The Amazonian wilderness harbors the greatest number of species on this planet and is an irreplaceable
resource for present and future generations. Amazonia is crucial for maintaining global climate and genetic
resources, and its forest and rivers provide vital sources of food, building materials, pharmaceuticals, and
water needed by wildlife and humanity. The Los Amigos watershed in the state of Madre de Dios,
southeastern Peru, is representative of the pristine lowland moist forest once found throughout most of
upper Amazonian South America. Threats to tropical forests occur in the form of fishing, hunting, gold
mining, timber extraction, impending road construction, and slash-and-burn agriculture.
The Los Amigos watershed, consisting of 1.6 million hectares (3.95 million acres), still offers the
increasingly scarce opportunity to study rainforest as it was before the disruptive encroachment of modern
human civilization. Because of its relatively pristine condition and the immediate need to justify it as a
conservation zone, this area deserves intensive, long-term projects aimed at botanical training, ecotourism,
biological inventory, and information synthesis. On July 24, 2001, the government of Peru and the Amazon
Conservation Association signed a contractual agreement creating the first long-term permanently
renewable conservation concession. To our knowledge this is the first such agreement to be implemented
in the world. The conservation concession protects 340,000 acres of old-growth Amazonian forest in the
Los Amigos watershed, which is located in southeastern Peru. This watershed protects the eastern flank of
Manu National Park and is part of the lowland forest corridor that links it to Bahuaja-Sonene National Park.
The Los Amigos conservation concession will serve as a mechanism for the development of a regional
center of excellence in natural forest management and biodiversity science. Several major projects are
being implemented at the Los Amigos Conservation Area. Louise Emmons is initiating studies of mammal
diversity and ecology in the Los Amigos area. Other projects involve studies of the diversity of arthropods,
amphibians, reptiles, and birds. Robin Foster has conducted botanical studies at Los Amigos, resulting in
the labeling of hundreds of plant species along two kilometers of trail in upland and lowland forest. Michael
Goulding is leading a fisheries and aquatic ecology program, which aims to document the diversity of fish,
their ecologies, and their habitats in the Los Amigos area and the Madre de Dios watershed in general.
With support from the Amazon Conservation Association, and in collaboration with U.S. and Peruvian
colleagues, the Botany of the Los Amigos project has been initiated.
At Los Amigos, we are attempting to develop a system of preservation, sustainability, and scientific
research; a marriage between various disciplines, from human ecology to economic botany, product
marketing to forest management. The complexity of the ecosystem will best be understood through a
multidisciplinary approach, and improved understanding of the complexity will lead to better management.
The future of these forests will depend on sustainable management and development of alternative
practices and products that do not require irreversible destruction. The botanical project will provide a
foundation of information that is essential to other programs at Los Amigos. By combining botanical studies
with fisheries and mammology, we will better understand plant/animal interactions. By providing names, the
botanical program will facilitate accurate communication about plants and the animals that use them.
Included in this scenario are humans, as we will dedicate time to people-plant interactions in order to learn
what plants are used by people in the Los Amigos area, and what plants could potentially be used by
people. To be informed, we must develop knowledge. To develop knowledge, we must collect, organize,
and disseminate information. In this sense, botanical information has conservation value. Before we can
use plant-based products from the forest, we must know what species are useful and we must know their
names. We must be able to identify them, to know where they occur in the forest, how many of them exist,
how they are pollinated and when they produce fruit (or other useful products). Aside from understanding
the species as they occur locally at Los Amigos, we must have information about their overall distribution in
tropical America in order to better understand and manage the distribution, variation, and viability of their
genetic diversity. This involves a more complete understanding of the species through studies in the field
The author's main purpose in the passage is to