| Natural Resources,
Biodiversity, Integrated Management and Regulation: general considerations
Maurizio G. Paoletti (1)
David Pimentel (2)
(1) Department of Biology, Padova University,
35100-Padova, IT;2 Department of Entomology, Cornell University, Ithaca
NY.USA; corresponding author, e-mail:firstname.lastname@example.org
To attenuate the loss of biodiversity, more knowledge
on the subject is needed. In most cases, local biodiversity is represented
by resources such as food, medicine, lumber and construction, fodder,
and esthetics and frequently the assessment and protection of biodiversity
is based on the knowledge and traditions of the local population. What
is experienced as useful has less probability of being destroyed. The
destruction of biodiversity is due largely to the limited knowledge
currently available and the lack of knowledge concerning its potential
value as resource. Most local knowledge of plants and animals is based
on their use as edible resources by the population. If local knowledge
of species as resources is obliterated, the potential exchange of villagers
versus local or distant markets will decrease and resources use will
disappear. Local knowledge concerning biodiversity, therefore, needs
to be promoted, extended and disseminated outside of the villages and
By protecting local cultures, biodiversity can also be protected. This
knowledge has to be transferred to other units of society, both in the
same areas and outside of them in order for them to become a source
of local income and potential of sustainable life for villagers. Educational
programs should be developed locally and local markets have to be promoted.
To really improve the landscape quality in Western civilization, as
in the tropics, more knowledge and information is needed regarding the
species and their use and interest. More emphasis has to be given to
local knowledge, its maintenance and transfer.
Most civilizations eradicated their bases for sustainability and collapsed
in 30-60 generations [1, 2]. In the past 2000 years, some societies
have destroyed their topsoil and soil fertility through soil erosion,
salinization, loss of organic matter and nutrients, plus the destruction
of native biodiversity. For instance, “Mesopotamia… hosts
today less than one-fourth as many peoples as it supported during the
reign of Hammurabi nearly four thousand years ago” . On these
assumptions, pessimistic views suggest that it is far from possible
to deal with an exponentially increasing human population and that the
quality of life is constantly subjected to decrease with constraints
including wars, migrations, famine and epidemics that could be linked
or exacerbated by climate change and “religious” movements
Natural resources, and biodiversity in particular, are limited in space
and time, and the capability of human populations to carry out sustainable
management strategies are linked to different limits, which include
among the most notable: management experience, knowledge and tradition
of local situations, economic pressure for short-term results, property
strategies, policies and behaviors of social groups and leadership,
appropriate ethics and political rules .
In particular, environmental resources need time to be properly understood
and properly managed to avoid their loss or devastation. Impacts, such
as fire, are associated to human colonization and most types of agriculture.
For instance, the first consistent presence of carbon residues in Central
American soils in Panama 11,200 years BP, are associated with the arrival
of the first humans . As well, the killing and destruction of 24
genera of North American mammal macro-fauna (reported as overkill) was
apparently caused by the first groups of hunters around 12,000 years
B.P. [6, 7] who invaded the North American Continent and was a consequence
of their inexperience in dealing in a sustainable way with resources
new to them (large mammals). In fact, it has been suggested that the
collapse of species due to human migrations is part of the lack of knowledge.
In Africa, a similar loss of species has not occurred, perhaps due to
a better and longer co-evolution of humans and the macro-fauna [7, 8].
These losses of biodiversity affected plants as well. For instance,
it has been observed that in Central America large fruits could not
be disseminated as a consequence of the destruction of these large mammal
browsers. In addition, the loss of spider monkeys in the Brazilian Amazon
affected the dissemination of the plants that produced their preferred
fruits. For instance, it has been observed that abandoned fields and
previously rural areas caused the loss of species of birds and invertebrates
[9, 10] and, in the same way, intensively cultivated areas can reduce
most biodiversity . But, at the same time if properly managed, both
agricultural and/or agroforestry activities can provide sufficient food
and shelter for the inhabitants and protect biodiversity or manage it
at a higher level [12, 13, 14].
