites an air of mystery. Saola have rarely been seen or photographed, and have proved difficult to keep alive in captivity. None is held in any zoo, anywhere in the world. Its wild population may number only in the dozens, certainly not more than a few hundred.

Saola are threatened primarily by hunting. The Vientiane meeting identified snaring and hunting with dogs (to which Saola is especially vulnerable) as the main direct threats to the species. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species lists Saola as Critically Endangered, which means it faces "an extremely high risk of extinction in the wild".  With none in zoos, and almost nothing known about how to maintain them in captivity, for Saola extinction in the wild would mean its extinction everywhere, with no possibility of recovery and reintroduction.

The participating agencies and organizations taking part to the meeting, committed to take specific actions in the next twelve months to significantly improve conservation of the species. Above all, the group emphasized that Saola cannot be saved without intensified removal of poachers' snares and reduction of hunting with dogs in key areas of the Annamite forests.

According to William Robichaud, Coordinator of the Saola Working Group and chair of the meeting, “We are at a point in history at which we still have a small but rapidly closing window of opportunity to conserve this extraordinary animal.  That window has probably already closed for Kouprey, and the partners at the meeting are determined that Saola not be next."

For full story, please see:


3.         Honey: A natural way to fight superbugs

Source: Natural, 5 October 2009

When infections caused by antibiotic-resistant bacteria, also known as superbugs, are in the mainstream news there's usually a sense of panic connected to the story. After all, this type of infection is spreading and can be life-threatening. For example, methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) is a strain of staph that's become resistant to broad-spectrum antibiotics. MRSA can cause everything from swollen, painful boils to pneumonia, bloodstream infections and surgical wound infections that are lethal. And standard Western medicine has mostly run out of antibiotics to treat these potentially deadly health woes.

However, a natural way to beat an enormous array of health-threatening germs has been around for thousands of years -- honey. And now scientists are zeroing in on just how a specific type known as manuka honey, made from the flowers of the New Zealand manuka bush(Leptospermum scoparium), and is able to stop superbugs in their tracks while standard antibiotic therapy is useless.

Breakthrough research into the honey's remarkable disease-fighting abilities was announced this week (September 7 through 10) at the Society for General Microbiology's international meeting held at Heriot-Watt University in Edinburgh, Scotland. Dr Rowena Jenkins and her investigative team from the University of Wales Institute-Cardiff in the United Kingdom presented results of their study showing that manuka honey appears to wipe out superbugs by destroying key bacterial proteins.

Manuka and other honeys have been known to have wound healing and anti-bacterial properties for some time," Dr Jenkins said in a statement to the media. "But the way in which they act is still not known. If we can discover exactly how manuka honey inhibits MRSA it could be used more frequently as a first-line treatment for infections with bacteria that are resistant to many currently available antibiotics."

r. Jenkins and colleagues are closing in on that important discovery. For their latest research, MRSA was grown in their laboratory and treated with and without manuka honey for four hours. As a control, the experiment was repeated using a honey sugar syrup to document whether any anti-superbug effects seen were due to the sugar content in honey alone. Next, the cells of the bacteria were broken open so cell proteins could be isolated and separated on a system that documented and displayed each protein individually.  The results showed manuka honey's anti-bacterial properties were not due to the sugars in the honey.

his latest research follows another manuka honey study published in Otolaryngology, the official journal of the American Academy of Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery, last July. Scientists from the University of Ottawa's Department of Otolaryngology tested both manuka honey and sidr honey, which comes from the sidr tree in Yemen and has been used for its infection-stopping ability for countless centuries, on Pseudomonas aeruginosa (PA) and Staphylococcus aureus (SA) -- including the MRSA type.

The researchers worked with the infections growing in biofilms -- thin, slimy layers formed by bacteria that are especially resistant to antibiotics. But the PA and SA bacteria were no match for the manuka and sidr honey. In their conclusion, the scientists wrote: "Honey, which is a natural, nontoxic, and inexpensive product, is effective in killing SA and PA bacterial biofilms. This intriguing observation may have important clinical implications and could lead to a new approach for treating refractory CRS chronic rhinosinusitis (CRS)."

For more information, please see:


4.         Honey in Poland: Honey - again - grows on trees

Source: Agence France-Presse, 3 October 2009

SPALA, Poland — Perched in a lofty pine tree 12 m from the forest floor, Tomasz Dzierzanowski carefully removed a clump of dry grass from a hole in the wood and wafted smoke into a bees' nest. Using a wooden spatula, he delicately cut out the gleaming slices of honeycomb, and the dark, shining liquid ran down his fingers. After climbing down, he tore off a waxy chunk and tasted the powerfully-flavoured honey.

Dzierzanowski is one of a group of Polish enthusiasts reviving a form of beekeeping stretching back thousands of years but abandoned more than a century ago. "There used to be thousands of bees' nests in Poland's forests, tens of thousands even," Dzierzanowski told AFP in the Spala forest, around 100 Km south of the capital, Warsaw.

"For now, we've set up around 20," added Dzierzanowski, whose day job is with the local environmental department.

After initially collecting honey from purely wild bees' nests, ancient hunter-gatherers gradually learned how to give the insects a helping hand by cutting holes in trees and leaving honeycomb to attract a swarm. Under that ancestral method, the subsequent nest was opened just twice a year: once in the spring to check how well the bees have survived the winter, and again in the autumn to harvest the honey.

The practice persisted in Poland until the end of the 19th century, gradually losing ground because honey from the growing number of beehive farms was cheaper and the forests were hit by large-scale felling. A natural mishap in the 1980s wiped out the remaining wild bees buzzing around Poland's forests -- a disease of Asian origin carried by a parasitic mite called Varroa destructor.

The current revival then is also a total reintroduction of the insect after a three-decade absence. It comes thanks to a meeting of minds between the global environmental group WWF, two Polish national parks, enthusiasts such as Dzierzanowski, and a group of beekeepers from Bashkortostan, a region of Russia near the Ural Mountains.

"We discovered that they still harvested honey from trees in Bashkortostan," said Przemyslaw Nawrocki, who is in charge of the project at the WWF. "We got in touch with the Bashkir beekeepers who hosted us there and patiently taught us their craft. Last year, they came to Poland to set up the first hives," he added. The Poles also spent their time trawling through museums to learn about the ancient method, making precision copies of the tools of their ancestors.

"According to the archives, they used to harvest between 6-10 kg of honey per tree. Our maximum is around 3 Kg. But it's only our second year of harvesting, so we need to wait a while longer," said Dzierzanowski.

Tree-honey is distinctive -- Dzierzanowski's harvest had a deep-gold colour, an initially smoky taste, and wasn't over-sweet -- and is traditionally eaten mixed with remainders of pollen and chewy wax. "Forest honey is much better than other kinds because it contains seven times more micronutrients," said Nawrocki.

In addition, it is a delight for organic food fans: the forest nests and the bees' pollen-gathering territory lie far from the fertiliser- and pesticide-strewn fields of agribusiness. Besides tickling the palate, bringing back honey-harvesting has a broader ecological goal.

"In the past, bees were an integral part of the forests, and played a role in their biodiversity," Nawrocki explained.

While the amount of honey harvested is still tiny, the enthusiasts dream of a day when there will be thousands of such nests across the country. Another long-term goal is to get Polish tree-honey inscribed in a European Union register of produce that is rooted in specific regions of the 27-nation bloc.

For full story, please see:


5.         Honey in Uganda: Turning honey into money

Source: Daily Monitor, Uganda, 8 October 2009

Bee keeping is a venture that has not attracted many investors. However, the demand for this product locally and internationally explains the dire need for more investors to engage in its production.

Dickson Biryomumaisho, Director, Western Region-The Uganda National Apiculture Development Organization (TUNADO) describes apiculture as the science of bees and art of keeping bees for production of honey, and other hive products using different techniques. This art can be carried out with or without land. “One may need as little as10 by 10 metres of land unlike other ventures,” he says. He adds that the undertaking is a low cost investment liable for all classes of people as little or no capital is needed. “Hives and other equipment can be made locally and bees are freely available and depend on beekeepers for food,” he says.

The traditional hives include broken pots, woven twig hive or log hives that are hang on trees. However, Biryomumaisho says that it is advisable for the bee farmers to graduate to the modern langsroth hives where unlike in traditional hives where honey is extracted naturally, a honey extractor is needed to harvest honey from this modern hive. Top bar hives are referred to as transitional ones as they bridge one from traditional bee farming to langsroth bee farming.  Langsroth hives are reusable, which could lead to an increase in honey production

The traditional hives yield between 8 to 15 kg per harvest whereas one can harvest 20 to 30 kg from the modern langstroth,” he says.

Since it does not need a lot of expertise, it can be practiced by the educated and the uneducated. Irrespective of age, gender and economic status, all entrepreneurs can fit. The venture can be looked at as a source of employment for many. In areas where beekeeping is predominant, people generate income by making beekeeping equipment, processing, packaging and selling bees’ products and extension works. The traditional hive sells between Shs10,000 to 20,000, the top bar hive stands at Shs40,000 to 55,000 while the langsroth goes for Shs100, 000 to 150,000. A bee hives maker can therefore earn a reasonable income. To the farmers, 1 kg of honey today sells at between Shs6, 000 and 10,000.

