In July 2018, I went into the field with PhD student Sebastian Escobar (Aarhus University, Denemark) and my colleague from the Pontificia Universidad Catolica del Ecuador Rommel Montufar, expert in Neotropical palms and their uses. The aim was to sample tagua, or vegetable ivory (Phytelephas aequatorialis) in the regions of Manabi, Los Rios and Santo Domingo. This species is endemic to western Ecuador and is used to make buttons or crafts. The leaves (called cade) are used for thatching. Because of the important deforestation in western Ecuador, this species is highly fragmented on most of its distribution. Small forest fragments provide important refugia for this species and many other plants and animals.
We spent a week driving through dry and wet forests of western Ecuador, collecting tagua. The aim is to study the phylogeography of tagua, and understand how it reacted to past fragmentation, especially during the last glacial maximum. Sebastian's project also aims to understand the ecological dynamics of fruit dispersion and its social economic importance in the region.