Rainforest Alliance Fellowship to Focus on Bromeliads in Mexico

May 27, 2009

The Rainforest Alliance has selected Tarin Toledo Aceves as the latest recipient of its Kleinhans Fellowship. As the 2009 - 2011 fellow, Toledo Aceves will be working to conserve cloud forests in Mexico by developing a plan for the sustainable harvest of epiphytic bromeliads. The fellowship is awarded once every two years to support research on how the production of non-timber forest products can be used to conserve tropical forests.

Bromeliads are flowering plants often considered small, self-contained ecosystems; animals such as tree frogs, snails, flatworms, tiny crabs and salamanders might spend their entire lives inside one. Native to the tropics, bromeliads are found in the Tropical Montane Cloud Forest (TMCF) near the Gulf Coast of Mexico, an ecosystem critical for the maintenance of biodiversity and freshwater for local and downstream communities.

The illegal trafficking of epiphytic bromeliads is common practice in Mexico, where pickers are paid an above average income to collect two to three sacks per day, each containing roughly 1,000 to 2,000 bromeliads. "Large numbers of epiphytic bromeliads are extracted from the TMCF in Mexico for the construction of floral arches and for trade in local markets, with no form of control to sustainably manage their populations," said Toledo Aceves.

In partnership with local communities, she will create a plan to sustainably and legally harvest bromeliads, giving community groups throughout the region an example of ways to support themselves without causing the destruction of valuable ecosystems.

Forester

"We work to give local communities incentives to protect their ecosystems," said Tensie Whelan, president of the Rainforest Alliance. "We do this by educating them on how to harvest their local goods sustainably and then creating a market in which they can sell those goods. Through these efforts, forests can be more valuable to communities when they are left standing, rather than when they are cut down."

Toledo Aceves, 35, who lives in Veracruz, Mexico near the TMCF, received her PhD. from the University of Aberdeen in the United Kingdom, where she studied the effects of lianas -- long-stemmed, woody vines -- on commercial tree regeneration in tropical rainforests in Ghana. She received her Masters in ecology and management of natural resources from the Institute of Ecology in Xalapa and her Bachelor of Science in biology from the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México.

Toledo Aceves is the 11th recipient of the Kleinhans fellowship, which was created in 1989 by Elysabeth Kleinhans, a longtime Rainforest Alliance supporter, to focus on the intersection of responsible forest management and business. Fellowship projects focus on preserving the integrity of the forest ecosystem through researching the management and use of tropical forest resources such as Brazil nuts, fruits and medicinal plants. Fellows study the ecology of the local forest, existing resources that have economic potential, challenges, and possible local and international markets.

Toledo Aceves has also received funding from the National Commission for the Knowledge and Use of Biodiversity in Mexico (CONABIO), a government agency in charge of maintaining Mexico's National Information System on Biodiversity.

Other recent fellows include Mônica M. Barroso Keel (2007 – 2009), who provided market information to communities in the Brazilian Amazon; Amy Duchelle (2005 – 2007), who studied Brazil nut production in the Western Amazon; Carla Morsello (2003 – 2005), who studied trade partnerships between forest communities and corporations in Brazil; and Catarina Illsley Granich (2001 – 2003), who developed a management plan for the production of mezcal in peasant communities in Mexico.

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