In the midst of the forest, a research center.

FAPESP helps recover biological station

The dirt road is relatively free from holes. Even so, it is so full of bends that the trip of about 50 kilometers to the nearest drugstore or supermarket hardly ever takes less than one hour. The difficult access is intentional. It discourages the clandestine collectors of hearts of palm and bromeliads. This is the access route to the Biological Station of Boracéia (EBB), an area of 96 hectares of the Atlantic Rain Forest, on the northern coastline of the state of São Paulo, which belongs to the Zoology Museum of the University of São Paulo (USP). It is not a simple area of conservation. It is also an important research center.

There, too, the hand of FAPESP’s Infrastructure Program can be seen. Until a while ago, the station was seriously handicapped by the lack of funds. The installations were very old, and were not getting any maintenance. They could hardly shelter eight researchers at a time. There were no laboratories, and the classrooms were improvised. Today, the three buildings of the station have been refurbished. They are modest, but comfortable – which is important for someone who stays up to a week or more in the isolation of the station – which does not even have a telephone – to carry out research.

In a way, the station is characteristic of a new philosophy of work. In the past, the scientists, to a great extent, would try to get to know in order to preserve. Nowadays, unfortunately, preserving has to come before getting to know. “Biologists are working against the clock, competing with the economic interests of the timber and extractive industries and with the interests of the local communities, which are contributing towards the degradation of the environment, out of necessity and ignorance” says Sônia Casari, head of the section of Support for the Biological Station of Boracéia.

The station is located in an area of untouched forest of 16,450 hectares, preserved by the Company for Basic Sanitation of the State of São Paulo (Sabesp in the Portuguese acronym), the Adutora do Rio Claro, in the municipality of Salesópolis, some 110 kilometers to the east of the capital. Contrary to what happens in more visited areas, bromeliads and orchids, much sought after by clandestine collectors, can easily be seen in the trees. There are many birds and insects. Tread marks of small animals appear on the soil of the trails.So much wild life goes as far as to cause the researchers some discomfort. In spite of the strong heat, they only go into the forest with long-sleeved clothes and high-legged rubber boots. It is a way of protecting themselves against mosquitoes and snakes. But a lot of research can be done without having to follow the trails. At night, switching on a special light bulb is enough to attract a multitude of insects.

In the year of 2000 alone, researchers from USP concluded nine projects on the basis of collections carried out at the station, most of them on insects or amphibians. In addition, the station received 60 researchers from other institutions, 15 of them from abroad. Several researchers came from private institutions, like Professor Izaura Bezerra Francini, from the Catholic University of Santos, who took part in the project Survey of the Coleopterous Fauna of the EBB. “It would be difficult to carry out a work of this scope in any other place” she says.

The station was created in 1938, as an experimental center for the cultivation of cinchona for to the Agronomic Institute of Campinas (IAC). Cinchona, a shrub from the Andes, yields quinine, a drug much used in those days for malaria. From 1941 onwards, the researchers from the then Department of Zoology of the State Department of Agriculture, now USP’s Zoology Museum, started to organize expeditions to the region, to collect scientific material. In 1952, the IAC ended its work with quinine, and, in 1954, the station was officially transformed into a center for studies.

The station does not serve only for research. It is also an important support center for the education of qualified labor for fieldwork. Last year, 86 pupils and 11 teachers took part in six courses offered by the EBB. This became a possibility with the creation of the new classroom and of the laboratory, with the capacity to receive 25 pupils. Not even the laboratory has any sophisticated equipment. There are no computers at the station. But biologists who work in the field are accustomed to long periods with the bare necessities. There is another advantage in this austere way of doing research: it cuts down the garbage that each one is obliged to bring back to the city. One of the rules of the station is that everyone has to take away the rubbish he produces. “The station must remain intact, to ensure the life of the plants and animals, and the future of biological research” Sonia underlines.