Illegal Palm Harvest

Chamaedorea is the most diverse palm genus in the Neotropics1 and includes some of the world’s most endangered palms.4 Belize is home to twelve different species.Chamaedorea ernesti-augusti, the fishtail palm, in particular is targeted for extraction from the Chiquibul.  It is found in tropical forests throughout Belize, Cayo, Stann Creek, and Toledo.17

The palm plays an important role in the forest ecosystem as it is low to the ground, providing shade and allowing soil to retain moisture. The fishtail palm only produces 1-2 leaves per year and its seeds are designed for bird dispersal (fishtail palm). In addition to playing an important role in the ecosystem, it is of great economic importance as it provides an income and livelihood for many Guatemalans. Its popularity in the floral industry comes from its ability to maintain a rich green color for 45 days after harvest (Fishatil Xate). Due to the demand for fishtail palm leaves in the international floral industry, illegal, unsustainable harvesting has greatly increased, decimating the fishtail population and reducing its reproductive capacity. Fourteen million leaves have been collected from the Chiquibul worth $624,592.00 (Xate Stocks at Risk). If collection continues at this rate, the species may face local extinction.

Palm extraction has been the driving factor for all other threats that the Chiquibul Forest faces, but today illegal logging has become the biggest threat to the Chiquibul as mahogany is very lucrative. Therefore, solutions have to be implemented rapidly to prevent further discovery of the natural riches of the Chiquibul.

Video one describes Xate ecology and the effects of leaf cutting on photosynthesis and plant growth. Video two discusses the effects of Xate extraction on the ecological community.

Fig. 7 Sources of stress and how they are affecting xate populations. Recreated from “Chiquibul Forest BRIM Framework” by FCD.

Screen Shot 2014-07-16 at 3.19.59 PM

Screen Shot 2014-07-16 at 3.21.18 PMFCD Tracks Newsletter January 2013

Required Reading:
15A biodiversity research, inventory and monitoring (BRIM) framework for the Chiquibul Forest– Unsustainable legal and/ illegal logging and non-timber forest products harvesting p. 26-27
16Conceptual Ecological Model of the Chiquibul/Maya Mountain Massif, Belize– Xate p. 323
4An Assesment of Xate Populations and the Effect of Habitat Complexity on Xate Stocks in the Chiquibul Forest, Belize- Abstract, Introduction, Discussion, & Conclusion
17Chamaedorea Ecology Flier

Bridgewater, S. (2012). A natural history of Belize: inside the Maya forest. Austin: University of Texas Press.
4FCD. An assessment of xate populations and the effect of habitat complexity on xate stocks in the chiquibul forest, belize. Friends for Conservation and Development.
17Garwood, N.C., Bridgewater, S. (2005). Palms of Belize.