Bee keeping also enhances biodiversity and increases crop yields through pollination of crops. The busy insects also contribute to natural resource conservation. This renders bee keeping a non-destructive and sustainable activity. Biryomumaisho adds that it can be used as a tool to reduce threats to Uganda’s vegetation particularly natural habitats.

“(For instance) national parks, forests and woodlands are an alternative source of livelihood to communities,” he says.

For full story, please see:


6.         Medicinal Plants: Scientists and healers team up to test AIDS remedy

Source: SciDev.Net, 24 September 2009

Scientists in South Africa are investigating a traditional healer's claims to have created a cure for AIDS from a concoction of four plants. Laboratory tests show that one of the plants appears to have anti-retroviral properties, a microbiology conference heard.

Luke Mumba, director of the Southern African Network for Biosciences (SANBio) has confirmed that scientists at the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research in Pretoria are working with the healer to further assess the mixture, a milky brown drink. Mumba said: "We are not disclosing the name of the plant because of intellectual property issues. It's at a very exciting stage and a [human] clinical trial will be the next phase." He was speaking at last week's 6th annual Bio2Biz Conference in Durban (20–23 September).

The project is just one of SANBio's initiatives to encourage innovation in local science. It reflects the wealth of indigenous knowledge available in South Africa and the opportunities this knowledge might present to science.

Nceba Gqaleni, head of the traditional medicines programme at South Africa's University of KwaZulu-Natal, told the conference that after years of debate, Africa's traditional healers are being consulted in attempts to use their indigenous plant knowledge for commercial gain. He said this new inclusion had "changed the language" of discussion, with healers feeling involved and financially rewarded rather than exploited.

Gqaleni urges traditional healers to share their indigenous knowledge in their native isiZulu to avoid the misunderstandings that often occur when they speak English. Yonah Seleti, from South Africa's Department of Science and Technology, said at the conference that South Africa had some legislation that protected indigenous knowledge systems.

"At this stage we have a policy [created in 2005] that traditional healers were involved in drawing up."

A legal spokesman for the Department of Science and Technology says dedicated legislation covering all aspects of indigenous knowledge systems is still needed and that this is in the planning phase.

Anso Thom of news network Health-e told SciDev.Net: "While we need to encourage and support the scientific testing of remedies that have the potential to play a role in the treatment of HIV, we need to be extremely careful about making claims prematurely." "Unless the remedies have undergone rigorous scientific testing which includes the results being published in peer reviewed scientific journals, they will always be viewed as potentially quack remedies cashing in on the desperation of sick and often poor people."

For full story, please see:


7.         Mushrooms: Study finds breast cancer fighting properties

Source: Natural, 22 September

Recent study published in the International Journal of Cancer found evidence supporting that mushrooms have breast cancer-fighting properties.

This study was conducted at the University of Western Australia in Perth and included 2,018 women. Half of the women were diagnosed with breast cancer. After adjusting for lifestyle patterns such as education, smoking, overeating, and exercise levels, the researchers discovered that the women who ate at least 10 grams of button mushrooms per day were 64 percent less likely to develop breast cancer. Dried mushrooms also significantly reduced the risk, but not as much as fresh mushrooms.

A substance found in mushrooms called linoleic acid may be the key to the reduced risk of breast cancer. Linoleic acid inhibits aromatase activity. Aromatase is an enzyme that helps the body produce estrogen. High estrogen levels are a well-known risk for breast cancer. As many breast cancers depend on estrogen to grow, the aromatase-inhibiting actions of mushrooms may be responsible for the reduced risk. Aromatase inhibitors are used as treatment to prevent certain types of breast cancers from recurring. Examples of these drugs are Arimidex, Femara, and Aromasin.

This study also revealed that women who combined a mushroom diet with regular consumption of green tea saw even greater benefits: a reduced risk of almost 90 percent! This well-known antioxidant and anti-inflammatory helps prevent breast cancer by decreasing the amount of estrogen a woman's body produces. (Like cholesterol, estrogen has a good kind and a bad kind -- and an excess of the bad can promote breast cancer.)

In addition to the theory of the benefits of linoleic acid, mushrooms have been found to strengthen the body's immune system and also possibly block tumour development. In several lab studies, mushroom extract has been shown to actually stop the growth of breast cancer cells. There is an ongoing study examining whether or not taking a mushroom extract twice a month can prevent the recurrence of breast cancer. Earlier studies have suggested that the traditional medicinal mushroom, Phellinus linteus, hampers the growth of skin, lung, and prostate cancer cells.

In another study conducted by Dr. Shiuan Chen of the Beckman Research Institute of the City of Hope in Duarte, California, it was found that in laboratory and animal experiments, mushroom extracts reduced the proliferation of breast cancer cells. This study also surmised that it is the linoleic acid that may be responsible for the anti-cancer effects.

Dr. Chen and his team state: "Results from this and other laboratories support the hypothesis that white button mushrooms may be an important dietary constituent for reducing the incidence of hormone-dependent breast cancer in women. Prevention strategies involving mushrooms are readily available, affordable, and acceptable to the general public."

For full story, please see:


8.         Rattan: First association in Cambodia, a step to sustainable rattan industry

Source: WWF International, 1 October 2009

Phnom Penh, Cambodia – Eleven rattan small and medium enterprise owners and other community rattan processors from Phnom Penh and provinces meet on 28 September to officially form Cambodia’s first rattan association. The agenda will focus on election of a management committee and discussion over conditions and roles of current and future memberships.

            "While the association is perceived by members as creating space and opportunity for key actors in the rattan production chain to meet and work together, this institutional initiative is described as a fundamental first step to achieve the goal of maintaining sustainable rattan production and supply. We are delighted to support this project and this activity in particular," said the representative of the European Commission's Delegation in Phnom Penh.

            “The formation of the rattan association is critical to ensure understanding of community suppliers, processors and traders about the need to maintain sustainable supply of rattan for clean and better production,” said Mr Lip Cheang, a founder of the rattan association and owner of Kampuchea Samay Thmei rattan factory.

            Fast growing economies elsewhere in the region are motivating rapid expansion of processing activities leading to demand for rattan resource at an unsustainable level. There is urgent need to establish a model of sustainable production that can support continuous growth of rattan in forests, while maintaining seasonal harvesting and sustainable supply.

            “This is the right time for moving forward with concrete actions that help the development of rattan industry of Cambodia if the country is to export clean and high quality products into international markets, while continuing to sustainably manage rattan resource in forest,” said Mr Ou Ratanak, Rattan Project Manager from WWF.

            The rattan association will first of all put a legal identity to a group of rattan suppliers and processors. Such an identity is important for the recognition of their action and goal by national and international societies.

“One of the project’s major objectives, funded by European Union, is to engage small and medium enterprises in Cleaner Production, which aim at introducing proper techniques for processing activities to ensure a system of quality assurance,” said Mr Thibault Ledecq, Rattan Programme Manager from WWF.

For full story, please see:


9.         Seabuckthorn (Hippophae rhamnoides) ties relations between India and Mongolia

Source: Bombay News, 30 September 2009

India and Mongolia have joined hands to tap the potential of seabuckthorn (Hippophae rhamnoides), a plant better known here as Leh Berry that has high concentrations of vitamins A, B2 and C and is found in abundance in both countries.

On a three-day visit to Ladakh to see the initiatives taken by the Defence Institute of High Altitude Region (DIHAR) to make the plant economically useful for the local population, Mongolian Ambassador to India Voroshilov Enkhbold told IANS: 'We have seabuckthorn in Mongolia also, mostly in the western province. We have seen how valuable the cherry is.'

Most of the Ladakh region in Jammu and Kashmir is a cold desert, similar to the Gobi desert in Mongolia. 'I want to establish some relation with India on how to tap the potential of the plant,' the ambassador said.

Enkhbold will be taking to Mongolia samples of Leh Berry juice, an herbal anti-oxidant supplement prepared from the plant; herbal tea and some of the 200-odd products prepared by DIHAR scientists. 'We are sending two of our scientists to Mongolia to share our success story in making the plant a source of income for the local population,' said DIHAR's director Shashi Bala Singh.

There is plenty of seabuckthorn growing wild in Ladakh, a region where temperatures can plunge to as low as minus 50 degrees Celsius. Distributed over 11,500 hectares in the area, the shrub can withstand the extreme temperature, including huge fluctuations, as it can also get pretty hot under the cloudless sky.

The berries have high concentrations of vitamins A, B2 and C, far higher than in other fruits and vegetables such as orange, carrot and tomato. 'The plant is a boon for the region. It fixes atmospheric nitrogen into the soil, making it more fertile, checks soil erosion, its leaves are anti-cancerous, prevent tumour and improve immunity. So we call it the Golden Bush of the cold desert,' Singh told IANS.

In 2001, DIHAR had commercialized the beverage it prepared from the fruit under the name 'Leh Berry Juice'. In 2004 it made an herbal tea, the formula for which will be transferred to two vendors soon. In 2005, it came up with a jam and a sauce and in 2009, with an herbal anti-oxidant supplement prepared from the plant.

'Currently we are undertaking tests for UV (ultraviolet) protective oil and soft gel capsule rich in seed oil and omega fatty acids to be used as food supplement,' Singh added.

The locals, who used to once consider seabuckthorn a weed, have benefited from the new findings of DIHAR and are now selling the fruit here as well as in other states.

