Fieldwork may be completed for this season in Peru, but now we must shift our focus to processing the thousands of specimens we have brought back with us. Since the specimen bags (whirlpaks) travelled back without preservative Ethanol,we spend a week adding EtOH to this large volume of samples. It is a smelly job: if the samples were left untreated, these precious specimens would rot. Finally, we store the collection (in a fridge) to sort each bag. It is a long road before we can have a beautiful identified pinned collection sitting in a drawer in our entomology collections.
Our Perú 2011 expedition and field course was very rewarding, with the research and creative products, and the lovely exhibition in the KU Spencer Art Museum, http://www.spencerart.ku.edu/exhibitions/39-trails.shtml. We are still experiencing wonderful outcomes one year later. Today, some of us participated in a panel discussion as part of an outreach program with 32 high school and community college teachers from around the U.S.A. The ‘Peru and Amazon Educator Workshop’ was organized by KU’s Center of Latin American Studies and the Spencer Art Museum. After each of the Perú team members spoke about the experience and answered audience questions, we met with these enthusiastic teachers in our exhibition. We touch so many students through their teachers being made aware about insects, biodiversity science, interdisciplinary education, Amazon conservation issues, museums, and the amazing country that is Perú.
My side project for this trip was to study arthropod diversity in two species of heliconia plants. I worked on the project with Riley and Tom. In both species we looked in leaf rolls and in inflorescences of the plant. We unrolled the leaves and dissected the flower. It was interesting as with each opening it was exciting to see what kind of animals we would find. We ended up seeing about 10 species repeatedly, but we had some surprises too. We found katydids that seemed to be employing a sit-and-wait predatory tactic, and occasionally we found and were pinched by earwigs and once we even woke two sleeping bats in a leaf roll.
It's a three-person job. I unrolled the leaf while Tom aspirated the insects (sucked them up into a jar) and Riley was the large insect grabber. We worked well together and found an interesting representation of insects that dwell in heliconia rolls. Just finding heliconia plants was a challenge in and of itself – we spent a lot of time searching on and off path and it took us to some interesting places in the jungle. Our collecting was successful, and we ended up getting around 70 samples with (sometimes) dozens of insects in each sample.
The next step will be to identify the diversity and look for any patterns. The project gave me the chance focus on the task at hand. In the jungle there weren’t any unnecessary sensory distractions that so often fill my day. I thought it helped sharpen my focus and I was surprised at how easy it was to transition to the more passive jungle environment. The jungle is an ideal place to carry out research and my time there has certainly been influential in how I plan to continue my academic career.
Writing blog posts by flashlight isn’t ideal, but I’d better start this post if I’m going to finish by the time the power shuts off at 9:30 p.m. The past two days have been a blur. We went from Lima to the field station yesterday, a journey with 3 legs: a flight to Puerto Maldinado, a van trip to the Madre de Dios river, and a 4-hour boat trip to the field station. We went on our first walk this morning. The rain forest is a messy place, cluttered beyond belief. “It’s life upon life upon life,” said Dr. Chaboo as we headed out. Branches reached across the path, leaves obscuring the way, and ant lines zigzagged across the trail. The jungle is messy but beautiful. Dr. Chaboo gave us a lesson on unraveling heliconia leaves – long, rubbery leaves that often contain pools of water at the base. We sighted at least four species of beetle on one plant – heliconia specialists. The jungle is a haven of mini-environments like this. Critters evolve to make use of them, and biodiversity explodes. A sentence only makes sense if the reader understands the words used. So too should the jungle be perceived – it makes sense only when seen as an amalgamation of myriad mini-jungles, each with its own variety of species. After our first walk Goddard gave a demonstration on printmaking. We plan on ransacking the jungle for items to make prints. More on this later. Bethany also gave a drawing lesson today, telling us to “draw what you’re seeing, and not what you think you’re seeing.” This informed my photography today, to be certain. I am always re-surprised at how much perspective can color the information extracted from a situation. But without the power of perspective, where would we be? The art and science truly came together today, with the scientists drawing and the artists assisting in the collection of insects. Tomorrow we start collecting beetles for Dr. Chaboo’s research project.
Graduate student Peter Hosner and collection manager Mark Robbins received notification this week that they have been awarded a National Geographic Society Research and Exploration Grant to continue Ornithology's work in the Andes of central Peru. The grant will fund a field expedition to survey and elevational transect through high elevation grasslands, elfin forests, cloud forests, and rainforests in the vicinity of Rumichaca, Ayacucho. Ayacucho is biologically one of the most poorly known departments in Peru. The Andes hold tremendous avian diversity, including birds with exotic names such as Mountain-Toucans, Flower-piercers, Thistle-tails, and Sun-angels. Steep forests of the Andes are often dark, wet, and cloaked with clouds.
The Andes are especially rich in frugivorous birds, like this Blue-banded Toucanet (Aulacorhynchus coeruleicinctis)
Forest in the Rumichaca Region, Ayacucho
Graduate student Peter Hosner and collection manager Mark Robbins received notification this week that they have been awarded a National Geographic Society Research and Exploration Grant to continue Ornithology's work in the Andes of central Peru. The grant will fund a field expedition to survey and elevational transect through high elevation grasslands, elfin forests, cloud forests, and rainforests in the vicinity of Rumichaca, Ayacucho. Ayacucho is biologically one of the most poorly known departments in Peru. The Andes hold tremendous avian diversity, including birds with exotic names such as Mountain-Toucans, Flower-piercer, Thistle-tails, and Sun-angels. Steep forests of the Andes are often dark, wet, and cloaked with clouds.