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News on Panama
Leaf bacteria are important to tree health, may help forests adapt to climate change
Leaves are vital trees organs that support many important functions. A recent study published in PNAS found that each tree species in tropical rainforests possesses distinctive bacterial communities – called microbiomes – on their leaves. Understanding how leaf microbiomes vary among species may in the future be applied for maintaining healthy forests and predicting how forests will react to climate change.
Indigenous uprising earned tribe territories, but greatest challenges lie ahead
In 1925, Nele Kantule led a revolution that would make Guna Yala an independent and sovereign indigenous territory within Panama. Since then, the Guna have maintained a way of life that has allowed them to preserve their natural resources and mainland forest to an exceptional degree. But today, like many indigenous groups around the world, the Guna face some of their greatest challenges yet: the impacts of climate change, encroaching outside influences, and a younger generation that many elders feel is drifting from its roots.
Between the Forest and the Sea: The Yarsuisuit Collective - Part II
In this multimedia piece by SRI fellow Bear Guerra, we follow Andrés de León and the Yarsuisuit collective, a group of men who grow and harvest food sustainably in the Guna mainland forest. They also run a store on the island of Ustupu that helps support their families, serving as a model for the wider community.
Between the forest and the sea: life and climate change in Guna Yala - Part I
The island-dwelling Guna people of Panama are one of the most sovereign indigenous communities in the world, but now severe weather and sea level rise are causing regular flooding on many of the islands, and will likely force the Guna to have to abandon their island homes for the mainland. This multimedia piece offers an introduction to everyday life and customs in Guna Yala and touches upon the uncertain future the Guna are now facing thanks to the impacts of climate change.
Balu Wala, or the Kuna ‘good life': how one indigenous tribe is passing on its traditions (photos)
Jesús Smith is sitting at his old wooden desk facing the entrance to his house. He's hunched over, shirtless, and wearing his chunky reading glasses while writing copious notes by hand — a favorite pastime. When he sees the profile of one of his students, Julio, walking past his doorway, he yells, 'Hey! I'll see you in class tomorrow!'
REDD+ versus indigenous people? Why a tribe in Panama rejected pay for their carbon-rich forests
There isn’t a word or phrase in the Kuna language for "carbon trading,” and much less for something as complex as REDD+. Standing for Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation, REDD+ is the worldwide UN-backed climate change mitigation scheme that relies on carbon trading within forest landscapes to fund forest conservation programs. And yet, since 2008, the Kuna people have been hearing lots about it and referring to it often in their private conversations.
Attack of the killer vines: lianas taking over forests in Panama
A worrying trend has emerged in tropical forests: lianas, woody long-stemmed vines, are increasingly displacing trees, thereby reducing forests’ overall ability to store carbon. The study, recently published in Ecology, found several detrimental effects of increased liana presence.
Connecting forests, saving species: conservation group plans extensive wildlife corridor in Panama
With the cooperation of hundreds of ranchers and researchers, Azuero Earth Project aims to replant a swath of tropical dry forest, connecting the dry tropical forest on the coast to cloud forest further inland. The trees along the 140-kilometer (80-mile) wildlife corridor will create a continuous habitat for the Critically Endangered Azuero spider monkey (Ateles geoffroyi azuerensis) and improve the soil for people who farm and ranch along the way.
NASA detects surge in deforestation in Malaysia, Bolivia during first quarter of 2014
Forest disturbance in Malaysia, Bolivia, Panama, and Ecuador surged during the first quarter of 2014, according to NASA data.
3 environmental reporting prize winners to explore drivers of deforestation, community forestry, and sustainable seafood in China
Mongabay.org, the non-profit arm of environmental science web site Mongabay.com, has selected winners of three environmental reporting prizes under its Special Reporting Initiatives (SRI) program. The three prizes, which were launched in January, explore the impacts of rising human consumption on forest and marine ecosystems. The winners, selected from more than 150 applicants by a panel of issue-area experts, include Robert S. Eshelman, Ruxandra Guidi and Bear Guerra, and Dominic Bracco II and Erik Vance.
