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Document Type

Dissertation

Degree

Doctor of Philosophy

Department

Biology

Advisor's Name

Bradley C. Bennett

Advisor's Title

Committee Chair

Advisor's Name

William Vickers

Advisor's Name

David Lee

Advisor's Name

Carol Horvitz

Advisor's Name

Maureen Donnelly

Date of Defense

9-26-2008

Abstract

Lepidocaryum tenue Mart. (Arecaceae) is a small, understory palm of terra firme forests of the western and central Amazon basin. Known as irapai, it is used for roof thatch by Amazonian peoples who collect its leaves from the wild and generate income from its fronds and articles fabricated from them. Increasing demand has caused local concern that populations are declining. Cultivation attempts have been unsuccessful. The purpose of this study was to investigate market conditions and quantify population dynamics and demographic responses of harvested and unharvested irapai growing near Iquitos, Peru. Ethnobotanical research included participant surveys to determine movement of thatch tiles, called crisnejas, through Moronacocha Port. I also conducted a seed germination trial, and for four years studied five populations growing in communities with similar topography and soils but different land tenure and management strategies. Stage, survival, leaf production, and reproductive transitions were used to calculate ramet demographic rates and develop population projection matrices.

Weavers made an average of 20 - 30 crisnejas per day (90 – 130 leaves each), and earned US$0.09 to 0.70 each (US$1.80 to 21.00 per day). Average crisnejas per month sold per vendor was 2,955 with a profit range of US$0.05 to 0.32 per crisneja. Wholesalers worked with capital outlay from US$100 to 400, and an estimated ten to twenty vendors could be found at a given time. Consumers paid between US$0.23 to 1.20 per crisneja. Although differences in demographic rates by location existed, most were not significant enough to attribute to management. After 60 months, mean seed germination rate was 19.5 % in all media (37.9% in peat). Seedling survival was less than two percent after twelve months. Annual palm mortality was three percent, and occurred disproportionately in small (<50 cm) palms. Small palms grew more in height. Unharvested palms grew less than harvested palms. Large palms (>50 cm) produced more leaves, were more likely to reproduce, and collectors harvested them more frequently. Reproductive potentials (sexual and asexual) were low. Population growth rates were greater than or not significantly different from 1.0, indicating populations maintained or increased in size. Current levels of irapai harvest appear sustainable. DNA analysis of stems and recruits is recommended to understand population composition and stage-specific asexual fecundity.

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