Bushmeat harvest in tropical forests: knowledge base, gaps and research priorities.
Food security is increasingly becoming a priority for tropical countries. This has led to reconsideration of the need to find systems and practices of sustainable harvest, consumption and trade of bushmeat and other wildlife products. This paper provides a synthesis of information found in the expanding global literature on the many dimensions and functions of game species, bushmeat and other game resources. Much research effort has focused on documenting and measuring the impact of bushmeat harvesting on populations of targeted game species. This has resulted in an emphasis of conservation effort on the protection of game species and the criminalization of hunting, bushmeat trade and consumption. Despite decades of official bans on bushmeat trade and consumption, some socioeconomic studies have shown that bushmeat is often the main source of protein and income for low-income urban and rural families in some tropical countries. Similarly, the role of large and small-bodied game species in the sustainable provision of seed dispersion and other ecosystem services are underlined by some ecological and conservation biology studies. A great diversity of complex management systems of game species in forests and on agriculture land are reported by some ethnographic studies. The encouraging results from some bushmeat studies are an incentives to conduct evidence-based studies that can generate knowledge and information that can help policy-makers to make informed decisions. In the majority of tropical countries, relatively little research has been undertaken based on the premise that bushmeat is an important resource provided by forest ecosystems, and aimed at devising strategies for the management and sustainable use of bushmeat. Research on bushmeat harvest is unevenly distributed, thematically and institutionally, across the three main regions of tropical forest the Neotropics, Afrotropics and Asian tropics. Given the current fragmented understanding of the ecological, socioeconomic and cultural dimensions of bushmeat harvest, there is limited technical-scientific information on the relationship between game species and the provisioning of ecosystem services, as well as the capacity for bushmeat to enhance or constrain adaptive responses to ongoing socio-environmental change (e.g. climate change, urbanization, land-use change, etc.). These issues are crucial for any effort to ensure human well-being and environmental conservation in tropical forests.