First typology of cacao (Theobroma cacao L.) systems in Colombian Amazonia, based on tree species richness, canopy structure and light availability
Aim and background
We present a typology of cacao agroforest systems in Colombian Amazonia. These systems had yet to be described in the literature, especially their potential in terms of biodiversity conservation. The systems studied are located in a post-conflict area, and a deforestation front in Colombian Amazonia. Cacao cropping systems are of key importance in Colombia: cacao plays a prime role in post conflict resolution, as cacao is a legal crop to replace illegal crops; cacao agroforests are expected to be a sustainable practice, promoting forest-friendly land use.
Material and methods
We worked in 50 x 2000 m2 agroforest plots, in Colombian Amazonia. A cluster analysis was used to build a typology based on 28 variables characterised in each plot, and related to diversity, composition, spatial structure and light availability for the cacao trees. We included variables related to light availability to evaluate the amount of transmitted radiation to the cacao trees in each type, and its suitability for cacao ecophysiological development.
We identified 4 types of cacao agroforests based on differences concerning tree species diversity and the impact of canopy spatial structure on light availability for the cacao trees in the understorey. We found 127 tree species in the dataset, with some exclusive species in each type. We also found that 3 out of the 4 types identified displayed an erosion of tree species diversity. This reduction in shade tree species may have been linked to the desire to reduce shade, but we also found that all the types described were compatible with good ecophysiological development of the cacao trees.
Main conclusions and prospects
Cacao agroforest systems may actually be achieving biodiversity conservation goals in Colombian Amazonia. One challenging prospect will be to monitor and encourage the conservation of tree species diversity in cacao agroforest systems during the development of these cropping systems, as a form of forest-friendly management enhancing sustainable peace building in Colombia.