Tsering Stobdan, a senior scientist working on the seabuckthorn research projects and a native of Ladakh, said: 'So far less than five percent of the plant potential in the region has been exploited. The demand for the fruit is increasing and reflected in its price going up from Rs.8 to Rs.30/kg in recent months.'

For full story, please see:



10.       Bhutan: Action over prayer flags

Source: BBC News, 11 September 2009

The Bhutanese government has warned its citizens not to cut down thousands of young trees every year to make poles for hoisting Buddhist prayer flags. It said that the felling of trees is a threat to the tiny kingdom's beauty and undermines the government's duty to promote "Gross National Happiness".

The flags are flown by Himalayan Buddhists to help the dead find the right path in their next life. They believe that the more flag poles put up for the departed the better.  Buddhist monks say fresh poles must be used each time.

Government figures show that between June 2007 to June 2008, 60,178 trees - about 165 every day - were felled to meet the demand for poles. About 550 trees were felled daily for other uses.

"There's an immense pressure on the forest," forestry department spokesman Gopal Mahat told the Kuensel newspaper.  "We can't stop granting permits, especially for important religious rites because it involves sentiments," he said. "The demand is for straight, young trees, which have the potential of becoming crop trees."

Many Bhutanese Buddhists believe that the ideal number of prayer flags for deceased people is 108, preferably made from freshly cut trees. "If you reuse an old flag pole, you aren't putting in enough effort, which means the merit earned is compromised," Buddhist monk Gyem Tshering told Kuensel. "Ideally, you should hoist 108 flags, but if you can afford more, it'll help the dead find the right path."

Officials warn that this approach means that most of Bhutan's forest will be gone within the next 20 years and that trees are already being cut down deeper and deeper within forests.  The problem has become so serious that forestry officers in the capital Thimpu have restricted the number of prayer flags posts to 29. Plans are also afoot to persuade people to switch to bamboo for prayer flags, but a similar initiative recently launched to encourage people to use steel was unsuccessful.

Bhutan's constitution, which emphasizes the importance of Gross National Happiness over Gross Domestic Product, stipulates the country must have at least 60% forest cover.

For full story, please see:



`11.      Bolivia: Amazon Nuts at exploitative prices

Source: Inside Costa Rica, 9 October 2009

LA PAZ (Tierramérica) - Bolivia is the world's leading exporter of the shelled Brazil nut (Bertholletia excelsa), a nutritious food source that grows abundantly in the country's Amazon rainforest region. But in this tropical paradise, many of the nut-gatherers live in hellish conditions.

Bolivians simply call the Bertholletia excelsa a "castaña" (a catch-all name for "nut"). Globally, it is known as the Brazil nut or the Pará nut, while in South America it has many other local and traditional names.

It is a food rich in selenium and other minerals, as well as proteins, carbohydrates and oils, and represents 30 percent of the Amazon forest revenues in the northern Bolivian provinces of Pando and Beni, bordering Brazil. In fact, nut-gathering is the main local economic activity, following the decline of natural latex extraction from the jungle's rubber trees in the mid-1980s.

But the competitive price of Brazil nuts from Bolivia brings with it a heavy component of exploitation of poor families, including children and adolescents, warns a study by the Centre for Labour and Agrarian Development Studies (CEDLA), sponsored by the Ministry of Labour, the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF), and the Dutch development organisation Hivos.

Families who work gathering nuts are in a situation of extreme vulnerability, according to the study. Poverty, exclusion from labour rights and "cruel" exploitation are the norm in the collection of nuts in the northern Bolivian Amazon, according to CEDLA researcher Bruno Rojas.

In the 2008 season, which lasts from November to March, nut gathering mobilized some 17,000 people in Pando, Rojas told Tierramérica. Nut exports in that period represented 75 percent of the region's economic movement. Data from Bolivia's foreign trade institute indicate that exports reached US$80 million and created jobs for 30,000 people, including work in nut processing and transport.

Under the "piecework" mode, workers are paid US$11-17 per 23-kg box of nuts, which takes 12 to 14 hours to gather. Not only is the work poorly-paid, but workers, and often the entire family, put in much more than eight hours a day, the limit stipulated by the country's labour laws.

In last year's harvest, the nut company owners and landholders caused an artificial drop in the price of the 23-kg box from US$17 to just US$3, according to María Saravia, communications secretary of the Confederation of Indigenous Peoples of Bolivia.

This practice is common among landowners and wholesalers, in order to drive down wages and then avoid paying back wages for the harvest, she said in a Tierramérica interview.

Some indigenous communities who have obtained formal title to their land can get better prices and deliver their products to whoever they choose, but workers and their dependents who come from other regions are subject to the whims of the wholesalers, Saravia added.

"This is an ongoing fight for a change in the lives of the nut-gathering families," said the indigenous activist. According to Rojas, "the more that is produced, the more the country's labour laws are broken." Entire families make their way through the dense forest, left to their fate among the dangers of the jungle, the threat of disease and the long distances they must cover while carrying their harvest on their backs.

"They have no medical or accident insurance, they do not pay into the social security system, and they are unprotected by labour laws and by a weak government that lacks the ability to make the company owners obey the law," the researcher said.

According to the Ministry of Labour, in 2007 there were 2,600 children and 2,000 adolescents involved in nut-gathering, and 450 children and 1,400 adolescents working in nut processing. In the cracking, shelling and selection of Brazil nuts, two out of three children in the area work five days a week between 2:00 and 7:00 in the morning, "and the lucky ones go to school at 8:00, without sleeping or eating, and they fall asleep in class," said UNICEF representative in Bolivia, Gordon Jonathan Lewis.

For full story, please see:


12.       Bolivia: Ecotourism an alternative for Amazon Indians

Source: Latin American Herald Tribune, 22 September 2009

Ecotourism is becoming an economic alternative for the indigenous peoples of Bolivia’s Amazon region, where the Tacanas are already managing a hostel near Madidi Park.  

Lovers of alternative and sustainable tourist adventures now have the opportunity to enjoy one of the most important biological reserves on earth at the hostel in San Miguel del Bala, a Tacana community located about 460 KM northeast of La Paz along the Beni River.            The river is the only way to get to the village and its hostel from the neighboring communities of Rurrenabaque or San Buenaventura. It takes a little more than an hour to get there in one of the many wooden boats fitted with outboard motors that operate as “river buses” linking the local villages.

The 45 Tacana families who live in San Miguel de Bala combine their traditional way of life as fishermen and farmers with managing their hostel, which is a collection of cabins located in a luxuriant tropical forest and built of local materials like cane, dry palm leaves for the roof and native woods.

There, the Tacana offer visitors accommodations, tours of the interior of Madidi and even typical meals like their delicious grilled fish wrapped in the leaves of the “dunucuabi” plant.

In addition, tourists can engage in cultural exchange activities with the Indian community, the members of which continue living in their huts with walls of wood or cane and leaf roofs. The only electricity they have is produced by their small generators and there are no local medical facilities.

The idea of the national park’s administrators is to give greater participation and responsibility to indigenous communities living in the zone to combine preservation and development with sustainable projects.

The Indians “are conserving (the area) but they also have to receive something. Economic alternatives must be given to the indigenous peoples who live in the zone,” Jose Luis Howard Ramirez, the head of Proteccion del Parque del Madidi, told Efe.

In addition to the tourist business, other economic initiatives managed by Indians exist in the area, some that are up and running like growing coffee and others that are pending, like a project to market cocoa being undertaken by the Madidi Chocolates Amazon Association.

Madidi National Park, created in 1995, covers 1.8 million hectares and is located between the northeastern part of La Paz province and the border with Peru. The main indigenous tribes living in the region are the Tacana, the Araona and the Lecos.

Madidi’s rich biodiversity – consisting of more than 1,000 animal species and between 5,000 and 6,000 types of plants – owes to the fact that the park extends from near-glacial habitats near the Andes Mountains to zones just 300 m above sea level.

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13.       Cameroon: Baga pygmy population says “Our lives are defined by this forest”

Source: AllAfrica,com, 4 October 2009

Pauline Siembe, a Baka pygmy in South East Cameroon, comes out of her smoky hut licking her fingers after a meal of pounded yam and bush meat soup. A bright smile lights her face, revealing an array of sharp-pointed teeth, intentionally sharpened to eat bushmeat. "It always feels good eating a meal like this," she remarks as she straps a basket on her shoulder and heads for the forest.  Her husband, Daniel Njanga, wipes his mouth with the back of his hand, the same exhilaration visible as he emerges from the dwelling. Still savouring the meal, Njanga says as I stretch out my hand to greet him: "This is what the government wants to deprive us of."

Taking on a more serious look, Njanga spits disdain for the government's methods of conserving the vast forest reserves of South East Cameroon, that straddle two of the country's "divisions", the Boumba and Ngoko and the Upper Nyong divisions, all in Cameroon's East Region, being part of the Congo Basin rain forest. "This is our home and there is no point telling us that we should not access it".

"If we are talking about conservation, then the Bakas are the best conservationists. We have been living here since time immemorial, and the forest has not disappeared. Those who now claim they are conserving the forest are the same people pillaging our forests. We see sawmills felling large portions of our forest every day. Is it not this same government that authorizes the felling?" he asks.

