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Whitney R. Harris World Ecology Center: Newsletter: May 1997

Vol. IV, No. 1 May 1997


On February 10 the World Ecology Medal was presented to Dr. Richard Leakey by Chancellor Blanche Touhill at a Gala Dinner held at the Ritz Carlton in Clayton. Dr. Leakey is both an ecologist and paleoanthropologist. He excavated the bones of Turkana Boy, believed to be the first complete skeleton of Homo erectus and is credited with a key role in halting elephant poaching through a worldwide ban of the ivory trade.

In his acceptance speech, Dr. Leakey painted a bleak picture of conservation problem faced by developing countries, but he also injected into it both his enthusiasm for nature and optimism for the future of conservation efforts. Dr. Leakey lost both legs in a plane crash and he compared his dependence on others during his convalescence to the support required by developing countries from Western nations. He noted that social cohesiveness was both the key to his survival and that of the human race.

He was critical of many aid programs and illustrated his criticism with the effect on primate populations of road-building thorough the impenetrable West African rain forests. As a result of enhanced access to these forests, approximately 1000 gorillas are killed each year compared with an estimated annual death total of 50 prior to road construction. He also predicted that the chimpanzee would be extinct within 30 years. Dr. Leakey stressed that the solution to the conservation problems faced by many tropical countries lay in education, and the activities of centers such as the International Center for Tropical Ecology. Dr. Leakey indicated that he was, honored to receive the World Ecology Medal and delighted that he was able to contribute to the scholarship fund-raising efforts because it is in this field that developed countries need to play a significant role.


The past few months have been an exciting and productive time for the ICTE. Our fund raiser with Richard Leakey was a big success, generating more than $22,000 in scholarship funds. Accordingly, the ICTE has been able to award most of this as 12 scholarships and research grants. Our students will be using this money for their field research throughout Latin America. Another landmark event was the visit by Dr. G. David Tilman, who was this year's Harris Lecturer. Tilman delivered a lucid and inspiring overview of the linkages between ecosystem productivity and biodiversity. An additional outstanding speaker this year was Dr. James Nations, Vice President for Mexico and Central America at Conservation International who provided a review of Mexican conservation issues.

It is with great regret that I must report that I will be leaving the ICTE and the University as of the -first of August. My wife and I will be taking tenure-track professorships at the University of Florida Department of Botany. As many of you know, the ICTE has been an important part of my life for the last several years, and I am especially committed to our training program in tropical ecology and conservation. I will greatly miss the many good friends and colleagues that I have here in St. Louis. The University of Florida has a major training program in tropical ecology and conservation, and I am looking forward to playing an active role there. Thank you all for your support and interest in the growth and development of the ICTE. I request that you continue in your support by helping Dr. Patrick Osborne with this transition.


The annual Jane and Whitney Harris lecture was presented by Dr. G. David Tilman, Distinguished McKnight Professor at the University of Minnesota. Dr. Tilman is internationally recognized for his landmark studies into the relationships between plant productivity and diversity. His work on the grasslands of Minnesota's Cedar Creek Natural History Area couples prodigious field experiments with mathematical theory and is focused on the causes of vegetation change and the factors that control species diversity. Results from these studies have established some ecological principles fundamental to the conservation of global biodiversity and the consequences of habitat destruction. Dr. Tilman's beautifully-illustrated and thought-provoking lecture was entitled: Biological diversity and the extinction debt: The ecological and economic costs of habitat destruction. Jane and Whitney Harris are acknowledged for their continuing generous sponsorship of this event that is co- sponsored by the International Center for Tropical Ecology and the Center for Plant Conservation at the Missouri Botanical Garden.


World Ecology Day 1997 will be held on Friday, 19 October. This year's theme will be: The rise and fall of large rivers: Life in the flood zone. The speakers at the symposium will be Dr. Robert Meade (United States Geological Survey), Prof. Jeffrey Richey (School of Oceanography, University of Washington) and Prof. John Melack (Department of Biological Science, University of California-Santa Barbara). Dr. Meade has studied the hydrology and contaminant loads in the Mississippi and Amazon Rivers and will discuss the effects of flood control structures on the Mississippi floodplain. Prof. Richey is currently studying the flow of carbon in the Amazon River and together with Prof. Melack will look at linkages between terrestrial, floodplain, and riverine ecosystems. Prof. Melack has studied lakes and rivers in Amazonia and tropical Africa and both he and Prof. Richey are actively involved in the use of remote sensing techniques to investigate change in aquatic ecosystems.


