Forest conservation multiplies açaí productivity, study shows


A pioneering study led in the Amazon reveals that the presence of native vegetation near açaí crops on solid ground can increase productivity up to five times compared to areas without forests. Published in the “Journal of Applied Ecology” in July, the research highlights the importance of integrated crop pollination, showing that forest conservation is more effective in boosting productivity, ensuring producers’ profits, and preserving biodiversity than managing native bees within the crops.

The article “Forest conservation maximizes açaí palm pollination services and yield in the Brazilian Amazon” is authored by a group of scientists from EMBRAPA Eastern Amazonia; EMBRAPA Environment; the Federal Institute of Education, Science, and Technology of Mato Grosso (IFMT); the University of Brasília (UnB); the Federal University of Bahia (UFBA); and the Federal University of Goiás (UFG).

The study emphasizes the relevance of the native Amazonian stingless bee, “Scaptotrigona postica,” as the most efficient pollinator of açaí palms. The researchers assessed 18 areas of açaí crops on solid ground in different cities in the state of Pará. The presence of forests surrounding the crops varied, and the results showed a significant increase in productivity in areas with at least 40% forest coverage.

“Previous studies have shown that the açaí palm has a wide diversity of floral visitors, such as bees, flies, wasps, beetles, and ants. However, native Amazonian bees are the most efficient pollinators of this palm,” recalls biologist Márcia Maués, a researcher at EMBRAPA.

To understand the impact of introducing beehives in mobile meliponaries to the crops and their relationship with the nearby forests, the researchers performed extensive fieldwork. The group assessed 18 areas of açaí crops on solid ground, distributed across seven cities in Pará. Selecting these areas was based on the presence of more or less forest in their vicinity. “In the study, we used a gradient of forest cover ranging from 10% to 40% surrounding or close to the crops, along with the abundance and diversity of wild pollinators present in the environment,” says Maués.

The integrated crop pollination approach involves both management of pollinators and the management of the landscape. This was the first time this methodology was used for açaí crops.

An economist at IFMT, Felipe Deodato da Silva e Silva emphasizes that açaí productivity was approximately five times higher in areas with preserved forests compared to areas with only 10% forest coverage. The management of stingless bees in areas with little forest was less effective than in areas with greater vegetation, indicating the crucial relevance of forests in increasing production. The introduction of colonies contributed to a 30% increase in the total number of bee visits to the açaí flowers. However, it was also seen that these bees reduced the abundance of wild bees visiting the açaí flowers by an average of 60% and the diversity of these species by 50%.

“The stingless bees displaced the insects that could have been visiting açaí flowers. They are very active, territorial, and efficient in collecting [pollen],” adds the researcher. She further points out that forest cover had the most significant effect on the increase in visitation rate, as competition between species was less pronounced in more forested environments. “In environments less forested due to the scarcity of wild bees and resources, the ‘Scaptotrigona’ dominated the area,” the scientist concludes.

Producers reported a 433% increase in productivity (tons per hectare of fruits) in areas with at least 40% conserved forest. One of the study’s conclusions is that forest conservation and integrated native pollination are essential to optimize açaí productivity on solid ground. The combination of these approaches may not only significantly increase production but also contribute to biodiversity preservation and ensure economic success for producers.

The study also revealed that the presence of forests resulted in considerably higher profits for producers since native bees already play an essential role in pollination. According to biologist Cristiano Menezes, a researcher at EMBRAPA Environment, this does not mean giving up bee management for açaí. It is essential to consider multiple possibilities for successful pollination, such as managing a greater diversity of native bees, as in nature, and improving the landscape surrounding the crops. “The forest area should be seen as an important asset that yields income for its owner. Restoration becomes an investment,” emphasizes the scientist.