March 29, 2018

An in-gene-ious new way to stamp out illegal logging

Tropical trees are valuable. So valuable in fact, that loggers are prepared to go to extremes in order to illegally smuggle them onto the open market.

It’s not unusual for stumps from enormous trees to be dug from areas where logging is illegal, and dragged miles through the forest to be re-buried in legal logging concessions. It takes days of back-breaking work, but it’s worth it for the official piece of paper claiming that the timber is legitimate.

It also means that it’s almost impossible to trace whether timber products have been sourced from legal logging concessions or not, even if they have all the paperwork and rubber stamps. Illegal trade of timber threatens communities living in the world’s most valuable forest by entrenching them further into poverty.

Road through treesBut advances in genetic science mean that in the future we might be able to trace each and every coffee table, violin, and decorative staircase right back to the square foot of rainforest where it grew.

Researchers1 collected 394 wood samples from 134 tali trees in Cameroon and The Congo. Tali is a highly traded African timber from trees that reach 20 metres and are found all over the rainforests of central Africa. The team worked in five different logging concessions, between 14 and 836 kilometres apart.tree trunk

The study showed that genetic analysis can pinpoint the origin of tropical timber at such a specific scale that they are able to tell exactly which concession it came from. With a success rate of 92%, this technique has strong potential as a forensic tool to enforce timber trade legislation.

Cool Earth is excited about how technology like this might help to stamp out illegal logging in the future.

  1. Biological Conservation Volume 220, April 2018, Pages 262-271


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