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Human Ecology

, Volume 39, Issue 4, pp 455–464 | Cite as

Population Structure of Brazil Nut (Bertholletia excelsa, Lecythidaceae) Stands in Two Areas with Different Occupation Histories in the Brazilian Amazon

  • Ricardo Scoles
  • Rogério GribelEmail author
Article

Abstract

Here we hypothesize that the intensity of disturbances caused by human activities in Brazil nut stands (castanhais) is positively related with the regeneration of Brazil nut trees (Bertholletia excelsa H.B.K., Lecythidaceae) and consequently with a younger population structure of this species. In order to test this hypothesis we compared the population structure of Brazil nut trees in two areas of the Brazilian Amazon with different histories of land usage by humans. Archeological and historical data suggest that the region surrounding the Trombetas River was densely occupied in pre-Columbian times and experienced depopulation after European contact with Amerindian populations, especially in the 16th century. The 25 Brazil nut stands sampled in this region were dominated by old B. excelsa trees and had scarce recruitment in the understory. These very mature stands likely owe their origins to the interval between the depopulation of the indigenous peoples in the 16th-17th centuries and the establishment of quilombos at the beginning of the 19th century. The second study area was in the vicinity of the Madeira River (Capanã Grande Lake), where the castanhais were more accessible and disturbed. In this site, a younger population structure and abundant regeneration of B. excelsa were observed in the 10 sampled stands. Historical data from this region indicate that indigenous populations were replaced gradually beginning in the 18th century, with no evidence of severe depopulation. We suggest that the different historical and contemporary land use patterns contributed to the current contrasting population structures of the castanhais at the two locations. The data also support the idea that the castanhais, even the ones considered to be pristine and “native” forests, result from anthropogenic influences. We found no evidence to support restrictions on seed harvesting as a means to improve regeneration rates of Brazil nut stands.

Keywords

Amazonia Anthropogenic forest Extractivism Historical ecology Regeneration Brazil nut 

Notes

Acknowledgments

We thank the Protected Areas Program of the Chico Mendes Institute for Biodiversity Conservation (ICMBio), the National Council for Scientific and Technological Development (CNPq), the Scholarship Program of the International Education Institution of Brazil (IIEB), the Brazil Nut Germplasm Bank project of the National Institute for Amazonian Research (INPA), the Mineração Rio do Norte Company (MRN), and the Chico Mendes Biodiversity Institute (ICMBio) for their logistical and financial support. We sincerely thank the team of ICMBio at Porto Trombetas and Manicoré for their collaboration and logistical support during field work, especially Gilmar N. Klein, Altemar Lopes Silva, Vivian Mara Uhlig and Valmir Raimundo Lopes da Silva. Thanks to Paulo M. Alencastro and to Carlos Palacio for the map, Charles Clement and André Junqueira for the literature on historical ecology and helpful discussions, David Bertran for suggestions for the analyses, Jochen Schöngart for the data on the tree-ring studies, and James J. Roper and Maristerra R. Lemes for constructive comments on the manuscript. Our heartfelt thanks go to all the families of the communities that were involved in this project. Research Grant to RG was provided for CNPq.

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© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Universidade Federal do Oeste do ParáSantarémBrasil
  2. 2.Coordenação de Pesquisas em Botânica, Instituto Nacional de Pesquisas da Amazônia (INPA)ManausBrazil
  3. 3.Diretoria de Pesquisas, Instituto de Pesquisas do Jardim Botânico do Rio de JaneiroRio de JaneiroBrazil

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