The Chachapoyas, widely known as “warriors of the clouds” originally inhabited what is now the border region of the Departments Amazonas, San Martin and La Libertad in northern Peru, covering altitudes from 1500 – 4500m. Botanically this area is characterized by dense Andean cloud forest, as well as large areas of Paramo and drier Andean grasslands, in a profoundly glacially structured landscape. Archaeological data indicate that the valleys of the region held a population of at least 500,000 people in pre-Columbian times, while the current population only consists of 1-2,000 people at most. Parts of the area are of high touristic significance.
Preliminary floristic studies indicate a tremendous diversity of the region, but have not fully penetrated most of the area. Our own preliminary fieldwork found that most of the forests are not older than 4-500 years, and many forest areas, as well as all grasslands, contain widespread ruins of dwellings and tombs, as well as terraces as signs of dense previous human occupation.
The proposed project explores the floristic diversity of the region, as well as conduct ethnobotanical surveys in the few settlements in the target area. As such the project has four goals: 1) discover and document the flora of the region, 2) produce a vegetation map of the area, 3) discover and document the post-conquest traditional knowledge, 4) produce a flora and a plant use guide for the region and make them available to the local population.
Since 2008 we have been conducting a series of floristic expeditions to remote parts of the area not previously covered by botanical exploration in order to complete our overview of the local flora. Based on our initial surveys we predict a large number of new species to be discovered. In addition local community members are trained in botanical collection techniques in order to continue collection during the entire growing season.
As part of the project we conduct ethnobotanical interviews in the settlements in and bordering the research region in order to document the current traditional knowledge. Plant knowledge is highly influenced by Andean tradition, since many current inhabitants are migrants from the Department of Cajamarca. We also predict that vernacular plant nomenclature is closely linked to Andean tradition. This makes the project an interesting study on how newcomers deal with naming a diverse flora.
At the end of the projects all results will be presented to the community in a workshop, and will be made available in a flora and plant use guide in Spanish, to support efforts to preserve the traditional knowledge. All results will be covered by the “Nagoya Protocol on Access to Genetic Resources and the Fair and Equitable Sharing of Benefits Arising from their Utilization to the Convention on Biological Diversity.”