This paper attempts to indicate actions that may be taken to reduce
the decline of natural resources and promote sustainability as a follow-up
to the discussions and documents resulting from the Johannesburg 2002
convention, which are the consequence of the previous output of Rio
1992, Cartagena 2000 and Montreal 2001, promoted by the United Nations.
Biodiversity is an attractive
subject but: how many species live on the planet and what is our current
knowledge of them?
Various observers have pointed out that Rio and Cartagena have made
little or no substantial improvement in attenuating the loss of biodiversity
and/or loss of species, not to mention the transformation of land use,
at Johannesburg it was indicated that (World Summit on Sustainable Development
art 42): "... by 2010 a significant reduction in the current rate
of loss of biological diversity". Perhaps the problem is still
to account for the species, all species, the foodwebs, recognize them
and appropriately monitor and possibly use them in a sustainable way.
This is a key problem involving education, local preservation, maintenance
of knowledge, the possibility given to the local cultures to “sell”
their “use of biodiversity” to other people that are interested
in using or appreciating them. The major problem, again is educational,
to make the local knowledge in the tropics available and acceptable
outside of the local villages and to extend it to potential other consumers.
People living in towns, that could buy local production, do not have
this knowledge and do not like species from “outside the boundary
of their knowledge”. In addition, some key species from the wild
can be subjected to rapid decline if the demand from towns creates pressure
on the villagers for hunting, collecting or farming of just a few targeted
species. Modern Agriculture tends to focus on only 15 species of plants
and 8 species of livestock and these organisms provide between 80% to
90% of the world’s food supply . The core problem is to open
the panorama of species we normally consider as edible in order to include
the ones we do not know!
The number of species living on our planet is still a
major question of debate and the answer is far from being resolved,
as documented in the literature. For instance, the total number of species
described is around 1,8 million. However, the number of species forecasted,
dominated by small sized invertebrates, is 7,2-82 million [16, 17, 13,
The problem is that science in general and, in particular, taxonomy,
the branch dealing with the description of animals and plants, have
been traditionally focused on a few groups, such as, mammals, birds,
large plants and butterflies, and that most inconspicuous organisms
such as mites, most tiny inconspicuous insects, earthworms, microorganisms,
etc., have been nearly ignored. What is the reason of this? Reading
the chronicle of Alfred Russel Wallace, a foremost Explorer and Naturalist
traveling in the Amazon and the Far East Indonesian Archipelago in the
XIX century, it is interesting to note that, in essence, the kind of
creatures he collected especially were large insects, birds, mammals
and reptiles - the colorful or conspicuous ones - that could be sold
by his very active agent in London, Mr. Samuel Stevens  to museums
and that where attractive to private amateurs and collectors. Possibly
today knowledge is still influenced by peoples’ limitation in
appreciating and accounting for diversity of biota. Simplification is
always the main road of performance of common people. For instance,
for most students, earthworm is a name for just one species or a few
- two or three - for people that like line fishing. For the Ye’Kuana
living in the Alto Orinoco, earthworms receive at least 16 ethnonames
and at least two species are eaten and considered a gourmet food .
All these species have not a scientific name yet. For taxonomists, there
are at least 5,000 earthworm species living on the planet, but most
people in developed countries, even if well-educated, believe that only
“one species “ covers this category of invertebrates.
These differences in people’s current knowledge and “rational
knowledge” make the tragedy of the limited protection of biodiversity
even more problematic. It is difficult to protect or even notice plants
and animals that are not known, used or considered of any use. In some
cases, the idea tout curt of interdiction from hot spot areas of humans
can be the only way to maintain biodiversity, however much knowledge
coped with local inhabitants is going lost with the local illiterate
For instance, the Yanomamo living in the forests of Amazonas, Venezuela
consider edible about 392 (out of the 521 they normally recognize currently
with ethnonames) species they hunt, trap, collect or cultivate in their
forest gardens (Tab. I).
