Answers For Tomorrow

Answers for Tomorrow is a two-minute public radio program produced at WVRU-Radford and sponsored by the Radford University Artis College of Science and Technology. The program features information the research and activity of the faculty and students at Radford University in STEM and provides a quick lesson for listeners about the highlighted topic.  

Answers for Tomorrow -  Show 1:  How can a trip to your local supermarket help save the rainforest? 

The story of the Brazil nut tree is a wonderful example of local people driving rainforest preservation.  These nuts are impossible to farm economically because trees on plantations produce far fewer seeds than wild ones do.  I should also mention, that it is illegal to cut down Brazil nut trees, so you see them languishing in the middle of barren fields like sad memorials.  This stark image struck me as unusual when I was in Peru preparing for the Radford Amazonian Research Expedition. My guides went on to explain that one animal crucial to the success of the Brazil nut tree is the orchid bee.  Here’s where things really get interesting from a preservation point of view - we only find orchid bees in primary rainforest.

Female orchid bees are the only creatures capable of pollinating Brazil nut flowers, because they are the only pollinators strong enough to do so.  While the females are busy with their task, the male bees are out collecting pollen from bucket orchid flowers – supposedly the female bees find this scent irresistible.  Here’s the catch though, bucket orchids do not grow on Brazil nut trees – only on other trees in the surrounding forest.  So, without those trees and the orchid flowers growing in them - as in the case of a plantation or slash-and-burn agriculture - you don’t have any orchid bees and the Brazil nut trees produce little to no fruit and eventually die. 

In Peru, they know this, so they have these concessions or extractive preserves with large stands of wild Brazil nut trees surrounded by primary rainforest.  Many people make their living harvesting from these concessions every year.  It’s a beautiful example of rainforest preservation incentivized by the local economy. Everyone benefits!  So, go buy some brazil nuts.  Combined with a olive oil or a little cream, they make wonderful sauces – pesto for example – also, delicious on fried yucca.

Learn more about the Radford Amazon Research Expedition.