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19-Dec-2003

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Where are the young Brazil nut trees?



Hard, grapefruit-sized fruits with Brazil nuts inside. Each fruit contains 10 to 25 seeds or “Brazil nuts.” Image courtesy of Carlos Peres.
Click here for a full image.

If the Brazil nut industry in many Amazonian forests continues "business as usual," there will not be enough younger trees to replace the old trees as they die, according to a new study.



If you crack open the hard, dark brown shell of a Brazil nut, you’ll find an almost-white, meaty treat wrapped in a thin brown cover. Image courtesy of Carlos Peres.
Click here for a full image.

The scientists say that important changes need to be made to the way Brazil nuts are collected in order to maintain a healthy population of nut-producing trees.

If you crack open the hard, dark brown shell of a Brazil nut, you'll find an almost-white, meaty treat wrapped in a thin brown cover. Without the shell, Brazil nuts are about the size of a really fat caterpillar.

Brazil nuts are the only internationally-traded seed crop collected entirely from the wild.



A Brazil nut (Bertholletia excelsa) seedling. [Image courtesy of Carlos Peres]
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Brazil nut trees can grow about 160 feet tall (about 50 meters) and their trunks are some of the fattest in the forest. The nuts develop within hard fruits about the size and shape of a large grapefruit.



Brazil nut trees (above) can grow about 160 feet tall (about 50 meters) and their trunks are some of the fattest in the forest. Image courtesy of Carlos Peres.
Click here for a high resolution photograph.

Once the fruits fall to the ground, large rodents known as agoutis compete with humans for the harvest.

After performing a census of Brazil nut trees from 23 forest sites in the Amazon, Carlos Peres from the University of East Anglia in Norwich, England, and scientists from South America, Europe and the United States report that young Brazil nut trees have not adequately replaced increasingly older trees in areas of intense nut collection.

To help increase the number of Brazil nut tree youngsters, the authors suggest planting seeds and seedlings, limiting harvests and establishing harvest rotation programs that can provide stands with temporary vacations from fruit collection.

The study appears in the 19 December, 2003 issue of the journal Science.

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