The ICTE continues to enjoy enormous support from its Development Board (membership of the Board is listed on the back page of this newsletter). The Board is chaired by Mr. David Shores and has played an active role in fund-raising for the ICTE. Members of the Board were instrumental in organizing the Gala Dinner given to honor Dr. Richard Leakey. The ICTE acknowledges the hard work of the gala organizing committee (Honorary Chair: Mrs. Carolyn Losos, Co- chairs: Mrs. Peggy Adams and Mrs. JoAnn Digman) which ensured the success of this event. Ms. Julie Cowhey and Mr. John Huhn are actively preparing the next fund-raising event: Tropical Fantasia, which promises to be the gastronomic event of the year. Tropical Fantasia will take place in October.


ICTE Award Recipients 1997

The ICTE is pleased to announce the following scholarships awarded on. a competitive basis to support student research projects: Janeth Katheryne Aldas (M.S., Ecuador) - Pollination biology of two high elevation Fuchsia species in Ecuador. Gerardo Avalos (Ph.D., Panama) - Influence of light and support availability on the expression of physiological plasticity in the Neotropical liana Stigmaphyllon lindenianum (Malpighiaceae). Teresa C. Bergquist (Ph.D., USA) - Historical and ahistorical determinants of fish. community organization and the effects of gold mining in Guyanian backwater streams. Trisha Distler (M.S., USA) - Pollination biology and breeding systems of the palms Astrocaryum aculeatum and Astrocaryum vulgare. Jaqueline Goerck (Ph.D., Brazil) - Ecology and history as determinants of rarity in birds in the Neotropical region. Jorge Luis Perez-Eman (Ph.D., Venezuela) - Systematics, biogeography, and geographic variation in the genus Myioborus (Aves, Porulinae). Juan M. Posada (Ph.D., Columbia) - Vertical patterns of leaf functional traits, light, and forest structure of two tropical forests. Mercedes Rouges (Ph.D., Argentina) - Bird community dynamics along an altitudinal gradient in montane forests in Argentina. Grace P. Servat (Ph.D., Peru) - Foraging ecology of birds in Polylepis (Rosaceae) woodlands: Impacts of local and regional processes on community organization.

Marlin Perkins Memorial Fellowship

The 1997 recipient of the Marlin Perkins Memorial Fellowship is Jon N. Seal (M.S., USA). Jon will use the award to support his research on Physiological and morphological variation responses to manipulated environmental resources in a primitively eusocial wasp, Polistes metricus. This fellowship, established by Mrs. Carol Perkins, is awarded in memory of renowned naturalist and television host, Marlin Perkins.

Mutual of Omaha Award

The Mutual of Omaha, Wildlife Trust established the Marlin Perkins Memorial , Scholarship to honor undergraduate students who, have shown concern for conservation efforts and are planning to pursue a career in conservation biology. Ethel Myers received this year's award. Ethel is an outstanding student who has been active in environmental education programs with the Boy Scouts of America.

Stephen M. Doyle Memorial Scholarship

The Stephen M. Doyle Memorial Scholarship in Tropical Ecology is given in honor of Stephen M. Doyle, an undergraduate alumnus of the University of Missouri-St. Louis. Silvio Marchini is the recipient of this year's award given in support of his Ph.D. research project: Effects of forest fragmentation on rates of herbivory in central Amazon.

Mallinckrodt Foundation Fellow

Mallinckrodt Chemical, Inc. established an endowed scholarship in tropical biology and conservation to support summer research. The 1997 recipient of the Mallinckrodt Fellowship for support of his Ph.D. research on Neotropical montane trees is Juan F. Fernandez for his project entitled: Gene flow in fragmented populations of a Neotropical montane tree (Quercus humboldtii Bonpl, Fagaceae): Implications for conservation. Juan Fernandez reports that he will use his fellowship to undertake a study of the effects of habitat fragmentation on gene flow (movement of genes through pollen and seeds) in Colombian oak forests during the forthcoming summer. The study will investigate how fragmentation of previously extensive oak forests are constraining the maintenance of genetic variation, by limiting gene flow, necessary for the species to evolve and cope with environmental change. Results from this study are expected to provide insights into the evolution of plant species in fragmented populations and indicate possible conservation management practices.

