Understanding of Global Warming Gains From Mayan Contribution

Michael Allen, director of the Center for Conservation Biology at the University of California, Riverside Photo by Lonnie Duka

Last month, Michael Allen, the director of the Center for Conservation Biology at UCR, traveled to Merida, Mexico. At the International Festival of the Mayan Culture 2013, he paid tribute to Arturo Gomez-Pompa, university professor and a distinguished professor emeritus of botany and plant sciences at UCR, who first alerted the world to the global consequences of tropical deforestation.

Gomez-Pompa devoted much of his professional life to the conservation and study of the forests in the Yucatan Peninsula.  Currently, he is the scientific advisor to the Center for Tropical Research at the Universidad Veracruzana, Mexico.

Widely known for his contributions to the biological sciences, he is passionate about the study of plant resources of Mexico’s tropics and is one of the pioneers of ecological conservation in Mexico.  He is also instrumental in maintaining a constant dialogue between scientists and the Mexican government where decisions about the upkeep of protected areas are concerned.

The festival focused on the environment and the knowledge of the ancient Mayans about ecosystems. In his speech, Allen described the projects and research results that were generated by the ecological reserve, “The Garden of Eden,” that Gomez-Pompa founded in 1993 to allow researchers to understand more fully the influence of cyclones in the rainforest.  Scientists working at the reserve explore new strategies to promote the conservation, management and restoration of biodiversity, ecosystems and ecological processes of tropical rain forests. Research carried out at the reserve helped scientists like Allen identify aspects of the ancient Mayans’ cultivation methods.

“The Mayans, who favored a strong relationship between man and the environment, used cultivation methods that not only helped maintain optimal conditions on Earth, but also produced, based on scientific experiments carried out in recent years, better data for understanding global warming,” Allen said. “We had the opportunity to scientifically observe the increase in plant biomass and carbon that resulted from the agricultural techniques of the ancient Mayan culture.  There is a lot we can learn about global warming from the Mayans.”

At the festival, Gomez-Pompa received an acknowledgment for his work from the Secretariat of Urban Development and Environment, the State of Yucatan.  It was at UCR that Gomez-Pompa launched “Sustainability Maya,” a project aimed at promoting research on and the conservation of the Yucatan’s natural resources.

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