Environmental conservation efforts in the Andean Amazon prove fruitful

Nearly one year ago, FIU embarked on an international effort to support environmental conservation efforts in the Andean Amazon region of South America.

Awarded a nearly $750,000 grant by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) through Higher Education for Development, FIU partnered with the Pontificia Universidad Javeriana and the Universidad de la Amazonia to develop a research collaboration network in Colombia. The network also included Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden (Miami), the Field Museum of Natural History (Chicago), and Instituto de Investigación de Recursos Biológicos Alexander von Humboldt (Colombia).

Since its inception, the partnership has resulted in strengthened research collaboration networks, professional development workshops and citizen-science programs in Colombia.

Maldonado (far right) meets with Zoo Miami officials during his trip to FIU.

Maldonado (far right) meets with Zoo Miami officials during his trip to FIU.

It has also signed on more than 10 additional organizations as partners, including the U.S. Department of the Interior, Conservation International, and Tropenbos International Colombia, to support the initiative.

“It is known the Amazon region is the most biologically and culturally diverse region in the world,” said Javier A. Maldonado Ocampo, professor of biology at the Pontificia Universidad Javeriana and project co-director in Colombia. “It’s unique in that it has features that don’t exist anywhere else within the same Amazon region. Years of deforestation, gold mining and conflict have made it a ‘no-go zone’ for science, so it’s critical we study it and learn how to conserve its invaluable resources.”

To mark the first year of the research network’s inception, Maldonado came to Miami to meet with colleagues at FIU and to strengthen ties with local organizations– including Zoo Miami, which recently launched a new conservation program to bolster its ‘Amazon and Beyond’ exhibit.

“It’s important to engage partners outside of academia, including government institutions, non-governmental organizations, secondary schools and more,” said Elizabeth Anderson, director of international research programs in the School of Environment, Arts and Society and partnership director in the U.S. “We have the opportunity to do that here and to strengthen our linkages in Miami. There is a prominent Colombian community here in South Florida, this partnership is something they can become involved in.”

The research collaboration network will continue to work to further expand academic programs, including a graduate level course on field research techniques; scholarships for student research; a citizen-science initiative in secondary schools; and conferences on Amazon biodiversity conservation.