Parker-Gentry Tropical Research Fellowship

The Parker-Gentry Tropical Research Fellowship for 1997 was awarded to Jaqueline Goerck from Brazil. Her Ph.D. research project is entitled: Ecology and history as determinants of rarity in birds: a case study with Drymophila and Hypocnemis (Formiranidae, Aves). The Parker-Gentry Fellowship was established in 1995 to honor the memory of Ted Parker and Al Gentry, two outstanding tropical biologists who died in an aircraft accident in 1993.


Dr. Stephen S. Mulkey, Director, International Center for Tropical Ecology, reports on a conference on canopy biology, a rapidly developing science.

From March 10 to March 13; the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute (STRI) hosted an international, conference on forest canopy biology. Because effective ways of accessing and studying the canopy have only recently been devised, biologists are only now beginning to unlock its secrets. The conference brought together experts from all over the world and provided an important opportunity for scientists to interact with environmental -policy makers.

The forest canopy has been described as the final ecological frontier, the last great unexplored realm on earth. It is also very important in terms of our understanding of the global environment: the canopy is where the forest is most biologically active, where photosynthesis is occurring. If our forests are to be useful in offsetting the atmospheric accumulation of the greenhouse gas, carbon dioxide, which is removed from the atmosphere by photosynthesis, we must understand what is happening in the canopy. Recent studies have shown that a large proportion of all living species are limited to the tropical forest canopies: canopy research is essential if we are to devise and implement effective policies for conserving biodiversity.

The reason for the recent explosion in scientific interest in the canopy is that scientists have finally come up with efficient ways of getting into it. Previously, they had to climb trees. Tree-climbing, however, is dangerous, laborious, and ineffective because branches get thinner and thinner as they approach the canopy. A number of unproved techniques have recently been tried out, but a consensus is emerging among biologists that the best way to do science in the canopy is with a construction crane. For the first time, the extraordinary biological richness of the canopy has become accessible to scientists. The conference was a celebration of the advent of the crane as a research tool for ecologists.

In 1990, STRI installed the first such crane in a forest close to its headquarters in Panama City, Republic of Panama. It quickly proved to a very effective way of accessing the canopy to carry out experiments on topics as diverse as insect biodiversity and the effect of increased atmospheric carbon dioxide on -plant growth. The 50 m boom of the crane permits detailed study of the canopy over an area of about one hectare. During the conference, STRI inaugurated a second crane at a different site. Sponsored by the Government of Denmark through the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP), this crane will permit scientists to compare results between two different kinds of forest within a single geographical region.

Comparison between geographic regions is also becoming possible: the second Panamanian crane brings the worldwide total to six either currently, or about to be, in operation. The conference provided scientists involved with each crane the opportunity to compare notes and to collaborate. Major topics addressed included the effect of global warming and greenhouse gases on forests, and the biodiversity of the canopy-just how many species call the canopy home. Both issues proved to be controversial. Now that we can measure tropical plant performance in nature, as opposed to in the greenhouse, we have to re-assess the applicability of previous results to trees in their natural state. Former estimates of canopy biodiversity have relied on "fogging" in which a biodegradable pesticide is blasted into the crown of a tree and animals, mainly insects, collected as they fall. Now that we can sample the canopy intensively-literally by turning over every leaf-we can at last determine how accurate the fogging estimates of biodiversity were. Research is essential if we are to have effective environmental policy, and that policy is essential for the future health of the planet. STRI is a research wing of the Smithsonian Institution. With 35 full time scientists and hundreds of scientific visitors every year, it is a leading center for scientific study in the Tropics. Having installed the first canopy crane, it is only appropriate that STRI should host an important meeting that marks the coming of age of a brand new science, canopy biology.


