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Influence of habitat on the reproductive ecology of the Amazonian palm, Mauritia flexuosa, in Roraima, Brazil

Influence of habitat on the reproductive ecology of the Amazonian palm, Mauritia flexuosa, in Roraima, Brazil
Roxaneh Khorsand Rosa

2013

Department of Biological Sciences, Florida International University, Miami, FL 33199, UNITED STATES OF AMERICA.

ABSTRACT

Although Mauritia flexuosa (Arecaceae) plays a pivotal role in the ecology and economy of the Amazon, and occurs in a variety of habitats, little is known about the influence of habitat on the reproductive biology of this palm. My dissertation focuses on the reproductive biology of M. flexuosa in three habitats in Roraima, Brazil: undisturbed forest, undisturbed forest-savanna ecotone, and savanna disturbed by plantations of the exotic tree, Acacia mangium. First, I calculated sex ratios and linked precipitation patterns with phenology. Sex ratios were female-biased. Precipitation was negatively associated with flowering, and positively associated with fruiting. Habitat appears to have no significant influence on phenology of M. flexuosa, although short-term climate variation may affect phenology of this species. Second, I examined floral biology, observed floral visitors, and performed exclusion experiments to determine the pollination system of M. flexuosa. Fruit set did not differ significantly between the visitor exclusion treatment and the control, but was significantly lowest in the wind + visitor exclusion treatment, suggesting that this dioecious palm is anemophilous, independent of habitat. Third, I identified the abiotic and biotic factors explaining variation in fruit mass, seed mass, seed number per fruit, and total fruit yield among habitats. Soil moisture and flooding during the wet season were the best predictors of fruit and seed output. The number of leaves, diameter at breast height, and height were all accurate predictors of reproductive output, but crown volume did not accurately predict fruit yields. Results reevaluate traditional assumptions about wind-pollination in the tropics, and highlight abiotic and biotic factors responsible for variation in reproductive output of M. flexuosa, with implications for effective management of this palm. Finally, I interviewed harvesters and vendors to document the traditional knowledge and market dynamics of the fruit of M. flexuosa, buriti. Traditional knowledge corroborated results from scientific studies. Vendors argued that the price of buriti must increase, and must fluctuate with varying supply. With appropriate economic incentives to vendors/harvesters, Roraima may expand its market infrastructure for buriti, effectively stimulating the regional economy and practicing sustainable harvesting.