Therefore, the essential local knowledge is based on species that are
or are not useful, but this oral knowledge is based on direct experience
of using these resources . For instance, the Yanomamo eat 25 different
types of caterpillars but currently, only one species has a defined
scientific name: Omoposhi (Table II and Fig. 7) just one example
of the incredible difference between local and scientific knowledge.
The Yanomamo as well know and name many different caterpillars being
Do we eat all of the species available on
the planet? Is what we eat a reasonable picture of biodiversity?
Diamond, 2002, has suggested that most species that have been domesticated,
especially the ones we know today, cereals as well as animals, such
as cows, goats, sheep and hogs, are the “only ones” that
were easier to transform (domesticate) and to be kept in artificial
conditions developed in the new environments called agroecosystems.
Seven areas of major domestication processes of animals and plants have
been described thus far [21, 22].
Is he true? Key species adopted by humans are no more than 20 that supply
up to 85% of world’s food base. About 5,000 plants have agronomic
interest but around 20,000 plants (of a total of 250,000 described)
and possibly 6,000 animals, more currently, are estimated to be used
as food in some part of the world [15, 23, 24, 25, 26, 27], all representing
the diversity known by humans. But, in our opinion, the proportion of
the few most-used species of the 1.8 million already described on the
planet is still inappropriate.
It has been argued that insects, together with other small invertebrates,
represent alone about 85% of all described species. But at least 10
million species of insects have prudently been forecasted as living
on the planet, ten time the number of those described . Some projections
have given numbers ranging between 30 and 82 million insect species
Then, again, the number of species is far larger than the few species
selected to be accommodated in our domestic desk dominated by species
domesticated in the Fertile Crescent and, in most cases, local food
and more diverse food is not less nutritious or healthy than Western
food found in on supermarket shelves [29, 26, 30, 31, 32, 33].
But when we inquire about the number of species known and considered
edible, the situation is quite disarming, also among “specialists”,
such as Biology students (Table III). In addition, when we examine the
five most-cited species, three always appear - tomatoes, carrots and
cherries or apples - all red in color! Apparently, our ability in recording
edible species is determined by color?
Is it possible to think about alternative
resources coming from the biodiversity to improve the environmental
conditions of the landscape?
The approach toward resources can be pessimistic or optimistic:
Are the species that we use (mostly in the Western culture) the right
ones, the only ones available that have just been domesticated and spread
everywhere? The case is wheat, rice, corn, sorghum, barley, oats, soybeans,
potatoes and so they have been spread everywhere and dominate cultures
like China, Australia, Europe and Africa. The same for animals - the
large animals - cows, hogs, sheep, goats, horses, chickens, ducks, salmons
and trout that have dominated most of the world panorama . Another
view suggests much more diversity based on the many different species
adopted in areas with high biodiversity and based on local knowledge
and experience, linked to thousands of species not currently found in
our supermarkets but locally considered as food and a considerable resource
but not appreciated enough outside of their small range of attention
and use [30, 31, 32, 33, 4, 35, 36].
Perhaps a few examples can clarify the current situation.
A - strange spinach.
During the Vietnam war, under the pressure of bombing paddy rice fields,
many communities in the area of Hue survived by eating an Asiatic sister
species of the sweet potato, the water spinach or water cabbage (Ipomoea
aquatica) that thrives as a sort of hydroponic culture on channels,
ponds and small lakes and has a very short life cycle (Personal communication,
1996 in Hue); and the plant is still largely cultivated in Vietnam and
China, both in aquatic and terrestrial environments  (Fig. 1).
Fig. 1. Water cabbage or water spinach, Ipomoea aquatica, largely
cultivated in China and Vietnam as hidroponic and terrestrial green
vegetable, very nutritious and highly productive, with short time cycle
(left and centre). A mixture up to 52 different species of wild plants
is collectively been collected in spring in some villages in Friuli,
Nort Eastern Italy and is called pistic (right).
