In Brazilian Amazon, Ph.D. Program Expands Scientific Research

A researcher teaches a PPGBIO field course in 2007. (© CI/photo by Enrico Bernard)

“I always wanted to study the forests,” says Leidiane Oliveira. Born in the northern Brazilian state of Pará, Oliveira has an undergraduate degree in meteorology, and completed her master’s in Pará’s Caxiuanã National Forest. After that she decided to go to neighboring state Amapá to do a Ph.D. in the Tropical Biodiversity Graduate Program (known by its Portuguese acronym PPGBIO).

Oliveira is one of many young professionals that Amapá has gained in the last few years thanks to the PPGBIO program, which was created in 2006 through a unique partnership between the Federal University of Amapá, the Brazilian Agricultural Research Agency, the Institute of Scientific and Technological Research of the State of Amapá (IEPA) and CI-Brazil. The course aims to generate knowledge about biodiversity in the Amazon — particularly Amapá — and build local capacity, contributing to the effective management of natural resources.

Oliveira conducted her Ph.D. research in the National Forest of Amapá, a 400,000-hectare (almost 990,000-acre) protected area — the state’s oldest — which allows people to sustainably extract products from the forest. In April 2012, she defended her doctoral thesis, “Interactions of the structure of vegetation with the topography, soil and hydrology in the National Forest of Amapá.”

“For my doctorate, I went to check the amount of biomass and the contribution of water vapor in the atmosphere in the National Forest of Amapá — data that will be really important to the creation of environmental services legislation at the state level,” Oliveira explains. Today she works as a professor at the State University of Amapá and intends to continue producing science in the region.

River in Amapá, Brazil.

River in Amapá, Brazil. (© CI/photo by Fernando Segtowick Cardoso)

Daniel Neves, another graduate of the program, faced several difficulties while completing his thesis, “Influence of vegetation on the seasonal precipitation regime on Amapá state: A study of climate sensitivity.”

“I proposed an update on a climate prediction model … using different types of vegetation for Amapá. The complexity of the study required a lot of Internet access and the use of specific computers — things that are very difficult in Amapá,” Neves admits.

“From this research, it will be possible to create future climate scenarios for the region; for example, how the climate in Amapá will be in 50 years,” says Neves. “This is a very important contribution to the design of public policies and management of biodiversity of the state.” He now coordinates the Center for Hydrometeorology and Renewable Energy at the IEPA.

Since 2006, the program has graduated 60 graduate and doctorate students, with five more expected to complete their studies by the end of the year.

Many former students from the PPGBIO’s program have also gotten together and created the Amapá Biologists Association (ABIOAP), the first group of its kind in the state. Patricia Baiao, the institutional relations director of CI-Brazil and a teacher at PPGBIO, adds, “In addition to knowledge generation in the state, the new Ph.D. graduates may contribute to the effective management of the rich natural capital of Amapá, generating economic and social development with a sustainable basis.”

But according to Helenilza Cunha, the PPGBIO coordinator, the program’s most important contribution is the development of human resources in the state. “Students in our programs are settling here in Amapá. They are working in education, in consulting, and most of them are employed.”

Fernando Segtowick Cardoso is the communications coordinator for CI-Brazil´s Amazon program.

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