Science paper: Overharvesting of Brazil nuts leading to fewer trees

GAINESVILLE, Fla. --- Brazil nuts, those time-honored holiday stocking stuffers, will continue to help save the rainforest -- as long at least a few of the brown morsels are left behind to grow into trees.

A group of researchers has discovered that overharvesting of Brazil nuts, the only commercially available nut collected exclusively from wild trees, has significantly reduced the number of seedling and young trees in the trees' native Amazon. An article about the research, co-authored by a University of Florida scientist, is scheduled to appear Friday in the journal Science.

Because Brazil nut trees can live 500 years or longer, their decline won't affect harvests anytime soon. On the contrary, the scientists say consumers should buy more of the nuts, because they support an environmentally friendly industry that depends on rainforest preservation rather than destruction.

The study reveals that even the seemingly innocuous activity of harvesting wild-grown nuts can have a long-term impact, and that managers may need to take steps to ensure that more Brazil nuts grow into young trees, the scientists say.

"It's a very simple message: If you collect too many seeds, you're not going to have seedlings," said Karen Kainer, who has a joint appointment as an assistant professor with UF's Center for Latin American Studies' tropical conservation and development program and the School of Forest Resources and Conservation.

Avecita Chicchon, director of the Latin America and Caribbean Program for the Wildlife Conservation Society, said the findings point up the need to begin Brazil nut conservation programs.

"For the past two decades, Brazil nut extraction has been promoted as an economic alternative to logging and other destructive economic activities without words of caution," she said. "These findings tell us that Brazil nut economic systems are still much better than other extraction systems in the Amazon, but it is crucial to establish

Contact: Karen Kainer
University of Florida

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