Njanga is obviously angry that the forest has been gazetted into three national parks and 23 logging concessions, totalling some 760,000 hectares.  While logging concessions are designed to foster sustainable timber exploitation - in fact, operators are supposed to plant 10 trees for every one felled, although the provision is frequently violated - national parks create even stricter restrictions, as access is forbidden. These restrictions pose a threat to the Bakas, who now have to grapple with new challenges.

By the forestry laws of 1994, National Parks fall under the sphere of permanent forest domain. The law explicitly states: "Public access to state forests may be regulated or forbidden." The more than 30,000 Baka pygmies who live in the region see these restrictions as an affront to their right of access to the forest they consider their natural home.

"Our lives are defined by this forest. We harvest fruits, wild tubers, honey and medicine from the forest. And we kill animals for our basic food needs. We destroy nothing. We get only what we need from the forest," Siembe says.

Gilbert Ngwampiel, a Baka man in Ngoyla, near the Nki National Park, says: "If government says we should not hunt animals, it is a way of exterminating the Bakas. Eating bushmeat makes Baka men fertile. Failing to eat meat means that the Baka man will not be able to impregnate his wife, and this is dangerous.

"Of course we want these animals to continue living here," Ngwampiel says when asked whether the Baka hunting techniques would not perhaps lead to the extinction of some species.  "We kill only enough animals to eat, and we don't kill all animals. We hunt only male animals, the females and the babes are left for posterity. Those who kill animals indiscriminately are those who want to go and sell, and they are not the Bakas - they are the Bantu".

Olivier Tegomo, junior research assistant for WWF who was at the forefront of a study that recommends a shift in conservation paradigms, said he worked closely with the Bakas to find out what the forest really represented for them. "All this has to do with the notion of participatory forest management. We had to find out the types of products they get from the forest, where these products are concentrated, and how they could exploit those products without threatening the forest ecosystem. Along with the Bakas, we have come up with a participatory map that localises all their interests in the forest."

Leonard Usongo, former WWF coordinator for the WWF-Jengi Conservation Project of South East Cameroon, and who supervised the study, says any conservation paradigm that does not take into consideration the socio-cultural needs of the people is built on the wrong premise.  "The solution that works is that which still allows the indigenous people access to forest products, although we have to encourage them to do so sustainably."

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14.       Costa Rica: Culinary ecotourists turn wilderness foraging into dinner

Source: Scientific American, 9 October 2009 

Strolling through an equatorial rain forest or a northern pine forest can be thrilling enough, if only for the lavish scenery. But when you learn that you can eat a lot of what you see, a picturesque landscape takes on added intrigue. That’s the fun behind a burgeoning form of responsible leisure travel called culinary ecotourism--a new breed of gastronomic vacation, different from the languid style of those château-and-bistro food tours. The goal is to experience food not just as a diner, but as a gatherer, gardener and member of the kitchen staff.

In the sultry air beneath the Corcovado rain forest canopy in Costa Rica tourists wander past possum wood and ceiba trees, hanging cacao pods and an occasional overhead arch of banana leaves the size of queen-size beds. The jungle is a steamy brew of alien sensations, but the mission isn’t just sightseeing, rather experiencing the flora as a place for sourcing food. This trek is a favorite outing called the Edible Landscape Tour, conducted by Playa Nicuesa Rain Forest Lodge in Piedras Blancas National Park, a remote, pristine corner of Central America.

The rainforest here is a laboratory for many of evolution’s flamboyant experiments: hundreds of garish bird species such as toucans and scarlet macaws; astonishing leaf-cutter ants marching in flotillas 300 feet long to nourish the fungi they cultivate in their subterranean nests. There are formidable snakes--the eyelash palm viper and the terciopelo--and rare amphibians like the gaudy strawberry poison dart frog. Towering above are trees so massive their roots grow lateral buttresses to support their weight. This is the forest primeval, a living encyclopedia of the natural selection process and a sensitive biosphere crucial to our planet’s survival.

As tourists enter the jungle they are guided to examples of wild rain forest produce. First is the ungainly Espavel, a cashew tree, which produces a sweet, edible apple, the jocote de marañon, to which the actual cashew nut is attached. Up the trail there is cas, “sour guava,” harvested for juices and jams, and mimbro, a kind of dwarf cucumber used chopped in a traditional Costa Rican relish. Some of the jungle’s native foodstuffs must be left unharvested. The palmito, for example, is destroyed by the process of extracting its fruit, hearts of palm. Fortunately for salad lovers, there’s a substitute: our guides present us with palm hearts from a nearby domesticated pejibay, a tree that produces the same delicacy inside renewable stems that can be removed without damaging the entire plant.

Climate and abundant water make the rainforest ideal for cultivating a broad range of crops beyond indigenous species. Tourists are then escorted to Playa Nicuesa’s onsite gardens.

Edible insects such as termites are also offered to tourists, an exceptional example of protein source.

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15.       India: Climate change endangering medicinal herbs

Source: Indopia, New Delhi, 7 October 2009

Climate change is threatening the existence of several Indian herbs which are key ingredients of traditional Ayurvedic system of medicine, President Pratibha Patil said today and expressed concern over the trend.

"The Ayurvedic medicines make intelligent use of herbs. Climate change is disturbing the ecological balance which is making herbs, used in Ayurvedic medicines, extinct. It is a big challenge for us," she said while inaugurating centenary celebrations of All India Ayurvedic Congress here.

She said herbs and plants which are becoming extinct should be properly categorized and efforts made to protect them. "In this work, help of National Medicinal Plants Boards and Central Institute of Medicinal and Aromatic Plant should be taken" Patil said.

Herbs like Kutki, Atees, Kasturi, Praval which form the base of several Ayurvedic drugs are getting difficult to find because of the ecological changes, Vaid Devendra Triguna, the Chairman of the Congress, said on the sidelines of the function.

"Good herbs are getting difficult to secure because of changes in climate. We used to get good herbs from Himachal Pradesh but now it is becoming difficult. We have helped the states to constitute medicinal plant boards which are working in this area" Triguna said.

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16.       Indonesia: Forests fight back against illegal palm oil

Source: Reuters, 22 September 2009

For decades, the roar of the chainsaw has meant one thing in Indonesia's national parks: illegal loggers ripping down the rainforest. Now, the whirring blades are part of a fight back to cut out illegal palm oil from the international supply chain and slow the deforestation that has pushed Indonesia's carbon emissions sky high, threatening the destruction of some of the world's most ecologically important tropical forests and their animals.

In the country's first, symbolic action to stop the lucrative crop's march into protected lands a chainsaw-wielding alliance led by the Aceh Conservation Agency (BPKEL), Acehnese NGOs, and police teams are sweeping tens of thousands of hectares of illegal palm from the 2.5 million hectare Leuser Ecosystem.

"Plantation speculators, developers, whatever you want to call them, have moved in further and further," said Mike Griffiths of BPKEL, the agency created by Aceh Governor Yusuf Irwandi to manage Leuser in 2006, a year after the province at Sumatra's northern tip won greater autonomy from Jakarta.

"They do it by fait accompli... Go in, knock the trees down and plant, and all of a sudden the local perception is that you own it. It's Wild West stuff."

Planting a cash crop used in some of the world's best-known brands of chocolate, crisps and soaps inside legally-protected forests and national parks may seem a high-risk strategy. But with much legal land already allocated, lax law enforcement, large untapped workforces of villagers living inside remote rainforests, and high Crude Palm Oil (CPO) prices, such illegal conversions makes sense to many.

"The forest is seen as a green tangle with little real use and filled with dangerous animals and diseases," explained Jutta Poetz, Biodiversity Coordinator at industry environmental standards body the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO). "If this green tangle can be converted into something profitable, with the dangers largely removed, isn't that good? Plantations will develop the country, create jobs and improve people's lives. This appears to be the prevailing sentiment in Southeast Asia."

One year after Indonesia overtook Malaysia as the world's top palm oil producer, hundreds of illegal plantations are thought to riddle its reserves.

A 2007 United Nations report found forest conversion for palm oil plantations was the country's leading cause of deforestation, with illegal oil palm, illegal logging and illegal land clearances by fire occurring inside 37 of 41 national parks.

Leuser, Sumatra's largest rainforest expanse, and one of the last refuges for endangered Sumatran tigers, elephants, orangutan and rhinos, was one of the worst affected, it said.

Forestry officials in the area say confusion, rather than corruption, is the problem.

Conflicting maps, clashing tenure claims, and overlapping authorities mean locals, district chiefs, companies and government officials may not be aware of exact park boundaries, even in UNESCO-listed World Heritage rainforests such as Leuser.

"The boundaries do not match reality in the field," said Syahyahri, head of Aceh Tamiang Forestry Department. "Villagers don't know who the forest belongs to. They may not have seen the maps. We are gathering data for making the boundaries now."

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17.       Indonesia: Harapan rainforest raises hope amid overexploitation

Source: Jakarta Post, Indonesia, 25 September 2009

Sumatra's low-plain forests are fast diminishing, currently measuring only 400,000 hectares. The main cause of the deforestation is rampant illegal logging and clear-cutting, and if this prevails, experts warn, low-plain forests in Sumatra will likely be completely wiped out by 2010.