Featured video: indigenous tribe faces loggers, ranchers, and murder in bid to save their forests
A new short film, entitled La Trocha, highlights the plight of the Wounaan people in Panama, who are fighting for legal rights to their forests even as loggers and ranchers carve it up. The conflict turned violent in 2012 when local chief, Aquilo Puchicama, was shot dead by loggers.
The next best thing: how well do secondary forests preserve biodiversity?
Secondary forests, which are areas that were previously cleared of old-growth cover, now comprise the majority of the forested areas in the United States, Europe, and elsewhere. A heavily debated issue is to what extent secondary forests are able to contribute to the preservation of biodiversity. In an article published in PLOS ONE, a group of researchers from the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute led by Michiel van Breugel evaluated the biodiversity preservation potential of secondary forests.
For agoutis, the night is fraught with peril
In a study recently published in the online Animal Behavior journal, scientists from the US and the Netherlands have examined the impact of predation patterns on prey's food foraging habits. The two-year long study on Barro Colorado Island, Panama, focused on the predator-prey relationship between the Central American agouti (Dasyprocta punctata), a common rainforest rodent, and the ocelot (Leopardus pardalis).
Rainforest news review for 2013
2013 was full of major developments in efforts to understand and protect the world's tropical rainforests. The following is a review of some of the major tropical forest-related news stories for the year. As a review, this post will not cover everything that transpired during 2013 in the world of tropical forests. Please feel free to highlight anything this post missed via the comments section at the bottom. Also please note that this review focuses only on tropical forests.
Natural sponges: forests help moderate floods, droughts
A new study adds further evidence for the 'sponge effect' of forests.
Journalists win environmental news reporting prizes
Mongabay's internship program has benefited from the hard work and great environmental reporting of more than 30 writing interns since the program's inception in July 2012. This year, Mongabay asked this pool of contributing authors to submit their most compelling piece out of over 150 articles. The submissions were then reviewed by a panel.
Recovering forests 'heal' themselves by speeding up nitrogen fixation
Nitrogen is colorless, odorless and tasteless, but all life on earth depends on it. Without it, our bodies cannot synthesize the nucleic acids that make up our DNA, or the protein-forming amino acids that are the very building blocks of our cells. Problematically, atmospheric nitrogen is relatively inert or nonreactive. This has created a unique biological dependency on a process called nitrogen fixation—where inert nitrogen from the atmosphere is converted into more reactive ammonia, a major component of soil fertilizers.
Attempt to export nearly-extinct pygmy sloths sets off international incident in Panama
Last Monday, the police officer on morning duty at Isla Colón International Airport, Panama noticed some foreigners loading crates with what appeared to be animals on a private jet. Finding this suspicious, he alerted his supervisor. Within minutes the local police chief, the mayor of Bocas, the director of the regional office of the National Environmental Authority (ANAM), community leaders and heads of local conservation organizations were informed about the incident. Little by little, a crowd of concerned citizens from Bocas town gathered around what turned out to be eight pygmy sloths – some of the rarest mammals on Earth
Scientists outline how to save nearly 70 percent of the world's plant species
In 2010 the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) pledged to set aside 17 percent of the world's land as protected areas in addition to protecting 60 percent of the world's plant species—through the Global Strategy for Plant Conservation (GSPC)—by 2020. Now a new study in Science finds that the world can achieve both ambitious goals at the same time—if only we protect the right places. Looking at data on over 100,000 flower plants, scientists determined that protecting 17 percent of the world's land (focusing on priority plant areas) would conserve 67 percent of the world's plants.
UN REDD program failing to build capacity for indigenous people in Panama
The U.N.'s Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation (UN-REDD) program may be faltering in Panama due to its failure to build capacity for indigenous people who should play a central role in the initiative, argue researchers writing in the journal Nature.
Researchers produce the most accurate carbon map for an entire country
Researchers working in Panama have produced the most accurate carbon map for an entire country. Using satellite imagery and extremely high-resolution Light Detection and Ranging (LiDAR) data from airplane-based sensors, a team led by Greg Asner produced a detailed carbon map across the Central American country's forests. The map reveals variations in forest carbon density resulting from elevation, slope, climate, vegetation type, and canopy coverage.
