In View of the Madre de Dios River

Thursday, July 8, 2010
Caroline Chaboo

We awoke to rain....heavy rain..…that kind of Amazon rain where you can’t keep your eyelids open and that promises to last all day. And we are in the middle of the dry season!  Well, this is time to recover from hectic preparations in Kansas, the long journey here, and to orient to our new home. This field station’s set meal schedule (6 am, 12 noon, 6.30 pm) allows all the current station residents to meet. It is a great opportunity to learn about other exciting research going on here. We meet a University of Toronto group studying ant behavioral ecology, a Washington University anthropology team following Saguinus fuscicollis weddelli tamarin monkeys, an Ecuadorean student enrolled at University of Utah and examining effects of insect herbivory on plant growth, a University of Costa Rica professor studying palms…..indeed, the diversity of investigators and research questions here gives a deeper appreciation of the rich ecosystem around us.

Our team passes the morning in unpacking, cleaning, and organizing our assigned lab space – the wet area near the sink where the alcohol and other chemicals will sit, and dry preparation areas for spider sorting, a small table for beetle work, and a long bench for Hymenoptera study. Diana and Malena establish a line of six mini-Winklers where arthropods that live in soil and leaf litter samples will be extracted in the coming days (some believe that this microhabitat houses a more speciose tropical arthropod fauna that the sexy forest canopy). After dinner, Dan, Choru and I set up the first ultraviolet (UV) light trap in front of my cabin, overlooking the Madre de Dios River  Across the river, the forest canopy stretches in all directions to the horizon. After yesterday’s eye-opening view of the many changes of land use occurring in Peru, I cannot take for granted that this spectacular forest cover will stay continuous.

Entomologists don’t understand why insects are drawn to light, but UV traps are a neat system for attracting many insects from miles away. We don’t get a lot of biological data (e.g., no host plant associations) but we get many species that are otherwise difficult to get with other trapping methods. The insect fauna also seems to come in waves, with some crepuscular flying insects arriving early, then hairy moths coming very late. Predatory spiders also arrive to feast on easy catch.


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