The Harapan rainforest, spanning 101,355 hectares and located in Jambi and South Sumatra provinces, is part of the remaining low-plain forests on the island. It straddles the four regencies of Batanghari, Muarojambi and Sarolangun in Jambi, and Musi Banyuasin in South Sumatra. The area is currently being reforested to replenish the damaged forests, formerly a timber concession.

"We're currently repairing the damaged ecosystem," said Harapan rainforest agency intern head Yusuf Cahyadin recently.

As part of the reforestation efforts, the agency will issue an outright cessation on logging in the area, or at least a 20-year moratorium. This, Yusuf said, will allow the forest to be densely wooded once again.

The ban will not affect local communities that live off the forest, particularly the Anak Dalam and Bathin IX tribes that use NTFPs such as rattan and resin. Communities living near the forest will also stand to benefit, Yusuf says, by growing rubber, for instance. "We're currently initiating a community-based forest through an agreement between forest caretakers and local residents, in the hopes that they can also protect the forest," he said. He added 30 percent of the forest has been damaged through clear-cutting, particularly for oil palm plantations. "Oil palms are not suited to the forest," he pointed out.

In Jambi province, the problem of clear-cutting of forests for farmland has been underway now on a large scale. Jambi has a total area of 5,100,000 hectares; around half of that, or 2,482,315 hectares, are forested areas, stretching from the Kerinci Seblat National Park in the west, to the Berbak National Park in the east.

"Forests function as water catchments areas as well as homes for wildlife and plant species," said Arief Munandar, head of the Indonesian Forum for the Environment's (Walhi) Jambi branch. However, the area's natural bounty has gone to waste under poor forest management that has hastened the rate of environmental destruction, Arief said.

He added the widespread deforestation can be blamed on the Forestry Ministry's policies, which favour investment over conservation. The ministry has permitted a host of state and private companies to clear large swaths of forest to make way for hectare upon unending hectare of oil palms and rubber trees.

The total current timber concession area in the province is 487,249 hectares, while the area of forest cleared for oil palm estates is 403,467 hectares.

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18.       Kenya: Thirsty eucalyptus trees get the chop

Source: Environmental News Network, 30 September 2009

Farmers in central Kenya are cutting down water-hungry eucalyptus tree species growing near water sources as a government directive aiming to save water takes effect.

Environment minister, John Michuki, issued the directive three months ago in an attempt to lessen the impact of the drought that is ravaging the country.

Eucalyptus has been popular with farmers because it grows fast and provides ample stocks of timber and firewood. But it is also a danger to water supplies.

Wangari Maathai, Kenyan Nobel Peace Prize winner and environmentalist, has recently spoken out about the threat, saying that the trees have been "over promoted for commercial reasons" and threaten biodiversity.

Now, eucalyptus trees growing less than 30 metres from rivers, streams, wells and other water sources are being cut down. Already, farmers in central Kenya have felled virtually all trees growing near water sources.

"We agree that eucalyptus growing near water sources has contributed to water sources drying up and that is why we are removing the trees," says Joseck Gatitu, a farmer in the Kamune area of central Kenya, who has cut down 15 trees near a stream that has nearly dried up.

James Gitonga, a senior officer at the Kenya Forest Service, says that although eucalyptus trees were a source of income to farmers, the recent rapid planting of Eucalyptus grandis and Eucalyptus camaldulensis, two fast growing species introduced to Kenya from South Africa seven years ago, was a threat to the environment.

"The trees have been planted in great numbers, including near rivers, swamps and other catchments, and being huge water consumers they have greatly contributed to depletion of water, particularly during the current drought," he says.

James Gathage, a forestry consultant trees farmers can cultivate without putting water supplies at risk. He adds: "Farmers should be encouraged to plant more Grevillea instead, which is an agro forestry tree with many commercial benefits, including timber, firewood and fodder."

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19. Malaysia discovers huge potential in oil plants

Source: Malaysia Star, 9 October 2009

Sarawak Biodiversity Centre (SBC) has identified oil plants that have anti-microbial properties which can be exploited for commercial value. State Secretary Datuk Mohamad Morshidi Abdul Ghani, who said this, added that these plants could be developed as healthcare products, and used to make hand wash, body shampoo and soap. “With such potential, our communities can benefit economically by carrying out contract farming of these plants,” he said when opening a regional workshop hosted by the centre here yesterday.

Some 40 participants from 12 countries are attending the week-long event on “Good practices related to traditional knowledge documentation, community biodiversity register and farmer’s descriptors.”

The SBC has been nominated by the United Nations Development Programme, which coordinates the distribution of the global environmental fund, as the Asia-Pacific region’s centre of excellence for traditional knowledge documentation.

Morshidi said the SBC was carrying out research and development activities on plants documented from the state’s indigenous communities. He said the traditional knowledge documentation project had covered 12 indigenous communities in 40 locations state-wide over the past seven years.

The state has some 30 indigenous communities spread across 3,000 villages. “From these locations, we have documented over 2,400 plants with various uses. From plants to cure ailments to plants used for crafts. The traditional knowledge has contributed significantly to modern agricultural practices as well as personal care, medicinal and cosmetic industries,” he said, adding that many products in the market were produced based on information derived from traditional knowledge.

Morshidi said if such knowledge was not documented, it risked being “lost.”

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20. USA: Disease of unknown origin killing Japanese Stiltgrass (Microstegium vimineum)

Source: Hur Hurland, West Viginia, USA, 19 September 2009

During the past fifteen years the introduced weed Japanese Stiltgrass (Microstegium vimineum) has spread across the region of West Virgina to become one of the most serious problems impacting the long term health and productivity of this native woodland.

Late this summer, a still unidentified Stiltgrass disease has become more widespread and it was recently confirmed by researchers at Indiana University. So far, the disease has been confirmed in Calhoun, Roane and Lincoln Counties, West Virginia.

Stiltgrass grows very thickly and produces a heavy thatch when it dies in the fall. It is extremely flammable and very slow to rot. It is a very coarse grass that is not very palatable, not sought after or eaten by deer, cows, horses, sheep or goats. Because of the rapid growth and spread of stiltgrass and the combination of environmental problems that follow an invasion, it has become one of the most studied weeds in the country.

There is increasing evidence that Stiltgrass plants may change forest soils in ways that benefit stiltgrass survival. It is now viewed as a very serious threat to the long term health and productivity of the natural hardwood forest.

Japanese stiltgrass control is very difficult, producing heavy amounts of seed with rapid spreading.

The stiltgrass disease has an unknown origin and it is yet to be found whether it is related to any known illness or disease in our native plants.

Samples of diseased plants have been sent to both the West Virgina University and Indiana University and researchers are working to identify the disease. Because so little is known about the disease and its origin and whether it is a virus, fungus or bacteria, or whether it has the potential to become valuable as a tool in Stiltgrass control.

However, the discovery and confirmation of something killing Japanese Stiltgrass has excited botanists, conservationists and ecological researchers across the country.

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21. Biodiversity loss accelerating, UN target will be missed

Source: Environment News Service, 13 October 2009

The world will not achieve its agreed target to stem biodiversity loss by next year, the International Year of Biodiversity, say experts in Cape Town for a science conference on the variety, abundance and conservation of plants and animals.

The target was agreed at a conference of Parties to the UN Convention on Biological Diversity in April 2003. Some 123 world ministers committed to "achieve, by 2010, a significant reduction of the current rate of biodiversity loss at the local, national and regional levels, as a contribution to poverty alleviation and to the benefit of all life on Earth." "We will certainly miss the target for reducing the rate of biodiversity loss by 2010 and therefore also miss the 2015 environmental targets within the UN Millennium Development Goals to improve health and livelihoods for the world's poorest and most vulnerable people," says conference speaker Georgina Mace of Imperial College, London.

"Species extinction rates are at least 100 times those in pre-human times and are expected to continue to increase," says Mace, vice-chair of the international DIVERSITAS program, opening its four-day Open Science Conference with 600 experts from around the world.

"It is hard to image a more important priority than protecting the ecosystem services underpinned by biodiversity," says Mace, who develops criteria for listing species on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species and coordinating biodiversity inputs to the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment. "Biodiversity is fundamental to humans having food, fuel, clean water and a habitable climate. Yet changes to ecosystems and losses of biodiversity have continued to accelerate."

All primates, all cetacean whales and dolphins, all big cats such as leopards and tigers, all bears, all elephants, and all rhinoceroses are at risk as evidenced by their listing by the Cconvention on International Trade in Endangered Species.

In Cape Town, scientists will preview the release next year of a report by the UN Convention on Biodiversity called the Global Biodiversity Outlook, to include a major focus on catastrophic biodiversity "tipping points," which complicate predictions. Such thresholds, if breached, will make global change impacts difficult to control, and slow and expensive to reverse.

"A great deal of awareness-raising is still much needed with respect to the planetary threat posed by the loss of so many species. The focus of biodiversity science today, though, is evolving from describing problems to policy relevant problem solving," says Stanford University Professor Hal Mooney, who chairs DIVERSITAS.

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22. Development agencies call for indigenous people to play role in forest management

Source: Voice of America, 1 October 2009

A new report calls on industrialized countries to ensure financial support to efforts to conserve and manage forests. The report says indigenous people in Asia should play a key role in forestry, to help reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

The report by the conservation group Forests Dialogue says indigenous communities must be involved in decisions about managing forests in the Asia-Pacific region.