B - Vietnamese minorities.
In Vietnam, over 50 different minorities live in the country. Some live
in the mountane-forested areas. In general, the King Vietnamese, based
on lowland paddy rice culture, believe that the mountainous minorities
are undernourished due to lack of paddy rice for several months in the
year being their dry rice less productive . This is partially true
since some minorities consistently use natural resources, non-conventional
food that they collect in wild areas (by hunting, trapping and gathering)
but, in general, these activities are not allowed or even tolerated
or regarded as being unimportant by most observers belonging to the
paddy rice culture or to the Western culture (linked to the Fertile
Once, in a local primary school, at Thuong Lo, of Katu peoples in the
mountains near Hue, one of us (MGP) asked the pupils, using an interpreter,
if they where eating insects: everybody was looking at him as if he
were a “stupid provocative man”. He insisted, asking if
they had tasted the small creamy legless bug (possibly three genera
of Curculionidae live inside bamboo following dr. C O’Brien: Otidocephalus,
Cyrtotrachelus, and Macrocheirus) inside the bamboo
shoots in the field margins and forest close to the village: everybody
was now waving their arms enthusiastically, saying that it was a very
good raw snack. Have been asked many people living in the town at Hue
and even school teachers, food scientists and agronomists and nobody
could mention this local use (fig. 2).
Fig 2. Edible grub of weevils living on bamboo shuts in Vietnam at Kato
village near Hue. A nutritionally efficient food very appreciated by
C. – Wild weeds adopted as healthy traditional food in the Creta
Cretans use olive oil, but, less known is their high consumption of
up 26 wild plants including (Portulaca oleracea, Portulacaceae)
very rich in F2 vitamin (alpha-linolenic acid, one essential polyunsaturated
fatty acid) in wich the average Westerners suffers a deficiency .
Most epidemiologic studies have shown the superior health profile of
inhabitants of Creta .
If people in towns do not become acquainted with their rural landscape
they risk an increased monotony and the species diversity declines.
Promoting diversity is a culture that accepts quite a different combination
of species as food, accepts to support income of rural areas and for
the rural communities, and helps to maintain diversity by appreciating
the diversity of food in time and space. Commercialization needs standard
production: products easily harvested, transported and stored. Maintaining
biodiversity in rural or forest areas or savannas needs a kind of exchange
with consumers that is different and more varied during the year and
in different seasons. Food (vegetables and fruits) with minor blemishes,
size and color differences and variability have to be accepted so that
the farmer does not have to opt for the exaggerated use of pesticides
[40, 41]. Links and joint projects are needed among local communities
and people living in large towns in order to exchange knowledge and
improve understanding. In most cases, local food, including small unconventional
invertebrates, has nutritional value attributes and, for many reasons,
is similar to the conventional food (Table IV).
Management strategies and improvement of education
Reducing the environmental impact is an issue of sustainable farming
systems, that is: reducing erosion, soil loss, loss of diversity of
biota, maintenance of landscape diversity and harmony and energy conservation.
This process is complicated by the destination of products and their
commercialization constraints. Making consumers more aware of the links
in product strategies, environment quality, and fate, under different
options of production could be essential. Educational programs in local
villages, house gardens, farms, natural environments and in urbanized
areas are quite important to encourage the use of new goods. Good communication
is needed as well as appropriate educational frameworks, among different
actors. Citizen consumers need to improve their knowledge of biodiversity
and the use of different foods. In addition producers, ecologists, sociologists,
economists, and psychologists must to be involved in the educational
program over a period of time, to encourage the use of biodiversity
in the food system .
The constraints of science-scientists and
The transfer of knowledge is a complex operation within human communities
and its development is essential to an evolutionary patrimony of human
communities. Biodiversity recognition among different human groups is
not well-known and the amount of knowledge in different groups is, as
well, poorly understood especially in the non-literate societies.
