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Chocolate lovers could save rain forest

Cacao tree
Leaving the original forest canopy intact to shade the cacao trees also preserves plant diversity  
June 4, 1998
Web posted at: 7:28 p.m. EDT (2328 GMT)

By Environmental News Network staff

(ENN) -- If chocolate lovers and conservationists banded together, they could save the Brazilian rain forest and boost cacao tree productivity at the same time, according to a New York Botanical Garden researcher.

"A return to the 'cabruca' system would be great news for southern Bahia biodiversity," says Dr. Wm. Wayt Thomas, associate curator at the Institute of Systematic Botany at The New York Botanical Garden, who is studying the plant diversity of the Bahia region in Brazil.

A "cabruca" forest is one in which cacao trees are planted in the understory of the native forest, rather than clearcutting the forest and then planting the trees.

Chocolate is made from the beans of the cacao tree and large cacao tree plantations have replaced the diverse rain forest in southern Bahia, Brazil. However, the transformed habitat has led to lower productivity of the trees.

By leaving the original forest canopy intact to shade the cacao trees, the "cabruca" forest preserves much of the plant diversity of the region, which enjoys one of the most diverse forests in the world and an abundance of unique species of plants found nowhere else on the planet.

"My research shows that the coastal forests of southern Bahia, the fourth largest producer of cocoa beans, has one of the most diverse forests in the world, with some areas reaching 456 different tree species on a single hectare," Thomas said. "In addition, 25 percent of the local flora is endemic to the region, which means it cannot be found anywhere else in the world. Our challenge now is to preserve this flora unique to the coastal forest of southern Bahia in the small remnants of the original forest still standing," he said.

It is estimated that 99.6 percent of the original forest has been destroyed since 1912, and logging and land clearing continue in the area despite a federal decree banning logging in the coastal forest, according to Thomas.

Thomas is collaborating with Dr. Andre Carvalho, director of the Section of Environmental Resources of the Center for Cocoa Research, Itabuna, Bahia.

Their research helped promote the creation of the Parque Estadual de Serra do Conduru, a new state park aimed at protecting the flora and fauna of the region, and has provided the necessary data for the mapping of priorities for conservation.

Copyright 1998, Environmental News Network, All Rights Reserved

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