Madre Selva Biological Station

History and Background

Madre Selva Biological Station (3,37'2"S, 72,14'8"W) is the first and most developed of Project Amazonas' field stations, and has the capacity of hosting the largest groups. Founded in 1994, Madre Selva protects 192 ha (about 480 acres) of land. Through an agreement with the neighboring Yagua Indian community of Comandancia, Project Amazonas manages an additional area of community land of about 400 ha (about 1000 acres) for use by researchers and other station users. Since its creation, Madre Selva has rapidly grown into the most utilized of the field sites and is the favored site for educational groups due to ease of access, comfortable and convenient facilities, and the direct access to a wide variety of terrestrial and aquatic habitats, as well as to Yagua Indian and mestizo communities on the Orosa River. 

To see a student-created video featuring Madre Selva, follow the link:  Thank-you Lawrenceville School students!

Location and Habitats

Madre Selva is located 150 river km (90 river miles) east of Iquitos on the south bank of the Rio Orosa, with facilities overlooking Tunche Cano (Ghost Creek), a tributary of the Rio Orosa, a black-water river. This lower portion of the Rio Orosa is an ancient channel of the Amazon, and during high water, Amazon River water enters the Orosa at several points up- and down-stream from Madre Selva, imparting a strong seasonal white-water influence to this otherwise black-water river. Land near the Orosa River and along Tunche Cano is seasonally flooded (varzea and/or igapo forest), while further inland the terrain is a mixture of low rolling hills and fairly steep ravines. Across the Rio Orosa from the field station is an extensive area of seasonally flooded swamp forest and floodplain lakes, and at moderate to high water there is easy access to the sandbars, mud-flats, floating meadows and river islands of the Amazon River itself. Local communities cultivate corn, yuca (manioc) and camu-camu (a native fruit) on the floodplain of the Orosa River upstream and across the river from the field station. In upland areas behind communities, plantains, dry-land rice and other crops are also cultivated. Small scale cattle and water buffalo husbandry has also started in some nearby communities.

Facilities and Resources

The station can house up to 30 persons. A large screened "dorm" building with raised wooden floor and Irapay palm thatch roof can house up to 16 persons, while 6 smaller shelters (tambos) with raised wooden floors and tarp roofs can house 2-3 persons each in large dome tents (10' x 10'). Either dome tents or mosquito nets are provided for protection from insects and for privacy, and beds, mattresses, linens, and towels are included. Modern flush toilets and showers (four each) are linked to a septic drain field. A dining hall with fully equipped kitchen seats 35-40 comfortably, and doubles as an "assembly hall". A classroom/laboratory building with storage area in the rear is used by educational groups and researchers for various projects. Approximately 25 km of trails provide access to primary and secondary forest of varying ages. One long trail leads directly into the extensive unbroken forest that lies between the Rio Orosa and the Rio Yavari on the Brazilian frontier, approximately 75 km distant. A 50' observation tower was constructed in 2004, and has proved to be very popular with bird watchers and photographers. Concrete paths link the main buildings, and the station clearing area is planted useful fruit trees as well as with ornamental native plants and native orchids. A generator provides both 110V and 220V power for about 8 hours daily (a few hours in the AM and about 5 hours at night - more if needed). The water supply is taken from Tunche Cano and pumped into a water tower - water from taps in the restrooms and kitchen should not be considered potable. Treated water is provided in closed water buckets with a spigot and should be used for filling individual water bottles. Treated water is made available at various sites throughout the facilities. A 1 hectare (2.47 acre) marked tree plot is located on the Jiron Jergon (JJ) trail - all trees over 10 cm dbh have been marked and identified, making this plot a great resource for anyone seeking to learn the many tree species present at the site.

Future "dreams" for Madre Selva include:

  • construction and equipping of a laboratory building with wet-lab capability
  • air-conditioned computer / library room (as part of a new laboratory)
  • extending the trail network with installation of improved bridges (aluminum or cable) where appropriate
  • installation of solar panels and battery backup system to reduce fuel consumption at the site
  • completion of an aquaculture pond at the site
  • installation of a biogas unit for converting kitchen scraps into methane gas (for cooking) and nutrient-rich effluent for irrigation of demonstration crops
  • installation of two additional tambos (the smaller shelters)
  • construction of a "floating walkway" and dock from the main station to the Orosa River (about 200 yards distant, but the trail floods annually)
  • funding of a "station director" position to be held by graduate students for 1-2 years while enabling them to work on dissertation or post-doc projects
  • resurvey of the 1-ha permanent tree plot

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