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Conservation through utilization: a case study of the Vulnerable Abies guatemalensis in Guatemala

  • Uffe Strandby Andersen (a1), José Pablo Prado Córdova (a1), Ulrik Bräuner Nielsen (a2), Carsten Smith Olsen (a2), Charlotte Nielsen (a3), Marten Sørensen (a1) and Johannes Kollmann (a1)...


Conservation through utilization is a controversial strategy that deserves more attention from researchers and practitioners. This case study focuses on Abies guatemalensis, a Vulnerable Mesoamerican conifer that is illegally used for timber, shingles, charcoal and Christmas tree production. Conservation of the remnant populations would preserve some unique montane forests, with concomitant benefits for local water supplies and prevention of landslides. As a conservation tool we suggest establishment of additional A. guatemalensis Christmas tree plantations. These could generate income for local farmers and help halt poaching from natural stands. So far, 51 such plantations have been established in Guatemala but practical knowledge of cultivation is limited and production dominated by a few large plantations. Seed for Christmas tree plantations needs to be carefully selected because there are marked differences among populations in germination, seedling height increment and greenery quality. Insect pests such as the balsam twig aphid Mindarus sp. could limit cultivation. A market study showed that c. 23% of households in the major Guatemalan cities buy A. guatemalensis Christmas trees but currently only 2.3% of these are plantation-grown. The prices of illegal and certified Christmas trees are, however, converging, making plantation trees more competitive. Because of the market characteristics and the potential for establishment of plantations, we are moderately optimistic that the conservation through utilization strategy may be successful for this species in Guatemala.

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Corresponding author

Department of Ecology, University of Copenhagen, Rolighedsvej 21, 1958 Frederiksberg C, Denmark. E-mail


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