April 22, 2014

Brazil nut Subject of Ambitious New Research Project in Brazil

Brazilian scientists are embarking on an ambitious project to catalogue and map the tree that is viewed as one of the symbols of the Amazon Rain Forest - the Brazil nut (Bertholleta excelsa). The goal of the project is to map its distribution and to identify the environmental, social and economic benefits of this tree species with the ultimate goal of preserving the species for future generations.

The complete name of the project is the “Mapping of Native Brazil Nut and the Environmental, Social, and Economic Characteristics of Brazil Nut Production in the Amazon." The project will be conducted in seven states in northern Brazil including: Acre, Amapa, Amazonas, Para, Roraima, Rondonia, and northwestern Mato Grosso. Currently, scientists are not certain of the distribution or the density of this tree species in the Amazon and knowing the distribution and density would be critical for developing strategies for conserving the species.

Cataloging the species is not going to be an easy task in an area as remote as the Amazon Rain Forest where there may be as many as 300 different tree species per hectare. The project is going to employ remote sensing and laser scanners to achieve its goal. Scientists will be looking at how the climate, soil characteristics, topography, and plant diversity influences the number of trees and the nut production.

The project will also study the social and economic characteristics of nut collecting and production. Today, there are more than 55,000 people who make their living producing, collecting and marketing Brazil nuts and researchers want to identify the factors that influence the price of the nuts in various regions of Brazil.

The Brazil nut tree grows on higher ground all throughout the Amazon Basin. In addition to nut production, the wood is highly valued, but lumbering is only allowed from Brazil nut plantations. In its native habitat, the tree can grow up to 150 feet tall making it is one of the tallest tress in the Amazon. The nuts form inside a coconut-sized fruit that can weigh up to five pounds and is very hard. Inside the fruit structure there can be 8 to 24 Brazil nuts.