The loss of forest cover globally amounts to as much as 13 million hectares a year. Deforestation is a prime contributor to greenhouse gas emissions, largely carbon dioxide, which scientists say contribute to global warming.

The report was unveiled on the sidelines of United Nations climate talks in Bangkok Thursday. The meetings here are to pave the way for a global agreement on cutting greenhouse gas emissions and preparing for climate change, which is to be drafted in Copenhagen in December.

"Drawing from our experience over many difficult situations around the world, and if we've learned anything in the last 25 or 30 years, it is that we really need to be very thorough and effective in involving local people, local stakeholders in forestry management," said Patrick Durst, an FAO forestry official. "Without that we certainly set ourselves up for failure."

The United Nations has introduced the program on Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation, or REDD. Working with various U.N. agencies, the program hopes to create a system in which industries or nations that produce large amounts of greenhouse gases can offset that by paying other nations to protect their forests.

Pilot projects have begun in Papua New Guinea, Indonesia and Vietnam. In Nepal, under a government-backed program, more than 14,000 forest user groups have regenerated more than one and a quarter million hectares of degraded forest area in the past decade.

The Forest Dialogue group asks that developed nations robustly fund the REDD program and make sure that the money goes to the forest people who need it.

Vicki Tauli-Corpuz, who heads the U.N. Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues, says the REDD strategy will not work unless forest communities are involved. "The key challenges in implementing REDD is really the involvement of the indigenous people and the local communities in making decisions about REDD and in receiving benefits from REDD," Tauli-Corpuz. "I mean all of the measures in relation to forests are really very centralized. If you cannot deal with that I don't think it is really going to succeed."

The United Nations is trying to establish an international REDD finance mechanism to be included in any global climate agreement drafted in Copenhagen in December.

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23. Fungus hitting frogs hard in Central America’s rainforests

Source: Discover News, 29 September 2009

Unusual varieties of frogs are rapidly disappearing from rainforests in Central America. A fungal infection seems to be hitting those rare species of frogs harder than common ones, a new study found, leading to local extinctions and a homogenized version of nature where everything is more similar than it used to be. The result is both a less interesting world aesthetically and a less resilient one biologically.

The decline in diversity could end up harming larger ecosystems since frogs are an important part of the food web -- other creatures eat them and their eggs. It could also impact the tourist industry since the amphibians' variety of shapes and colours has been a tourist draw to Central America.

Finally, a decline in species could even limit medical possibilities since scientists have found potential cancer therapies in amphibian skin.

"Everyone knew that amphibian declines were really bad," said ecologist Kevin Smith, of Washington University in St. Louis (USA). "But it looks like its worse than we actually thought." Smith and colleagues looked for patterns of extinction in frogs from eight rainforest sites around Costa Rica and Panama. The researchers compiled several years’ worth of data from previous studies, in which scientists had painstakingly surveyed frog diversity both before and after the arrival of a fungus called Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis (Bd).

Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis has swept through amphibians around the world in the last decade, often decimating populations. In Central America, Smith said, infections can wipe out half of the species at a given site. Evidence has been growing, however, that some species are more vulnerable to the fungus than others, and Smith wondered which ones were most at risk.

His results, published in the journal Ecology Letters, showed that in Central America at least, the fungus seems to target the rarest of species, which often exist only in one or two sites across the region. It's not yet clear why rare frogs are succumbing most frequently to the fungus. But as they disappear, so often do the roles they fill in the ecosystem.

"If you knock out a very rare species from the only place it exists, of course that's going to be extinction," Smith said. "In terms of conservation, that's the opposite of what we want."

The new findings add another disheartening dimension to the biodiversity crisis, said Tom Rooney, an ecologist at Wright State University in Dayton, Ohio. The loss of variety, he said, makes it increasingly hard for the species that are left behind to deal with further environmental change.

On a more positive note, documenting which species are most vulnerable to infections and other threats might help scientists predict which creatures are most at risk now, allowing them to focus future conservation efforts on the most vulnerable ones.

"If you're thinking globally, studies like this are telling us that losing rare species is not a local phenomenon," Rooney said. "If they are disappearing locally, there's a good chance they're disappearing regionally, and local efforts can be even more important."

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24. Palm oil industry pledges wildlife corridors to save orangutans

Source:, 3 October 2009

In an unlikely—and perhaps tenuous—alliance, conservationists and the palm oil industry met this week to draw up plans to save Asia's last great ape, the orangutan. As if to underscore the colloquium's importance, delegates on arriving in the Malaysian State of Sabah found the capital covered in a thick and strange fog caused by the burning of rainforests and peat lands in neighboring Kalimantan.

After two days of intensive meetings the colloquium adopted a resolution which included the acquisition of land for creating wildlife buffer zones of at least 100 meters along all major rivers, in addition to corridors for connecting forests. Researchers said such corridors were essential if orangutans were to have a future in Sabah. "This has to be the way the way forward to restore or allow reversion of forests along riverbanks," John Payne with WWF-Malaysia said.

If the corridors, both connecting forests and alongside rivers, are implemented this will prove a huge success for conservationists and a vital step forward in saving the last remaining—and still declining—populations of orangutans in Malaysia. Such action would also represent a seismic shift in the palm oil industry's quest to repair a long-battered reputation due to large-scale deforestation in Malaysia and Indonesia.

Sponsored by the Malaysian Palm Oil Council (MPOC), the Bornean Conservation Trust, and the local conservation organization HUTAN, the meeting provided a rare venue for government officials to have drinks with primatologists, and palm oil entrepreneurs to share a meal with conservationists.

Wildlife veterinarian and researcher, Marc Ancrenaz led the call for cooperation: "It's high time to stop polarizing this debate. The oil palm industry is going to stay, there's no point in fighting against development." He added "we need to look for a solution" to save orangutans.

Ancrenaz and the local organization HUTAN, of which he is a co-founder, was one of the major driving forces behind the meeting. Recent aerial surveys, funded in part by the palm oil industry, discovered orangutans living in small forest patches hemmed in on all sides by plantations. According to Ancrenaz, they are probably transient individuals looking for new territory.

Orangutans face many hazards in oil palm plantations. Workers have been known to kill the apes because they can damage the pricey crop, as well orangutans may starve to death due to lack of food sources.

Oil palm plantations looks like forest, seem like forest, but they are not forest," Ancrenaz told the delegation. Studies have shown that biodiversity falls by 80 percent when forest is converted into oil palm plantation. The industry currently covers 1.4 million hectares of Sabah alone, over 18 percent of the state's total land.

Only time will tell if the palm oil industry will stand by its pledges and give the plans to create wildlife corridors their full backing, allowing local government agencies to go ahead without obstruction. If they do, the meeting could prove the beginning of a new and more cordial relationship between conservationists and the palm oil industry, if not then it will be another speech-filled assembly where pledges and promises ultimately fall flat.

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25. Pan-European Biodiversity Conference focused on ecosystem services, climate change impacts

Source: IISD, September 2009

The fifth Intergovernmental Conference on “Biodiversity in Europe” was held from 22-24 September 2009, in Liege, Belgium. The conference discussed the state of Europe’s biodiversity and post-2010 biodiversity targets for the pan-European region. It resulted in a “Message from Liege,” in which European conservation leaders list a range of priorities and recommendations to conserve ecosystem services, address the biodiversity impacts of climate change, and integrate biodiversity into other sectors.

A new target was suggested, to “halt any further loss of species and habitats and, by 2025, restoration of degraded areas with an emphasis on links between biodiversity, ecosystem services, climate change and human well-being.”

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26. Rare “Bamboo Lemur” (Prolemur simus) found in more rainforests

Source: Cool Earth, 7 October 2009

The world's rarest lemur, the (Prolemur simus), appears to inhabit more locations around the globe than previously thought, the results of new research has suggested.

After an expedition into the rainforests in Madagascar, scientists found that the Greater Bamboo Lemur can be seen in double the number of locations previously known, after 11 more sites were discovered.

Lemur expert Dr Russ Mittermeir called the findings "another milestone in saving one of the world's most threatened primates".

The expedition was backed by a number of foundations and groups.

In total, there are thought to be less than 100 Greater Bamboo Lemurs left in the world, an animal which was thought to be totally extinct until it was once again discovered in the 1980s.

Population numbers of the lemur have been hit by deforestation and illegal logging activity in Madagascar's rainforests, which has destroyed much of the bamboo which the animal feeds on to live.

For full story, please see:


27. Rare gorillas make Facebook debut

Source: BBC News, 24 September 2009

Uganda is preparing to make internet stars of its endangered mountain gorillas - with the help of some human stars from Hollywood.

Officials are launching a "Friend a Gorilla" website to allow readers to become friends with the animals on the Facebook site, for a $1 (£0.60) fee. Jason Biggs, star of high school comedy American Pie, was among the actors in Kampala to help with the launch. It is not clear how often the gorillas will update their status.

Officials hope to raise the profile of Uganda and raise cash for conservation.

There are only about 700 of the gorillas left in Africa. They are found on the slopes of the Virunga Mountains on the borders of Rwanda, Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo, where several animals have been killed by armed fighters.

