I n t e r v i e w

What was your personal reaction when you first went into the rainforest?

I was a little afraid of it. I was a little afraid of tarantulas and snakes and things of that sort, when, in fact, I really learned that, by and large, it is pretty benign. Most things that could hurt you don’t really want to get involved with you, in any case.

And then you just begin to see something like a termite nest, or an ant nest, or leaf-cutting ants, or army ants. And then, after a little while, your eye begins to pick things up and your ear begins to hear things and you see little brilliantly-colored butterflies, and you see a lot of different kinds of ants, you notice a little flower over here and something over there. Before long you’re just drawn into the detail and variety of it, and you forget about your expectation of having big mammals being there all the time.

What was the genesis of the Biological Dynamics of Forest Fragments Project, and what was it designed to add to the field?

Well, in the early 1970’s, there was a raging debate going on in the scientific literature about whether it was better to have one big national park or a series of small ones that added up to the same area. And the question was, would you preserve more biological diversity with one big one or a bunch of small ones. And it was a raging debate, but there was very little in the way of data about it.

It just suddenly occurred to me that there was a chance to do a giant experiment and really get some of those answers. Brazil had a law that said that 50 percent of any development project in the Amazon had to stay in forest. So the idea was, how about arranging that 50 percent so you had a whole series of forest fragments of different sizes which you could study before they were isolated fragments, and then follow their changes over time, and compare the small ones to big ones and draw some conclusions about what was the best way to design and manage a national park. I guess it has been called the largest “controlled,” in the science sense of being able to make comparisons, the largest controlled experiment that’s going on in ecology, or, I guess, for that matter, in anything. I mean, what we’re doing to the entire planet with greenhouse gases is an experiment, but there is no “control.” The great advantage of this experiment is that we actually have intact forest that we can compare to the fragments, and we have the history of those fragments before they were actually fragments to make the comparisons.

Editor’s Note: Lovejoy and his team have hosted many U.S. Senators, staying at “Camp 41”, on fact-finding tours of the rainforest and PTK is pleased to have the chance to take students on a similar field trip, using telecommunications to make America’s youngsters also "VIP’s"!

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