Identifying ebony species in music instruments to distinguish illegally traded from legally traded wood

In collaboration with the University of OsloNaturalis Biodiversity CenterLeiden Institute of Advanced Computer Science (LIACS) of Leiden University and the Dutch violin and bow makers (NGV), the Wildlife Justice Commission (WJC) will form part of a consortium developing molecular identification of plants within a project called Plant.ID.

The EU-funded project Plant.ID brings together academic and non-academic partners together with regulatory agencies, industry, small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) and NGO stakeholders.

The overall aim of Plant.ID is to identify and date ebony species used in acoustic string instruments to distinguish illegally traded from legally traded wood.

One of the 15 research projects will include a PhD research on the illegal trade in protected ebony species used in musical instruments. Acoustic string instruments are made of several tree species including ebony (Diospyros). The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) placed all species of ebony from Madagascar on Appendix II in 2013.

However, it is not yet possible to identify and date ebony wood used in acoustic string instruments for trade under the Forest Stewardship Councilship.

This project will aim to develop species-level identification of ebony wood. The WJC will play an advisory role to ensure results can be applied to enhance law enforcement efforts.

This project will adopt several forensics techniques, including calibrated C14-dating to assess harvest date prior or after the start of the CITES legislation in 2013. Moreover, machine learning methodology of images from microscopic sections and biochemical analysis of wood will be developed to facilitate species identification of ebony species.

Please visit Plant.ID for further details:

Photo credit: Ulrike Wiebel.