Chemical differentiation of Bolivian Cedrela species as a tool to trace illegal timber trade

Paredes-Villanueva, Kathelyn; Espinoza, Edgard; Ottenburghs, Jente; Sterken, Mark G.; Bongers, Frans; Zuidema, Pieter A.


Combating illegal timber trade requires the ability to identify species and verify geographic origin of timber. Forensic techniques that independently verify the declared species and geographic origin are needed, as current legality procedures are based on certificates and documents that can be falsified. Timber from the genus Cedrela is among the most economically valued tropical timbers worldwide. Three Cedrela species are included in the Appendix III of CITES: C. fissilis, C. odorata and C. angustifolia (listed as C. lilloi). Cedrela timber is currently traded with false origin declarations and under a different species name, but tools to verify this are lacking. We used Direct Analysis in Real Time Time-of-Flight Mass Spectrometry (DART-TOFMS) to chemically identify Cedrela species and sites of origin. Heartwood samples from six Cedrela species (the three CITES-listed species plus C. balansae, C. montana and C. saltensis) were collected at 11 sites throughout Bolivia. Mass spectra detected by DART-TOFMS comprised 1062 compounds; their relative intensities were analysed using Principal Component Analyses, Kernel Discriminant Analysis (KDA) and Random Forest analyses to check discrimination potential among species and sites. Species were identified with a mean discrimination error of 15–19 per cent, with substantial variation in discrimination accuracy among species. The lowest error was observed in C. fissilis (mean = 4.4 per cent). Site discrimination error was considerably higher: 43–54 per cent for C. fissilis and 42–48 per cent for C. odorata. These results provide good prospects to differentiate C. fissilis from other species, but at present there is no scope to do so for other tested species. Thus, discrimination is highly species specific. Our findings for tests of geographic origin suggest no potential to discriminate at the studied scale and for the studied species. Cross-checking results from different methods (KDA and Random Forest) reduced discrimination errors. In all, the DART-TOFMS technique allows independent verification of claimed identity of certain Cedrela species in timber trade.