In situ propagation of tropical bryophytes: A conservation alternative for illegal extraction of non-timber forest products in the northern Andes
Non timber forest products are viable economic alternative for rural communities that are deprived of land for agricultural or commercial practices. However, long term extraction of forest products can result in irreversible losses of diversity and stored carbon. Tropical montane forests in the northern Andes are particularly rich in bryophyte diversity and biomass. Bryophytes are collected from forests in the vicinity of urban areas to be sold as substrate for pot plants or as decorations during religious festivities. In Colombia human communities that used to collect bryophytes are now prosecuted under new environmental penal codes and a tense relationship between social equity and forest conservation has arisen. In this study we proposed the propagation and growth of the most important bryophytes to develop a production protocol economical viable for marginal rural communities. We selected four species of tropical mosses based on the local knowledge and use of the plants. Plants were fragmented in propagules of different size, and planted in contrasted substrates. Bryophytes were placed in plastic trays (55x75 cm) that could be used within the forest without disturbing the understory favoring the recollection of clean moss biomass. We harvested the mosses at the end of the experiment to estimate biomass and Nitrogen contents. Changes in cover were estimated monthly using our own developed software for image classification.
We selected four moss species after the traditional nwoledge of the local harversters: : Breutelia chrysea, Sphagnum sancto josephense, Thuidium peruvianum and Hypnum amabile. Our results showed that Hypnum amabile was the species with the fastest growth rate (16 cm2 / month~32%), and that smaller fragments have faster growth rates than larger fragments. Breutelia chrysea plants had very slow growth rates in all treatments. Sphagnum plants had the largest increment in biomass with a monthly production of 31% (20 g) in excess of the original mass. The implementation of our protocol will allow local communities to develop viable recollection strategies that will prevent further disturbances of the natural landscapes and reduce the risk of conflict between government officials and rural landless communities. The emphasis of the protocol is on the use of low cost materials that can be placed in public lands without affecting strategic ecosystems in the vicinity of large developing cities.