One can argue that experience accumulated in an environment over generations
can improve with time and is based on trials, collection, hunting, failures
and positive results. As well, the domestication processes that have
provided humans with major crops and livestock are based on a limited
number - seven main areas on the planet and are based on a limited number
of species [21, 34]. However, it is not true that among millions of
species on the planet, there are not further materials that can be considered
as potential new crops or livestock [26, 36]. These unknown resources
are, in most cases, in the hands of local people.
There is need to develop and stimulate local semi-domestication processes.
For instance, some mini-livestock, such as rodents, can be attractive
for their tasty meat (Fig. 3). Presently they are hunted in the wild
of South America but could be domesticated . The local use and the
maintenance of non-written knowledge about species has to be increased
and reinforced. Valuable plants have never been utilized outside of
very localized areas. A good example could be the YaraYara
– a delicious fruit as large as an orange, (Fig. 4) from Alto
Orinoco or several cousins of the tomato; Tupiro and Tupirillo,
growing in the Amazon  (Fig. 5) or berries and small fruits, rich
in vitamins (Fig. 6).
The educational programs have to transfer knowledge from local communities
to large “civilized” communities, not only “vice versa”.
Educational programs and small-project support has to be provided for
local activities through Non-Governmental Organizations (NGO) dealing
with these objectives, and providing knowledge of such species outside
of the local villages.
Very few projects try to maintain and improve local knowledge, increase
it and disseminate it to “the markets” in the large neighboring
One example could be some fruits that have never been adopted, even
in the nearest Indian markets, which are not collected because no one
asked for them (Fig 4-10). Aromatic (Fig. 10), medicinal, and wood-
fuel plants should be developed.
Fig.3. A very appreciated hunted meat in Amazon is Agouti paca
e rodent that eat fruits, seeds, roots and leaves and that could be
domesticated as many other small mammals (minilivestock) in other areas
Fig.4. A very conspicuous and delicious fruit from Amazon forests (Alto
Orinoco, Venezuela) that has never been cultivated (but also never commercialized
even in the local markets) Yara Yara for the Piaroa (Amazonas,
Fig. 5. A small cousin of tomato, Maiapi, from Amazon (Alto
Orinoco) very appreciated by the Curripaco indians but not having had
any local spread even in the indian markets, and a
more known species,tupiro appreciated by the Guajibo (Amazonas, Venezuela).
Fig. 6. Edible berries
Iranak, collected by the Yanomamo in the forest (Amazonas,
Venezuela). A delicious fruit similar to grape found in Amazon (Paurouma
cercopifolia) here at Lago Agrio Ecuador; red edibleberry, Mututa,
good when ripe and cooked, eaten in Alto Orinoco by the Ye’Kuana;
edible row fruit,
macuculo, in Guajibo village, Amazonas, Venezuela.
Fig. 7. Some edible insects
Large grasshopper, Ser servato, utilized by the Guajibo as
roasted gourmet; caterpillars, Opomosci, eaten, roasted, by
the Yanomamo and termites soldiers, Seri, eaten by the Ye’Kuana
Fig. 8. Toads, Yoyo for the Yanomamo, very appreciated food.
One common erbivore Conbawa (Iguana iguana) largely
eaten by the Piaroa (Amazonas, Venezuela).
Fig. 9. Edible earthworms, Motto and Kuru, are appreciated
by the Ye’Kuana and are eaten row and smooked (Amazonas, Venezuela).
Fig. 10. One edible sauce, Catara, made with different ingredients
including pepper, Atta ants, commercialized in the local markets
in Amazonas, Venezuela.
Knowledge of biodiversity and the sustainable domestication of plants
animals have to be continuous processes in local villages [44, 45, 46].
Without these transfers, a new trend in considering local knowledge,
experience and resources related to biodiversity will be exceedingly
difficult. The most important focus for planners, experts and teachers
is to modestly learn from the local people.
