Combining case studies with ecological theory, Vandermeer and Perfecto found that the peasant farming practices encouraged by grassroots movements such as Brazil's Landless Workers Movement, Mexico's Zapatistas or the international Via Campesina actually support conservation, while the practices of extremely wealthy landowners often undermine it. The researchers will present their findings Aug. 8 in two symposia at the Ecological Society of America meeting in Memphis, Tenn.
"When you talk to peasant producers in tropical areas, they're usually surprised when they hear that conservationists think that they're the enemies of conservation," said Vandermeer, who is the Margaret Davis Collegiate Professor of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology. "They love their farms and all the plants and animals in the area, and they see that it's the big, rich landowners who come in and cut all the trees down and turn the land into cattle pastures. So the standard litany doesn't ring true to them."
Vandermeer and Perfecto reviewed studies of biodiversity in the Atlantic coast rainforest of Brazil, a region that is unusual in having areas of tremendous biological variety adjacent to highly developed, industrialized areas.
"The area has some of the highest biodiversity in the world, but it all occurs in fragments of forest," Vandermeer said. In one study the researchers examined, a Brazilian scientist documented in a single river valley 28,000 separate forest fragments, where vulnerable species such as muriqui monkeys live. Vandermeer and Perfecto combined observations such as these with current ecological theory.
"We know that a lot of organisms typically live in a fragmented state in nature, with subpopulations scattered around an area," Vandermeer said. Disease or predators may wipe out a particular subpopulation, but migrants from nearby subpopulations come in and establish a new subpopulation. "We now think that most high diversity situations operate this way, with a continual process of local extinction and re-migration. When you couple that ecological theory with the observation of highly fragmented forests in the Atlantic coast rainforest, the real question is not how much forest is left, but what's between those patches that are left, and will it support the necessary migrations from patch to patch as local extinctions occur, which they inevitably do?"
If forest patches are separated by barren pastures or fields of single crops, such as soybeans, then monkeys, birds, and other forest animals probably won't travel through them to repopulate areas where extinction has occurred. But that's not the case if the intervening areas are traditional "agroforests"---farms where fruit and timber trees share space with other crops, Vandermeer said. "That's the kind of agriculture that's friendly to biodiversity, and that's the kind of agriculture that peasant farmers actually do."
Vandermeer and Perfecto, a professor of natural resources and environment, visited agroforests in the Pontal de Paranapanema region of Brazil, where landless peasants organized by Catholic priests established homesteads in the 1950s and 1960s. There, the researchers saw evidence that the farms do indeed serve as thoroughfares for migrating animals. "These farmers actually have monkeys that come through their farms," Vandermeer said.
The U-M scientists and their collaborator Jefferson Ferreira Lima of Brazil's Instituto de Pesquisas Ecologicas also spoke with members of the Landless Workers' Movement (Movimento dos Trabalhadores Rurais Sem Terra, or MST), which is a member of the international peasant organization Via Campesina. "It's a political movement, but it's very pro-conservation, and they specifically understand what they're doing by creating a new kind of agriculture based on small producers using organic or semi-organic methodologies on farms with trees," Vandermeer said.
With these groups encouraging such biodiversity-friendly practices, Vandermeer said, "I think conservationists and rural peasant movements ought to be friends."
International network connects experimental research in European waters
21.03.2017 | Leibniz-Institut für Gewässerökologie und Binnenfischerei (IGB)
World Water Day 2017: It doesn’t Always Have to Be Drinking Water – Using Wastewater as a Resource
17.03.2017 | ISOE - Institut für sozial-ökologische Forschung
Astronomers from Bonn and Tautenburg in Thuringia (Germany) used the 100-m radio telescope at Effelsberg to observe several galaxy clusters. At the edges of these large accumulations of dark matter, stellar systems (galaxies), hot gas, and charged particles, they found magnetic fields that are exceptionally ordered over distances of many million light years. This makes them the most extended magnetic fields in the universe known so far.
The results will be published on March 22 in the journal „Astronomy & Astrophysics“.
Galaxy clusters are the largest gravitationally bound structures in the universe. With a typical extent of about 10 million light years, i.e. 100 times the...
Researchers at the Goethe University Frankfurt, together with partners from the University of Tübingen in Germany and Queen Mary University as well as Francis Crick Institute from London (UK) have developed a novel technology to decipher the secret ubiquitin code.
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In the eternal search for next generation high-efficiency solar cells and LEDs, scientists at Los Alamos National Laboratory and their partners are creating...
Silicon nanosheets are thin, two-dimensional layers with exceptional optoelectronic properties very similar to those of graphene. Albeit, the nanosheets are less stable. Now researchers at the Technical University of Munich (TUM) have, for the first time ever, produced a composite material combining silicon nanosheets and a polymer that is both UV-resistant and easy to process. This brings the scientists a significant step closer to industrial applications like flexible displays and photosensors.
Silicon nanosheets are thin, two-dimensional layers with exceptional optoelectronic properties very similar to those of graphene. Albeit, the nanosheets are...
Enzymes behave differently in a test tube compared with the molecular scrum of a living cell. Chemists from the University of Basel have now been able to simulate these confined natural conditions in artificial vesicles for the first time. As reported in the academic journal Small, the results are offering better insight into the development of nanoreactors and artificial organelles.
Enzymes behave differently in a test tube compared with the molecular scrum of a living cell. Chemists from the University of Basel have now been able to...
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