Through Innovative Techniques AABP Discovers More Diverse and Vulnerable Wetland Ecosystems than Previously Thought
As part of a long-term project, the AABP team has estimated that there are at least 30,000 hectares of Mauritia flexuosa (Arecaceae) palm swamp wetlands in Madre Dios, Peru (Figure 1). Mauritia flexuosa is known as the Aguaje palm, and the habitats that it dominates are called aguajales.
For about two years the Los Amigos Botany team has been investigating
the Aguaje palm swamps of Madre de Dios, with focus on those that occur
in and around the Los Amigos Conservation Area. We have collected many
data related to the vegetation, ecology, phenology, and fruit
production of the Aguaje palm and the aguajal swamp habitat, as well as
the dominant Vanilla orchid species that is restricted to
specific boggy grasslands within aguajales. We have also overlapped our
vegetation studies with collection of abiotic data as well as
investigations of the fauna of the aguajal ecosystems, especially to
compile a list of birds that we have encountered. We use the Los Amigos
Geographic Information System (Tobler & Janovec 2003 and beyond)
for various aspects of mapping, remote sensing, and spatial analysis
required for this project.
Figure 1. Mauritia flexuosa (Arecaceae) palm swamps and other wetlands in Madre de Dios, Peru.
The Aguaje palm is a dominant plant species in most inundated areas
in the region and for that reason humans have come to refer to many of
these wetlands as aguajales. However, we have learned through extensive
field work that there are many types of wetlands, not just aguajales.
Because of the generalization, we believe that some of the most
vulnerable wetland ecosystems in the region have gone unrecognized
during more than two decades of biodiversity research in the Madre de
Dios River basin. The diversity of wetlands in the region has not been
factored into the conservation equation. One of our driving goals is to
produce a more detailed, informative classification of these wetlands.
We believe the most productive, efficient, and feasible approach
involves good field work and standard data collection mixed with new,
innovative techniques of GIS-based mapping, remote sensing, and
The Aguajal Project was continued in conjunction with exploration
activities completed through the Los Amigos Botany Project. The
strategy continued wetland inventory and monitoring activities in and
around the Los Amigos Conservation Area during the years of field work.
We have established a permanent inventory and monitoring program in the
large aguajal near the Los Amigos Biological Station and at numerous
other wetlands in the Madre de Dios basin, from the base of the Andes
Mountains to the border of Peru and Bolivia.
We will meet our goal by accomplishing the following general
objectives during the next year: (1) Study the distribution and
vegetation of aguajal wetlands and surrounding vegetation; (2) Compare
plant diversity and and vegetation patterns of wetlands in the Madre de
Dios basin, with correlation to abiotic parameters (light, soil, and
water); (3) Monitor and assess the ecology and natural history of the
Aguaje palm and Vanilla orchid, with secondary studies of reprodutive
and flower biology; (4) Provide education and training in relation to
the biology and conservation of aguajales in the Madre de Dios basin.
Our methodology was divided into the following categories, among
others: (1) mapping and remote sensing techniques powered by
the Los Amigos GIS and expansion to cover the SW Amazon; (2)
Qualitative and quantitative inventory of plant diversity and
vegetation patterns using opportunistic collection techniques,
transects, and plots already employed by the Los Amigos Botany team;
(3) Monitoring of phenology, fruit production, and natural regeneration
of the Aguaje palm and Vanilla orchid along several
kilometers of permanent transects and within plots nested along the
transect system; (4) Collection of basic abiotic data related to light,
soil, and water characteristics, to be correlated with distribution and
variation of plant diversity and vegetation patterns, as well as
observed phenological patterns related to fruit production and natural
regeneration of the Aguaje palm and Vanilla orchid; and (5) Hands-on training in the field of a Peruvian thesis students and local Research Assistants.
Through this project we further developed the Los Amigos GIS and Atrium
GIS Repository. We developed habitat and vegetation maps that connected
and terrestrial ecosystems in the Madre de Dios River basin. Through
the Los Amigos Botany Project, we are currently producing a checklist
and guide to
the plant species of aguajal swamps and other wetlands in the Madre de
Dios Basin, with focus at this point on the Los Amigos Conservation
Area and vicinity. We are also planning for several publications that
will result from this project, two of which are already in manuscript
development stages. These publications will relate to the following
topics, among others: (1) Plant diversity and vegetation patterns; (2)
Resource use and management of the aguajal ecosystem; (3) Use of
aguajales by animals; (4) Reproductive and population biology of the
Aguaje palm and Vanilla orchid; and (5) Economic botany of
the aguajal ecosystem.
our preliminary research, we developed a collaboration with Pontificia
Universidad Catolica del Peru (PUCP) and obtained a two year grant to
intensively study the Vanilla orchids within the wetlands of Madre de
Dios. We believe that our efforts
and contributions, together with those of our colleagues and
collaborators working in the region, can help us move closer to
developing a reliable management plan for aguajales and other wetlands
in the Madre de Dios Basin and the southwestern Amazon, in general.
Through field, herbarium, and computer work, we want to provide an
overall synthesis of information that will promote understanding, use,
management, and conservation of Aguaje swamps in Madre de Dios.