Conservation of an endemic palm in the mountains of Bolivia

Conservation Problem

The Bolivian endemic palm Syagrus yungasensis discovered in the Yungas Mountains of La Paz in 1996 and is threatened with extinction due to the deforestation for the cultivation of coca plantations. Known from only one location the risk of losing this endemic species due to fires and tree felling clearing the land is extremely worrying.

Project Goal

We aim to carry out comprehensive field surveys including the collection of seeds for propagation in order to establish ex situ conservation collections and reinforcement of the populations.

Why these species?

Syagrus yungasensis is an endemic palm species from Bolivia restricted to narrow valleys and steep slopes of the Yungas mountain ranges of La Paz (Real Cordillera), in the eastern Bolivian Andes. It grows between 750 to 1,500 m in narrow valleys and steep slopes where it has adapted very well to direct sunlight. Locally known as “unuto” or “coquito”, the children love collecting their fruits for their sweet juice. This palm grows close to coca plantations installed by local communities for the extraction of coca leaf.

 

What are we doing about it?

Since 2018 GTC is working with our local partner, Herbario Nacional de Bolivia in La Paz with the aims of ensuring the participation of local communities in the in situ conservation and ex situ regeneration plan for this species. To achieve this, we are carrying the following actions:

  • Field surveys to find out the full distribution and status of populations of this species
  • Establishing an experimental nursery and producing a propagation protocol.
  • Organizing engagement workshops with the local communities, authorities and schools with the aim of adopting strategies, actions and regulations for the protection of this species.

Fruits of Syagrus yungasensis (Credit: Mónica Moraes, Herbario Nacional de Bolivia)

Children harvesting the fruits (Credit: Mónica Moraes, Herbario Nacional de Bolivia)

Key achievements

In our first year of the project, we took important steps towards the project goals. Survey work has revealed new populations of Syagrus yungasensis prompting the revaluation of its conservation status. Seeds were collected from the different populations and germination trials are being carried out at the experimental research station nursery in Chirca. The saplings will be planted at the selected reinforcement sites in the Yungas. There have been talks with community local leaders for the delivery of an engagement workshop to increase the awareness and the protection of this emblematic Bolivian species.

Germination trials (Credit: Mónica Moraes, Herbario Nacional de Bolivia)

Did you know?

60% of Saint Lucians use resin from the lansan tree, principally as a slow-burning incense during religious ceremonies.