Floristics and Economic Botany of Acre, Brazil
Florística e Botânica Econômica do Acre, Brasil
The NYBG/UFAC convênio
In the southwestern Amazonian state of Acre, Brazil, The New York Botanical Garden and the Parque Zoobotânico (PZ) of the Universidade Federal do Acre (UFAC) have carried out collaborative research projects under a formal convênio since 1990. The NYBG/UFAC collaboration is one of only two floristic projects currently under way in the nearly two million square miles of the Brazilian Amazon region. Floristic and systematic work in all of northern Brazil has declined dramatically during the past ten years, but the NYBG/UFAC collaboration has successfully contradicted this trend, creating and maintaining an environment that is conducive to field research.
Western Amazonia presents taxonomic problems for many groups of plants because of its complex mosaic of vegetation types, unresolved vegetation history, and low, patchy collecting density. This is particularly true of southwestern Amazonia and specifically Acre, a state covering 153.149 km2 (approximately the size of England) where the collecting density is still one-tenth that of Amazonian Ecuador. The diversity of topographies, soils, climates, and river basins in Acre is reflected in a remarkably high diversity of vegetation types, floristic affinities, and plant life in general. The southeastern part of the state, with its pronounced dry season, shows strong affinities with Central Brazil and drier peri-Amazonian formations in general, while at the wetter northwestern end the affinities are with the Andes and the rest of peripheral western Amazonia. Floristic work and ongoing analyses of distributions are revealing in a growing number of rather narrow endemics, particularly in the upper Rio Juruá basin.
Significantly, a number of taxonomic specialists have indicated that Acre is a "hot spot" for their groups because of their high diversity, surprising disjunctions, endemism, and unusual affinities. For example, Acre is home to as many species of palms as the entire country of Bolivia; formations on sandy soils show affinities with the upper Rio Negro; and recent collecting has revealed high diversity of ferns and unusual disjunctions.
During the past ten years, the actual collaborative research, in combination with scientific exchange, institutional support, and relevance of the work to current realities in the region have generated a high degree of scientific and ethical credibility. Consequently, the NYBG/UFAC program has become an integral part of a number of conservation-related efforts; as examples, we are providing critical data and analyses for a management plan for a national park, a development plan for the largest extractive reserve in the world, and a zoning plan for the entire state of Acre.
In the current phase of the NYBG/UFAC convênio, which began in 1999, we have begun to mobilize taxonomic specialists in the region's most important plant families, in order to produce a series of state-of-the-state reports that can be used for the zoning project and other conservation efforts. Through detailed analysis of the growing data-base, we are currently targeting for floristic field work the key localities in the state that constitute centers of endemism or diversity, sites of unique vegetation types, and "black holes" where the flora is still completely unknown. Finally, we are expanding our approach to conduct the botanical research as part of a concerted effort with Brazilian and Peruvian non-governmental organizations to assist the Peruvian government in the delimitation of new conservation units along two portions of the Peru-Acre border in Ucayali.
The principal products of the NYBG/UFAC collaboration thus far include a data-base with complete information on all of the plants ever collected in the state of Acre; a number of graduate student thesis projects relating to the flora and its uses; some of the highest quality ethnobotanical research carried out in Amazonia; dramatic improvements in the PZ infrastructure, and remarkably active scientific exchange between the two institutions. The data-base has been the foundation for the preliminary checklist of the Acre flora, an index of the more than 1,000 common names of plants in Acre, a first analysis of the affinities of the Acre flora, and key portions of most of the other documents either posted herein or cited in our publication list.
Comments on the Web site
This Web site is a result of the NYBG/UFAC collaboration, so as it develops it will be bilingual in English and Portuguese whenever possible. A number of documents are being translated into English from the original Portuguese for international publication and so will be available in both languages.
This Web site is a work in progress, initially set up in December 1999. A number of features will be updated periodically, in particular the checklist and common names index, which are changing almost constantly as collections are identified.
The Acre research program has produced a large number of 35 mm slides. These will gradually be incorporated into the searchable data-bases and the various manuscripts during the first semester of 2000, as links and enlargeable thumbnails.