- Issue: Summer 2014
Kathelyn Paredes is used to telling people that a certain decoration in her house is not for sale. “My father is an auto mechanic, so there are always clients stopping by for car repairs,” she says. “But then they see this beautiful cross-section of a tree on display in the front hall, and many of them ask to buy it.”
Paredes, who lives in Bolivia, is a researcher in the field of dendrochronology—the study of changes in the climate and environment through comparing the growth rings in trees. It’s a discipline she discovered when her college, the Universidad Autónoma Gabriel René Moreno, received funding for some new forestry laboratories. She was fascinated by the one with dendrochronology equipment.
Paredes read everything she could on the subject before proposing a study of Machaerium scleroxylon, or morado, a valuable timber species grown in Bolivia. After the initial research, she spent a year and a half analyzing morado samples using the lab’s special microscope and software programs.
"It’s very complicated," Paredes says of the process. "There are a lot of false tree rings, and if the trunk sample isn’t circular you have to follow at least three different radii to get a proper count."
With the help of several researchers from Spain, Paredes published the first tree-ring chronology of the morado, arguing that logging companies need to wait much longer between morado harvests because of the tree’s slow growth cycle.
Paredes is now coauthoring a study of another timber species, and WWF’s Russell E. Train Education for Nature Program has provided much-needed funding to support her research over the past few years. In addition, Paredes says she could never have made such progress without mentorship from her Spanish colleagues and several others at universities in Australia, Arizona and the Netherlands.
She also says that while scrutinizing the intricacies in wood samples she has found some wisdom among the hard data. “I think that dendrochronology is also a lesson for life, because by identifying and counting tree rings I am learning to be patient.”