Lillian Nsubuga, of the Uganda Wildlife Authority, told the BBC's Focus on Africa programme she hoped the initiative would raise money for the gorillas and promote Uganda as a tourist destination. "Anybody with an account on Facebook will be able to click on this micro-site and get into our website," she said. "When they get there they will find descriptions and faces and all types of photos of the gorillas in Bwindi National Park."

She says readers will be able to work out which particular animal they are fond of.

"If you like him and you choose him then you pay $1 and his face will appear on your Facebook page - then in addition to human friends you will have gorilla friends."

The Friend a Gorilla site is due to go live on Saturday in what Ms Nsubuga is billing as a "gorilla gala" launch.

At the moment, Jason Biggs and other actors are tracking a group of gorillas through the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest as part of their trip to Uganda.

For full story, please see:


28. UN experts advance plans for West African biodiversity corridor

Source: UN News Centre, 1 October 2009

A plan to develop a biodiversity corridor across the border between Côte d'Ivoire and Liberia will be the focus of discussions to be held in Abidjan next week in cooperation the United Nations and other organizations.

Hosted by the Ivorian Minister of Environment, Water and Forests, the meeting on 5-6 October is part of a transnational initiative launched by the UN-led Great Apes Survival Partnership (GRASP) and the Wild Chimpanzee Foundation (WCF).

Among other objectives, the meeting aims to advance the idea of a biodiversity corridor between two large blocks of forest in the Upper Guinean Forest Region: the Sapo National Park in Liberia and the Taï National Park in Côte d'Ivoire.

The area is home to the largest block of a relatively intact tropical rainforest in West Africa, and to more than a quarter of Africa's mammals, including 12 species of primates, important chimpanzee populations, as well as endemic species such as pygmy hippos and forest elephants.

The meeting will bring together representatives of various stakeholder groups from both countries, including senior government officials, forestry and environment ministries, major international donors, development agencies, private sector and research institutions, indigenous populations, and non-governmental organizations (NGOs).

They will discuss environmental conservation goals that simultaneously enhance stability, human security, sustainable development and long-term economic benefits in a conflict-prone region.

The initiative is financed and supported by the European Union (EU), the French Fund for World Environment (FFEM), STEWARD (Thriving & Sustainable Environments for West African Regional Development), and the WCF.

For full story, please see:


29. West Africa's forests are depreciating at an alarming rate

Source: Ghana News Agency, 6 October 2009

The continuing erosion of forests in West Africa has been identified as putting pressure on the region's biodiversity, which is home to more than a quarter of Africa's mammals and 1,800 endemic species of plants.

"It is pathetic to also note that only 17 percent of the region's forests are technically under some form of protection, while only 3 percent is conserved for biodiversity purposes."

Speaking at the launch of a seminar organized by The Katoomba Group, an international forestry conservation oriented NGO, Mr. Michael Jenkins, President of the organization, called for the development of the needed technical expertise in the region to combat the problem.

Mr. Jenkins also called for greater protection for ecosystems such as mangroves and wetlands since they served as buffers during storms and provide critical habitats for other mammals.

He bemoaned the alarming rate at which forests in West Africa were seriously depreciating, adding that in the past 15 years the region had lost 1.4 million hectares of primary forest to deforestation.

He noted that the planned exploitation of offshore oil reserves threatened the richest biodiversity pool as well as the tourism potential of the country.

Dr. Edward Omane Boamah, Deputy Minister of Environment, Science and Technology expressed government's concern about the poor preservation of the nation's forests and efforts to combat climate change.

He bemoaned the high level at which carbon dioxide was emitted into the air and called on financial institutions to emulate Standard Chartered Bank by instituting a fund to combat climate change.

In a goodwill message, Senator Liyel Imoke, Governor of the Cross River State in Nigeria expressed worry about the fast depreciation of forests and animal species and called on the participants to come out with workable ideas to change the trend.


For full story, please see:


30. Woody plants adapted to past climate change more slowly than herbs

Source: ScienceDaily, 27 September 2009

Can we predict which species will be most vulnerable to climate change by studying how they responded in the past? A new study of flowering plants provides a clue. An analysis of more than 5000 plant species reveals that woody plants — such as trees and shrubs — adapted to past climate change much more slowly than herbaceous plants did. If the past is any indicator of the future, woody plants may have a harder time than other plants keeping pace with global warming, researchers say.

In a new study, biologists at the National Evolutionary Synthesis Center (USA) and Yale University (USA) teamed up to find out how flowering plants adapted to new climates over the course of their evolution. By integrating previously published genealogies for several plant groups with temperature and rainfall data for each species, they were able to measure how fast each lineage filled new climate niches over time.

When they compared woody and herbaceous groups, they found that woody plants adapted to new climates two to ten times slower than herbs. "Woody plants eventually evolved to occupy about the same range of climates that herbaceous plants did, but woody plants took a lot longer to get there," said lead author Stephen Smith, a postdoctoral researcher at the National Evolutionary Synthesis Center in Durham, NC.

The researchers trace the disparity to differences in generation time between the two groups. Longer-lived plants like trees and shrubs typically take longer to reach reproductive age than fast-growing herbaceous plants, they explained. "Some woody plants take many years to produce their first flower, whereas for herbs it could take just a couple months," said co-author Jeremy Beaulieu, a graduate student at Yale University.

Because woody plants have longer reproductive cycles, they also tend to accumulate genetic changes at slower rates, prior research shows. "If genetic mutations build up every generation, then in 1000 years you would expect plants with longer generation times to accumulate fewer mutations per unit time," said Smith. This could explain why woody plants were slower to adapt to new environments. If genetic mutations provide the raw material for evolution, then woody plants simply didn't accumulate mutations fast enough to keep up. "If woody and herbaceous plants were running a race, the herbs would be the hares and the woody plants would be the tortoises," said Beaulieu.

By understanding how plants responded to climate change in the past, scientists may be better able to predict which groups will be hardest hit by global warming in the future. Unlike the tortoise and the hare, however, in this case slow and steady may not win the race. "Woody groups are obviously at a disadvantage as the climate changes," Beaulieu explained.

Does this mean that ecosystems dominated by trees — such as rainforests — will be more likely to disappear? Possibly, "If we look to the past for our clues, chances are trees will continue to respond much slower than herbs — as much as 10 times slower," Smith said. "But if the rate of climate change is 100 times faster, then they could all be in trouble. The kind of change we're experiencing now is so unprecedented," he added. While this study focused on long-term change over the last 100 million years, most climate models predict significant warming in the next century, the researchers explained. "That time frame may be too quick for any plant," Beaulieu said.

For full story, please see:



31. Request for contributions to the next issue of Non-wood News

From: Tina Etherington, FAO’s NWFP Programme

We are seeking contributions on any aspect of NWFP for inclusion in the next issue of Non-wood News. We would be particularly interested in receiving information and articles covering: (a) NWFPs and food security; and (b) NWFPs and health.

Articles can be in French, Spanish or English and should be no longer than 500 words. Please send your contributions to by 20 October 2009.

Past issues of Non-wood News are available from the NWFP home page:



4th Global Summit on Medicinal and Aromatic Plants

1-5 December 2009

Sarawak, Malaysia

The summit will provide a forum for the research scientists, traditional health practitioners, academicians, representatives from the medical and pharmaceutical industries, conservation biologists, biochemists, NGOs, Government agencies etc. to discuss, share ideas, advance information and experiences for future collaboration in the promotion and development of medicinal and aromatic plant industries.

For more information, please contact:

Dr. V. Sivaram - Bangalore University, India



Forest Day 3

13 December 2009

Copenhagen, Denmark

Registrations for Forest Day 3 are climbing rapidly, and we now have over 700 confirmed participants. Forest Day in Copenhagen will be the third and most important in a series of these influential events.

So far, this year’s event will see over 100 official negotiators that will be directly involved in shaping the historic Climate Agreement. They will be joined by more than 100 forest and climate experts from Africa, 150 from Asia and more than 50 from Latin America. There will be an exciting mix of donors, senior government officials, NGO leaders and indigenous peoples.

Forest Day 3 will be hosted by the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR), the Government of Denmark and the Collaborative Partnership on Forests (CPF). The CPF is made up of 14 of the world’s leading environmental and development organizations.

For more information, please contact:



2010 INBAR Bamboo Tour to China

Mid-June 2010


Since 2005, INBAR has been successfully organizing a Bamboo study tour in China in cooperation with the International Center for Research on Agro-Forestry (ICRAF). Participants have included the State Minister of Ethiopian Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development, Director General of Ethiopia Federal Micro and Small Enterprises Development Agency, Permanent Sectary of Kenya Ministry of Environment and Natural Resource, Director of Kenya Forest Research Institute and Director General of INBAR.

The objective of the annual bamboo study tour is to share the experience of Chinese bamboo development and to promote bamboo development in other countries.

The 2010 Bamboo tour to China will visit EXPO Shanghai (estimated 70 mil visitors), Zhejiang and Sichuan province. EXPO Shanghai 2010 May-October is the most exiting global event.