Why Panama's indigenous pulled out of the UN's REDD program
This week in Lombok, Indonesia, the Policy Board of the United Nations climate change program known as UNREDD is addressing the first major test of the 2007 UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples of the United Nations, which recognizes the right of Indigenous People to stop projects in their territories that could endanger their traditions and livelihoods. The National Coordinating Body of the Indigenous People of Panama pulled out of UNREDD’s national program in February and have called on the United Nations to close the program.
Frankenfish or scientific marvel?: giant GM salmon await U.S. approval
It is hard to think of a more unlikely setting for genetic experimentation or for raising salmon: a rundown shed at a secretive location in the Panamanian rainforest miles inland and 1,500m above sea level. But the facility, which is owned by an American company AquaBounty Technologies, stands on the verge of delivering the first genetically modified food animal—a fast-growing salmon—to supermarkets and dinner tables.
Indigenous protester killed by masked assailants in Panama over UN-condemned dam
A Ngäbe indigenous Panamanian, Onesimo Rodriguez, opposing the Barro Blanco hydroelectric dam project was killed last Friday evening by four masked men. His body was then thrown into a nearby stream where it was discovered the following day. Onesimo Rodriguez was attacked with a companion in Las Nubes, after they had attended a demonstration in Cerro Punta, Bugaba, against the dam. His companion, whose identity is being withheld for security reasons, received serious injuries but managed to escape and is having his injuries tended to by the local indigenous community.
Panama's indigenous people drop REDD+
The National Coordinator of Indigenous Peoples in Panama (COONAPIP) has announced it is withdrawing from the United Nation's REDD+ program following a series of disagreements. The exit of COONAPIP from the negotiating table with UN officials and the Panamanian government will likely be a blow to the legitimacy of REDD+ in the central American country. REDD, or Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation, is a program to reduce emissions by safeguarding forests.
2 small companies recognized for tropical forest-friendly approaches
Two Latin American companies have won the WWF Switzerland Tropical Forest Challenge, a competition that aims to highlight and support for-profit entities that have a positive impact on conserving tropical forests.
Rainforests teem with insects, most of which are unknown, finds study
Researchers in Panama have published the results of the most comprehensive survey of arthropods in a small area of tropical rainforest. At a high level, the findings surprise no one: the Panamanian rainforest is full of insects, spiders, and crustaceans. Yet the results also show how little is known about this large group of organisms — 60-70 percent of the species are thought to be new to science.
Scientists name new snake species to criticize mine plans in Panama (photos)
While scientists increasingly name new species after celebrities in order to gain much-needed attention for the world's vanishing biodiversity, researchers describing a new snake species from Panama have taken a different route. Dubbing the new serpent, Sibon noalamina ('no to the mine!' in Spanish), the scientists are hoping the multicolored snake's unusual name will draw attention to mining and deforestation issues in Panama's remote Tabasará mountains.
Indigenous groups in Panama wait for UN REDD to meet promises
A dispute over the implementation of REDD+ (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation) in Panama has pitted the United Nations (UN) against the nation's diverse and large indigenous groups. Represented by the National Coordinator of Indigenous Peoples in Panama (COONAPIP), indigenous groups charge that the UN has failed to meet several pledges related to kick-starting REDD+ with their support, including delaying a $1.79 million payment to the group to begin REDD+-related activities. The on-going dispute highlights the perils and complexities of implementing REDD+, especially concerns that the program might disenfranchise indigenous groups who have long been the stewards of their forest territories.
Less than 100 pygmy sloths survive
The pygmy three-toed sloth (Bradypus pygmaeus) is one of the world's most endangered mammals, according to a detailed survey of the population, which found less than 100 sloths hanging on in their island home. Only described by researchers in 2001, the pygmy sloth lives on a single uninhabited island off the coast of Panama. But human impacts, such as deforestation of the island's mangroves, may be pushing the species to extinction.