I am Caroline Chaboo, a faculty-curator in the Biodiversity Institute with research interests in biodiversity and leaf beetles. I am the course leader for this field program in Peru and this will be my 8th visit to Peru. Although the group is visiting places I have explored before, the program remains exciting because of our team is different each year. The individual expertise, interests, and perspectives of each individual enhances all our experiences. I am excited for our new adventures together.
My name is Paige Emilia Miller and I will be a junior at the University of Kansas, studying for a BSc in Biochemistry with a concentration in vector-borne diseases. I will be participating in all the activities of KU’s Study Abroad program, Field Biology of Amazonian Peru, as well as carrying out a survey of mosquito diversity in the Kosnipata Valley. I hope my findings and specimens will develop into a publication. Beyond KU, I am considering joining the Peace Corps and attending graduate school.
My name is Sarah Hirschey and I am a rising senior at Wesleyan University studying Earth and Environmental Science with a concentration in Geochemistry. I am very interested in learning about the interactions between humans and their environment and interactions between biotic and abiotic ecologies. During my study abroad in Peru, I plan to expand my knowledge of these interests by studying phytotelmata and the biotic and chemical environments the plant creates for other organisms.
My name is Alex Lamb and I am a junior at KU. I grew up in Prairie Village, KS. I study film and journalism at the University of Kansas and am a movie reviewer and filmmaker. I live my life with a sense of adventure and try to explore the unknown, the unusual, and anything I think would make a good story. I am documenting the study abroad program Field Biology of Amazonian Peru through photos, video and audio and will be assembling a documentary/multimedia project from everything I capture in Peru about the environments, the research, the culture, and our experiences.
My name is Haley Fetters Crouch, and I will be a senior at the University of Kansas, studying Industrial Design with a concentration in Anthropology. I try to design by playing with tradition, immersing in different cultures, manipulating regional materials, helping others and bringing people together. I plan to use KU’s Study Abroad program, Field Biology of Amazonian Peru, to research the natural materials used by Andean indigenous communities and develop my undergraduate thesis project that can help create a sustainable product made from Peruvian materials that can benefit an impoverished community.
My name is Hannah K. Boyd. I will be a senior at the University of Kansas majoring in ecology and evolutionary biology. I am broadly interested in the diversity of organisms and their behaviors. During this study abroad program, I will carry out an inventory of click beetles (Elateridae) at different places in the Amazon rainforest and Andes mountains. I wrote several grants for my research proposal and I hope to prepare an article for a scientific publication with my findings.
The most logistically challenging day of the trip arrived: moving camp to the summit of Tafelberg. The weather cooperated beautifully and we were greeted with a clear, calm morning. Rain or even heavy clouds would have meant the helicopter would have been grounded. The day before, we had flown in a small bush plane to a deserted airstrip near about 20 kilometers from the base of Tafelberg, and we used this as our staging area.
First, we had to weigh all our food and gear and separate it into piles of roughly 400 pounds. Each pile is assembled into a “package” to be slung to the summit by a net hanging from below the helicopter.
Next, we had to locate a suitable landing site on the mountain. Two other members of the team and I got in the helicopter and set out to take a look. There had been an area cleared many years ago by previous expeditions, but it has not been used in quite a while. As we assumed, it had become overgrown. We located a small pocket of open savannah nearby where we could be dropped off safely, then hiked back to the original landing site and cleared it with machetes.
Over the next two hours, the rest of our team and gear were ferried up, and we established our basecamp at a nearby creek.
First landing on the summit of Tafelberg in a small natural savannah, before clearing a slightly larger helipad for the remainder of the team and gear. Photo by Andrew Short.
Assembling our gear into slings for the helicopter to lift to the summit of Tafelberg. Photo by Andrew Short.
Tafelberg Tepui as seem from the savanna near Kappel Airstrip in central Suriname. Photo by Julian Aguirre.
Devin Bloom prepares and tissues a freshly caught fish specimen from the central market in Paramaribo. Photo by Andrew Short.
The first scientific expedition to Tafelberg took place exactly 69 years ago this month. Led by legendary botanist Bassett Maguire, the 1944 expedition took more than four months. Needless to say, the logistics of his expedition were a bit different than ours.
Using a small group of canoes powered only by paddles and long poles, he traveled upriver through numerous rapids and overland detours from Paramaribo up the Coppename River and its tributaries. With the help and permission of the local villages he encountered, he set out overland when the rivers became impassable.