In Zhejiang we will visit some leading bamboo flooring manufacturers, like DASSO (who produced bamboo fire-proof ceiling in Madrid international airport, which won 2006 Sterlinz priz and is producing bamboo veneer to be used for the interior decoration of 70,000 BMW and 40m long bamboo wind turbine blade manufacturer), Yafeng (who produces strand woven bamboo lumber and floor), Yongyu (bamboo floor), Shengbang (bamboo concrete form, a supplier for 2010 EXPO in Shanghai), Xieqiang (bamboo curtain and mat); Kangxing bamboo shoot processing company, Shenshi Bio-product company (bamboo extract like flavonoid, bamboo beer), Wenzhao, the biggest bamboo charcoal company (charcoal and vinegar) and the only China Bamboo Charcoal Museum in the world, some primitive processing workshops (bamboo strips) on community level, Huachun bamboo furniture company, Jitai bamboo processing machine company and Anji bamboo product market (hundreds bamboo products including bamboo clothes).

We will also visit the biggest bamboo botanic garden in the world, Anji Bamboo Garden, which has more than 300 bamboo species plus two giant pandas, and Chinese Bamboo Museum in this garden; High-yield bamboo plantation, bamboo film production base and eco-tourism sites, ornamental bamboo nursery, Baisha eco-tourism village,some companies and communities for NTFPs like ginkgo, hickory and traditional dry bamboo shoot, Hangzhou West Lake and China Silk Museum in Hangzhou. We will visit some bamboo research institutions like Zhejiang Forestry College (visiting bamboo products showroom, bamboo charcoal, bamboo tissue culture lab).

We try to dialogue with local politicians and experts on bamboo sector policies and technology, which encourage the entrepreneurs to invest in other bamboo production countries in Africa, Asia and America etc.

In Sichuan province, we will visit Wangjiang bamboo park (near 200 tropical bamboo species), Living Water Park (which shows waster water treatment by plants and biotechnology and won UNEP award), Chengdu Giant Panda Center(more than 100 pandas!), world famous Dujiangyan irrigation system, 2008 Earthquake Museum, INBAR bamboo handicrafts training base in Qingshen and China Bamboo Weaving Museum, Strand Woven Bamboo company.

We will stay two days in Shanghai to visit EXPO Shanghai 2010, the most exiting global event in 2010, where there are also many places decorated with bamboo.

For more information, please contact:

Dr. Fu Jinhe, INBAR




35. Other publications of interest

From: FAO’s NWFP Programme

Balmford, A., Beresford, J., Green, J., Naidoo, R., Walpole, M., and Manica, A. 2009. A global perspective on trends in nature-based tourism. PLoS Biol. 7(6):6.

Cannon, P.F., Hywel-Jones, N.L., Maczey, N., Norbu, L., Tshitila, Samdup, T., and Lhendup, P. 2009. Steps towards sustainable harvest of Ophiocordyceps sinensis in Bhutan. Biodivers. Conserv. 18(9):2263-2281.

Feeley, K.J., and Silman, M.R. 2009. Extinction risks of Amazonian plant species. Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. USA 106(30):12382-12387.

Gaveau, D., Wich, S., Epting, J., Juhn, D., Kanninen, M., Leader-Williams, N. 2009. Future of Forests and Orangutans in Sumatra. Environmental Research Letters, September 2009

Kingsford, R.T., Watson, J.E.M., Lundquist, C.J., Venter, O., Hughes, L., Johnston, E.L., Atherton, J., Gawel, M., Keith, D.A., Mackey, B.G., Morley, C., Possingham, H.P., Raynor, B., Recher, H.F., and Wilson, K.A. 2009. Major conservation policy issues for biodiversity in Oceania. Conserv. Biol. 23(4):834-840.

Parry, L., Barlow, J., and Peres, C.A. 2009. Allocation of hunting effort by Amazonian smallholders: implications for conserving wildlife in mixed-use landscapes. Biol. Conserv. 142(8):1777-1786.

Redford, K.H., and Adams, W.M. 2009. Payment for ecosystem services and the challenge of saving nature. Conserv. Biol. 23(4):785-787.

Roberts, L., Stone, R., and Sugden, A. 2009. The rise of restoration ecology. Science 325(5940):555.

Sodhi, N.S. 2009. Forest fragmentation positively affecting forest birds? Anim. Conserv. 12(4):282-283.

Suárez, E., Morales, M., Cueva, R., Bucheli, V.U., Zapata-Ríos, G., Toral, E., Torres, J., Prado, W., and Olalla, J.V. 2009. Oil industry, wild meat trade and roads: indirect effects of oil extraction activities in a protected area in north-eastern Ecuador. Anim. Conserv. 12(4):364-373.

Williams, P., Colla, S., and Xie, Z.H. 2009. Bumblebee vulnerability: common correlates of winners and losers across three continents. Conserv. Biol. 23(4):931-940.



36. Fungi thrived during mass extinction

Source: Science News, 9 October 2009

Microfossils that show up in large quantities in ancient rocks deposited during Earth’s largest mass extinction are fungal spores, not algae as some recent studies had proposed, new research suggests.

About 251 million years ago, at the end of the Permian period, life on Earth had its closest call: in a geologically short period of time, a mass extinction claimed more than 95 percent of species in the oceans and 70 percent of those on land. But a few species bucked the extinction trend and proliferated at the time — in particular, the type of fungus Reduviasporonites, says Mark A. Sephton, a geochemist at Imperial College London. In some cases, 100 percent of the organic matter found in rocks from the end of the Permian comes from Reduviasporonites.

Although researchers originally proposed that the Reduviasporonites spores came from fungi that feasted on the sudden bounty of dead woody plants, some recent studies have suggested that those fossils are the remnants of massive algal blooms, Sephton says. Now, he and his colleagues say in the October Geology, new analyses discount the algal explanation.

The researchers took samples of rock deposited during the late Permian extinctions, used strong acids to dissolve the minerals and then analyzed the organic matter that remained. Tests reveal that the organic residues, including copious amounts of Reduviasporonites, don’t contain any breakdown products derived from chlorophyll, which is found in algae. The analyses also detected organic molecules containing ring-shaped structures called furans, a class of compounds not typically found in algae.

Finally, the team’s isotopic studies provide strong evidence for Reduviasporonites’ fungal identity. The ratio of two particular nitrogen isotopes in the material falls slightly outside the ratios characteristic of algae but well within the range of isotopic ratios in fungi.

“The weight of evidence is pushing toward a fungal origin,” says Mark Wignall, a paleontologist at the University of Leeds in England. Figuring out what Reduviasporonites really was will help scientists interpret the environmental conditions at the end of the Permian and therefore shed light on why mass extinctions happened then.

Whether these fossils represent fungi or algae, the mass extinctions would have provided a plentiful buffet of dead plants and animals. And for a brief while, microbial life may have dominated both land and sea. “If these things were fungi, it was an exceptionally strange ecosystem,” Wignall notes.

For full story, please see:


37. Safe havens created for rarest primates

Source: BBC News, 24 September 2009

Two of the world's rarest primates are to be helped by the creation of new nature reserves in south-east Asia. One reserve in Vietnam will protect the critically endangered Tonkin snub-nosed monkey (Rhinopithecus avunculus), of which fewer than 200 remain. The other in China will help safeguard some of the last 110 cao vit gibbons (Nomascus nasutus), the second rarest of all primates.

Conservation organization Fauna and Flora International (FFI) has worked with the governments of China and Vietnam to create the newly protected areas. Habitat loss poses a significant threat to the existence of both primate species.

In Vietnam, the Tonkin snub-nosed monkey lives among a relatively small expanse of once-pristine sub-tropical forest. This species is one of only four species of snub-nosed monkey and is the only one found in the sub-tropics. The others are found in colder climates in China.

But poverty has forced local people to increasingly plunder this forest for firewood, while turning over parts of it to grow crops and livestock, jeopardising the monkey's survival.

It is already thought to have perished once before.

The Tonkin snub-nosed monkey was believed extinct until its rediscovery in Na Hang District in Tuyen Quang Province, Vietnam in the early 1990s.

In May 2002, FFI discovered a vitally important population in a small patch of limestone forest known as Khau Ca in the buffer zone of Du Gia Nature Reserve in Ha Giang Province.

In 2007, another population was discovered further north in the province on the border with China.

The 90 Tonkin snub-nosed monkeys living in Khau Ca will now be protected within a 2000 ha reserve created by a collaboration between FFI and the Vietnamese government, including local and provisional authorities.

Another reserve is also being created just across the border in China. This 6530 ha reserve more than quadruples the amount of protected forest for the cao vit gibbon, also known as the Eastern black crested gibbon. It lies alongside the Cao Vit Gibbon Conservation Area in Vietnam were most of the remaining gibbons survive.

The cao vit gibbon too was thought to be extinct in China from the 1950s and in Vietnam from the 1960s. "But in January 2002, a small remnant population was re-discovered in Trung Khanh District, Cao Bang Province, Vietnam, close to the Chinese border," says Yan Lu, FFI's China Primate Conservation Projects Manager.

In September 2006, a survey in contiguous forest close to the border in China recorded three groups of 19 individuals.

Then in September 2009, a survey team led by FFI carried out a transboundary census of the entire known habitat of cao vit gibbons in China and Vietnam. A total 18 groups and 110 individuals were recorded during this survey. It remains critically endangered with only the Hainan gibbon being rarer among all the primates.

"The cao vit gibbon currently lives mainly on the Vietnamese side of the border but it now has the chance to safely extend its population into China. The future for the species now looks brighter," says Lu.

For full story, please see:



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last updated:  Friday, February 26, 2010