The Neotropical Ecology Lab members share concerns about environmental degradation and climate justice and an interest in advancing solutions agendas. It has been said that knowledge is power. As a research group, we strive to use science and knowledge co-creation to empower communities, decision-makers, entrepreneurs, and other stakeholders on the road towards sustainable presents and futures. Right now, our main research project is Bacurú Drõa, an Old-Growth Forest Observatory.
"Ground-Truthing in Panama" documents the Neotropical Ecology Lab's participatory, on-the-ground validation of LiDAR carbon stock measurements in Indigenous territories of eastern Panama.
The project Bacurú Drõa (Old-Growth Forests) was co-developed in collaboration with the Traditional Emberá Authorities of Tierras Colectivas of Balsa with two main objectives:
- Establish a community-driven Old-Growth Forest Observatory in full partnership with the Emberá people of the Balsa River to enhance knowledge of old-growth forests, protect biodiversity and improve the local economy.
- Accompany the development of a local governance ensuring forest and species conservation, and cultural survival and food-security through capacity-building, empowering and innovative research driven methods.
These objectives will be achieved by training and working with the six communities of the Tierras Colectivas of Balsa to quantify forest carbon stocks, document tree diversity dynamics over time and carry out inventories of birds, mammals, frogs and insects. The data collected under Bacurú Drõa, the Old-Growth Forest Observatory, will not only be of scientific importance, but will also provide a basis for management plans. A 15-hectare permanent forest plot established following the Forest-GEO methodology forms the scientific core of Bacurú Drõa. Initial results from the permanent plot highlight the presence of a much higher tree diversity than elsewhere in Panama as well as numerous undescribed species.
To ensure the long-term success of these objectives we also propose fully engaging with the people of the Tierras Collectivas of Balsa by:
- Training youth from the Balsa community in technology to breach the digital dive and allow them to shape their own future;
- Ensuring that the work of the Old Growth Forest Observatory includes women as well as men, Youth as well as elders while technicians will be selected from each of the six communities by the traditional authorities.
- Ensuring that the knowledge building from Bacurú Drõa considers at the same time and with equal importance traditional and scientific knowledge systems.
The Bacurú Drõa managing team comprises three Emberá coordinators:
Catherine Potvin (McGill University, Canada), David Mitre (Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute, Panama -ForestGEO), Hector Barrios (Universidad de Panama, Panama) form the core scientists of the project. The team’s experience and diversity offer the right set of skills, drive, and experience to lead Bacurú Drõa.
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9 WWF, WWF Living Forests Report: Chapter 5. Saving Forests at Risk, World Wildlife Fund for Nature, Gland, Switzerland, 2015.