The Department of Biology at UM-ST. Louis is pleased to announce that Kirk Stowe is to be awarded his Ph.D. for his thesis entitled: Experimental evolution of resistance in Brassica rapa: Correlated responses of life history traits, tolerance and realized defense to selection for foliar glucosinolate content. Gerardo A. Aymard is to be awarded his masters for his thesis: Forest diversity in the interfluvial zone of the Rio Negro and Rio Orinoco in Southwestern Venezuela and Photios Exarchou will receive his M.S.(non-thesis).


Carolina Valdespino is from Mexico and is a Ph.D. student in the Department of Biology at UM-ST. Louis. Her research is on the reproductive physiology and behavior of the fennec fox at the St. Louis Zoo and she is supported by a Fulbright/CONACyT scholarship.

Two facts are well established and are common knowledge to specialists and general public alike. The first is that the transformation of natural habitats is causing the extinction of numerous species in many places. The second is that biodiversity is not evenly distributed over the planet, but that more species live within tropical latitudes. Tropical countries, where this higher diversity occurs, tend to be those with developing and emerging economies. Despite the concerns of many who live in these areas, biodiversity conservation often takes a back seat because funds need to be directed to trying to reduce poverty, enhance education, and improve living standards of the population.

Some organizations in the first world are assisting developing countries in the formulation and implementation of plans to protect endangered species by directing financial support (in the form of grants) to these countries. The Conservation Breeding Specialist Group (CBSG) is part of IUCN-The World Conservation Union-and was established in 1988 by Dr. Ulysses Seal. The CBSG, in contrast to other institutions, uses more active strategies to achieve its goal of biodiversity protection. For example, through a process called the Population and Habitat Viability Assessment (PHVA), CBSG trains people (mainly researchers) from developing countries in the use of a software package called VORTEX. This is a simulation program that determines the probability of survival of a species using information about population size and growth, birth and death rates; rates of dispersal; distributional patterns and patchiness; environmental events that influence population size; and patterns and rates of disturbance and transformation of habitat.

However, CBSG's efforts are not limited to the distribution of a computer package. CBSG also meets with people interested in the conservation of a particular species to discuss ideas for conservation of that species. CBSG strategies are based in two premises: (1) there is information about a species that has not been published but is in the notebooks of researches, is part of the knowledge of the managers, or the local people and that this information can be of use in producing a species conservation plan; (2) participation of all sectors interested or affected by any plan of recovery or protection of the species is necessary for success since this will increase chances that the limited resources available are allocated in the most appropriate way.

Called and organized by researchers within the particular country, these workshops take place in the country where the endangered species lives. The role of CBSG is to demonstrate the use of the VORTEX program and to set criteria to be used in determining the status of the species; and to serve as mediators between the participants providing information necessary for the diagnosis.'

The aim of these meetings is to answer a number of questions. Where should conservation effort be concentrated? Is protection in the wild crucial? Is it possible and real? Is there need for keeping a colony in ex situ facilities? Are there captive colonies that should be managed to ensure their long-term survival? Should those colonies be included in research to increase knowledge of the species that could not be obtained from wild populations? Which individuals or institutions should be taking part in the conservation plan? Each workshop produces a manual with information about the species and recommendations for its protection and this is distributed to workshop participants who are responsible for implementing the plan that they have had an active role, in developing.

Although, the initial workshops had mega-vertebrates as their focus, there has been a recent trend for inclusion of small vertebrates, invertebrates, and plants in the assessment effort. -Documents produced include: the Orinoco Crocodile PHVA; the selected species of Cuba CAMP; the conservation of Mexican Lagomorphs-brief manual; the medicinal plants of Southern India CAMP; the spotted tree frog PHVA; the Costa Rican squirrel monkey PHVA and the Karner blue butterfly PHVA.

Other processes and tools utilized by CBSG include: Conservation Assessment Management Plans (CAMP); Global Captive Action Recommendations (GCAR); Global Animal Survival Plans (GASP); and Genome Resource Banking (GRB). Between January 1994 and August 1996, CBSG conducted 135 workshops/meetings (with a duration of 3-4 days) and produced a total of 250 manuals and reports. The organization at present consists of a chairman, 3 program officers, 3 support staff and board of directors of the non-profit foundation under which CBSG operates. Further information about the organization is available at


Diego R Perez Salicrup is a Ph.D. student from Mexico. His dissertation research has focused on the ecological impacts of liana removal as a silvicultural practice, and was funded by BOLFOR..

