Celebrating 10 Years of Research in the Peruvian Rainforest
Greenheart Travel’s volunteer project in Peru focuses on environmental conservation, but more specifically, reforestation and biodiversity mapping. This project is entering its 10th year, which is an exciting milestone representing endless hours of hard work by volunteers and staff.
We are excited to share some of the research and results that have come from the project thus far, as well as the future ambitions of conservation moving forward.
Before delving in, we wanted to define a few technical terms regarding the project:
- Primary forest— a forest that has not suffered from human disturbance and remains nearly untouched. Considered the highest value forests in the world because they give a natural picture of how biodiversity interact.
- Regenerating or secondary forest— a forest that has suffered some sort of human disturbance, such as logging or farming. This intrusion of humans causes a loss of forest structure and species diversity by unnatural terms.
Trends in Reforestation Research
Swaths of the Amazon rainforest remain primary forest; however, there are increasingly pressures to exploit these areas for human gain. Human influence continues to spread and development becomes intertwined with natural resource exploitation.
According to the Global Forestry Resources Assessment study, naturally regenerating forests make up approximately 57% of the world’s forests and 67% of tropical forests. This means nearly two-thirds of primary or pristine forests have been tampered with to some degree by human development.
Although research in primary forest is ideal, regenerating forests are a growing source of data for scientists and conservations alike. These natural reserves provide valuable information on how species interact and migrate as well as how quickly regrowth can occur.
The formation of nearly 7,000 national parks around the world over the past 100 years has worked to effectively to protect some of the planet’s most unspoiled landscapes, and nowhere is this more true that in Peru. Approximately 10% of Peru’s land mass is considered protected, much of which is still primary forest.
Research in the Manu Bio Reserve
The location of Greenheart’s volunteer project is in a fully protected secondary forest area. In the Manu Bioreserve, the regeneration process has been going on for about 40‐50 years, a relatively long time for the region.
It is also very close to the core of the Manu national park, which is home to a large array of different animals. For example, there are almost 300 discovered species of amphibians and reptiles in this national park alone. This high biodiversity density allows volunteers to conduct species comparison studies between primary forest sites and regenerating forests simulataneously.
We do not yet understand exact patterns of the regenerating process or which species are most affected by human disturbance, but through our research, it has been discovered that 80-90% of primary forest species richness can be found in the regenerating forest.
This was a surprising and uplifting discovery, because many researchers feared that once a forest’s biodiversity was gone, it was gone forever. Although it takes a while for forest to recover, recovery is possible and the research in the Manu helps to confirm that.
Sharing the Research to Impact Human Behavior
In an ideal world, the above research (ie providing a home for countless endangered species) would be enough to justify the protection of regenerating forests. But Peru’s minimum wage is just under $200per month leaving millions of people below a livable salary and in abject poverty.
One of the main threats to Peru’s regenerating rainforests is illegal logging and mining which are lucrative industries tempting local people exploit natural resources as a means to pull themselves into a better socioeconomic bracket.
The research collected in the Manu helps to make the case that forests can provide social benefits for surrounding communities. A healthy forest is going to provide many services to nearby humans, such as water purification, erosion control, flood prevention, and pest control.
While the research collected by volunteers is imperative to the protection of the rainforest, future conservation efforts will be increasingly focused on striking a balance between human development and maintenance of the forest’s natural structure.
Hope for the Future
Providing alternative income generation along with education is essential to the success of biodiversity conservation. Alternative economic solutions need to be available to local people if there is any hope of reasonable success because people need to be able to provide for themselves. Agroforestry has been a big opportunity in this area, as well as sustainable tourism.
We need to think about moving on from only protecting primary forest areas and start thinking about how we can manage disturbed and regenerating habitats.
This means that conservationists may look less towards policy makers to support forest protection in the future and more towards the citizen collective to make a social change.
Are you ready to contribute to saving our planet’s regenerating rain forests? Peru is a great place to get your feet wet in conservation even if you don’t have experience! Find out more below.