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WHAT A BOTANIST IS WORTH

April 22, 2013

WHAT A BOTANIST IS WORTH

The seedling census is only one of many research projects the team of Panamanian botanists take part in

Andrés Hernández and Omar Hernández (not related) kneel on the ground beside a square of forest floor framed by PVC tubes. Their task is to identify, measure and map nearly 60,000 seedlings as part of the 17th annual seedling census of the 50-hectare forest dynamics plot on Barro Colorado Island.

Discovering which seedlings survive disease and herbivores to become rainforest giants contributes enormously to understanding why plant life is so rich in the tropics.

The seedling census is only one of many research projects the team of Panamanian botanists take part in. “The best local botanists come from the countryside. Campesinos may cut down forests, but they know their trees and recognize the seedlings,” said Andrés whose father could identify all of trees in Guayaquil de Santiago, where he grew up. “They don',t need a compass to find their way around BCI.”

Researchers on BCI have an incredible resource in the team. “Just to give you an idea of how much this sort of expertise can be worth, the University of Panama herbarium charges $1 for each identification,” says Andrés, “and we identify hundreds of thousands of seedlings, plants, fruit, flowers and seeds as part of our job.”

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