List of supplies taken on the first expedition to Tafelberg in 1944. From the Journal of the New York Botanical Garden, volume 46, p. 287.
After 23 days of cutting trails with nothing but a compass for navigation, they reached the foot of Tafelberg. Did I mention they had more than 3 tons of gear that had to be hauled every step of the way? And that does not include additional food and supplies that were parachuted to them in the jungle from military planes both along the way and while on the summit.
Fast forward to 2013, and the travel that took his party weeks will take us less than an hour by helicopter. Correspondingly, we are working hard to ensure that our gear (and ourselves…) will “make weight”, as how much we can transport per helicopter run is extremely limited.
If you are curious about just exactly what such an ambitious 1944 expedition took to the field, here is list from a report on the expedition published by Maguire in 1945:
On a completely separate note, we collected our first specimens today. Taking a break from gearing up here in Paramaribo, Devin browsed the central market here for interesting fish, and picked up some freshly caught individuals to prepare as museum specimens.
A tepui rises from the Gran Sabana region of Venezuela. Photo by Andrew Short.
And we’re off! My postdoc Devin Bloom and I just landed in Paramaribo, the capital city of Suriname. From here, we’ll make final preparations for our ultimate destination, Tafelberg (“table mountain” in Dutch). Although not the tallest peak in Suriname (that honor goes to the nearby Juliana Top), it is special because it is the only tepui in the country and the eastern most on the continent.
Tepuis are fortress-like sandstone mesas that are found in this region of South America. Formed largely by erosion of the surrounding sediments rather than uplift or volcanism, these ancient sentries tower over the surrounding jungles, with some reaching 3000 meters in elevation. Roraima, perhaps the most famous tepui, inspired the “The Lost World” by Arthur Conan Doyle and the landscapes in the movie “Up”. The world’s tallest waterfall, Angel Falls, plunges off Ayuan tepui in Venezeula. Although dinosaurs have yet to be found on their summits, tepuis are host to a spectacular array of endemic plants and animals. Many of these may be ancient relicts, representing real examples of Doyle’s undiscovered world.
Compared to more notable tepuis, Tafelberg is small and lonely. It rises to a relatively modest 1000 meters, and is set hundreds of kilometers east of its nearest geological kin. This has led to questions about whether Tafelberg’s flora and fauna share any link with other tepuis, and if so, to what extent?
Soon, the final members of our group from the New York Botanical Garden will arrive, and on August 12, our team will be dropped off at a remote grassy airstrip near the mountain’s base. From there, we will be lifted to the summit of Tafelberg by helicopter to conduct our survey. Until then, we will be finalizing the logistical and supplying details, as well as attending an international congress on the biodiversity of the Guiana Shield.
The sun rises over the Central Suriname Nature Reserve, as seen from the summit of Voltzberg. Photo by Andrew Short.
Andrew Short is a National Geographic Grantee and assistant professor of Ecology & Evolutionary Biology at the University of Kansas. An entomologist by training and at heart, Short is currently in Suriname, South America searching for aquatic insects to study patterns of freshwater biodiversity that will inform both science and conservation.
Having climbed up through a layer of misting clouds, we reached the summit of Voltzberg just in time to see the day break over the surrounding rainforest. Sitting at the northern edge of the Central Suriname Nature Reserve (CSNR), Voltzberg is one of many imposing granite domes that pepper this ancient South American landscape. A massive swath of tropical wilderness twice the size of my home state of Delaware, the CSNR is almost entirely unpopulated and only accessible by canoe and bushplane.
While taking in the vastness of the landscape was a welcome break from our fieldwork routine that morning last July, my students and I had work to do: documenting the aquatic insects that live in the streams, waterfalls, and forest pools that surrounded us. Our research here, done in collaboration with the National Zoological Collection of Suriname, has uncovered dozens of new species and we’re only just gotten started. These inventories help us approach a number of bigger questions: How similar is this patch of forest to one 50 miles away? What are the ecological limits of these species, and what would happen if the environment changed? Can these insects help us monitor water quality?
We’re making final preparations for our return to Suriname (and CSNR) next week. This time, our target is more ambitious: Tafelberg — an isolated table mountain in the center of the reserve. Stay tuned for updates as our expedition gets underway!