Everyone traveling in the tropics has found large projects, centrally
or locally directed, that have provided cars, computers and buildings
to some groups of people focused on investigating biodiversity. In general
bureaucrats, sometimes heads of some local organization are leading
the studies. In most cases, these projects do not encourage the exchange
of knowledge available locally to different groups of people to help
maintain their knowledge and generate new knowledge in order to improve
a sustainable development of biodiversity. In most cases, only the package
of species known by “experts” in the projects are suggested
as resources, and little attention is being paid to local biodiversity
resources and their use.
Encouraging local knowledge in schools, maintaining ethnonames, and
transcending the boundary of each village with the “local”
knowledge are mechanisms to develop appropriate management strategies
to produce sustainable use of local resources.
Efforts are needed to encourage local cultures and maintain their knowledge
alive and, where possible, export of some biodiversity resources. Ecotourism
and export agreements can help but risk submerging small illiterate
communities has to be properly managed.
Westerners, as well, need an improved educational framework in order
to better incorporate biodiversity knowledge, their use and their potential
also as food, medicine, and forestry systems.
Plants, animals and microbe with medicinal, pesticidal and aromatic
properties provide many opportunities for people in all nations. Reasonable
laws are needed to protect national resources and prevent the introduction
of pest species.
Equitable strategies to develop and manage different species using local
knowledge have to be implemented and sustained.
Notes: In most cases, “new non-conventional food” plants and
animals have been reported here with only their local ethnic names to
give credit of their biodiversity to local communities .
Thanks to Gabriele Volpato and Stefano Vanzin Cristina Bittencourt Siqueira
for their valuable comments and editorial improvement. Special gratitude
to Alpina Begossi for having invited us to prepare this report for this
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Table I. Potential knowledge of species ethnonames
by a 11-year old Yanomamo in Amazonas, Venezuela. Column I lists the
total species potentially known in different categories, column II lists
the edible species, column III lists ethnonames collected by a missionary
during many years of contact with villagers in Alto Orinoco. Columns
I and II were obtained by a group of seven Yanomamo of different villages;
they listed the species “by memory”.
KNOWLEDGE OF THE YANOMAMI
tentative, very prudential, assessment
|Plants conuco ICARI
|For fishing (barbasco
And making traps )
|Trees in the forest
|Trees bearing fruits
136 (fruits and roots)
122 (incl 6 which are not edible)
37 (incl. 19 which are not edible)
(incl. 6 which are not edible)
|Caterpillar consumption and knowledge
among the Yanomamo July 1997
(the same as the Piaroa)
MAMO CORI CINA
*WAGIOWAGIO NATO behuco
KANAIIHA HAWARI behuco?
ATARI HAHI mata
TOHO TOTO behuc
SCAWARA CURIMI mata
PENAHE’ OHATA WACO mata
*PEENA PEENA CURATASCI COTE mata
*MAPAYAWA HENA mata
Table III. Estimated (maximum) number of species
known and consumed as food by western civilized peoples and forest-
and savanna-dwelling peoples in Amazonas (Venezuela). Interviews were
performed by university personnel (1995-1996) using forms filled out
in class; oral interviews were carried out in Amerindian villages located
near Puerto Ayacucho, Amazonas (1997).
|Students at Padova University
The university students were attending animal ecology courses in their
third year at the University of Padova, for their degree in Natural
The Guajibo live in the savannas near P. Ayacucho, Amazonas, Venezuela.
The Curripaco are an expert river margin-dwelling group living near
P. Ayacucho, Amazona, Venezuela. The Piaroa and Yanomamo are more strictly
forest-living Amerindians in the Alto Orinoco, Amazonas, Venezuela.
The Yanomamo maintain strong links with the forest for their survival.
*Based on different sources and evaluations, the total number could
be around 1400 species.
Table IV. Nutritional value of some insects consumed
in tropical South America compared with other animal foods. Composition
per 100 g edible portion (from Dufour and Sanders, 1999).
|female ant Atta sexdens
|female ant Atta cephalotess
|River fish (smoke dried)
|Tapir (smoke dried)