Deforestation is the major environmental problem facing tropical countries like Bolivia. The causes of this problem are complex and vary from country to country. In the Amazon basin, poorly managed operations usually result in changes in the structure of the forest, canopy loss, and increased liana and grass densities which make timber extraction unprofitable. Logging companies abandon the area, leaving behind a network of roads and skid trails that are used by colonizers who transform the remaining forest into plantations and grassland for livestock. To stop this process, specialists from a range of disciplines have advocated sustainable forest management. The idea behind this concept is to reconcile economic and conservation interests by allowing profitable exploitation to take place, but managing the forest so that overall forest structure and biodiversity are maintained.

Over 50% of Bolivia is covered by forests. Owing to low population densities and a predominantly mining economy, 94% of the original forests remained in the 1970s. However, as economic activity increased and diversified in the last two decades, the rate of deforestation has soared to 200,000 ha per year. In order to slow the rate of forest loss, the Bolivian Government in partnership with USAID, initiated BOLFOR, a multi4sciphnary project aimed at developing ways to manage forests sustainably.

BOLFOR began in August 1993 as a five-year project. Its activities are concentrated within the Department of Santa Cruz, which encompasses different types of Amazon forest, and is the source of most Bolivian timber. Among the aims of BOLFOR were the creation of a national green-certification program that would be internationally recognized, training forestry professionals, and the certification of -at least 25% of the timber concessions in Santa Cruz.

BOLFOR has conducted legal and economic research, aimed at producing realistic legislation that can be enforced within Bolivia's existing institutional infrastructure, and that motivates timber industries to comply and benefit from adoption of more sustainable forest management practices. BOLFOR has also carried out field research to produce baseline information on sustainable forest practices. Research studies have assessed what forest products (timber and non-timber) are amenable to sustainable management and the best techniques to achieve this. The impacts of different forestry practices on forest biodiversity are also under investigation. Research into the development of new forest products and national and international markets for them has been carried out and BOLFOR gives marketing advice to local, producers of forest products.

BOLFOR's accomplishments include the 1996 publication of a new Forest Law. This law includes measures to reduce forest degradation and a 15-fold increase in land property tax if forests are cleared. BOLFOR has interacted with eleven timber concessions, with a total area of over a million hectares and in all these concessions, BOLFOR has conducted research and advised on how to manage forests sustainably.

BOLFOR has also made important progress in education. BOLFOR has funded 13 Bolivians to conduct graduate studies in the United States or other countries. Ten international students have been sponsored by BOLFOR to conduct graduate dissertation research on a variety of topics related to -forest management in Bolivia. By the end of 1996, BOLFOR had supported 96 Bolivian students carrying out their undergraduate dissertation research projects (a compulsory requirement in Bolivia). Furthermore, over 1400 Bolivians have been involved in special courses organized by, or co-sponsored by, BOLFOR. Course topics include tree felling techniques, management plan preparation, and the importance of non-timber forest products.

Current conditions, however, still make it more profitable to conduct unsustainable forestry and invest the profits in the money market. Tropical forests are complex and diverse, and thus intrinsically difficult to manage. For example, Dr. Raymond Gullison found that sustainable exploitation of mahogany (Swietenia macrophylla King) is unattainable since mahogany needs very large natural disturbances to grow, and thus it is found in uniform-aged stands with little regeneration. Currently about 10% of Bolivia is under some sort of protection. This percentage is unlikely to increase. While this number-is generous compared to other countries in the region, it effectively means that 90% of Bolivia can be cleared of its natural vegetation, unless economic alternative uses of the forests are developed. Sustainable forest management is one such alternative and BOLFOR is conducting research into implementation of sustainable-use strategies.


Andre Chanderbali has received funding from the Smithsonian Institution for his dissertation research into the phylogeny of the Lauraceae (Laurel family). The phylogenetic relationships within this economically and ecologically prominent family have not been previously examined with molecular (DNA) evidence and this field season will be spent in Guyana collecting voucher specimens and leaf material for DNA extraction. Preliminary results from silica gel dried leaves analyzed in Dr. Susanne Renner's laboratory, suggest that the intergenic spacer tmL-F of cpDNA is readily amplified and sufficiently variable to be informative with regards to intra-familial relationships.