I specialize in chrysomelid leaf beetles. Chrysomelidae (about 40,000 species) forms one of the largest radiation of animals, and they present many interesting research problems. My approach is holistic, with extensive fieldwork to explore life histories, ecology, behavior, and laboratory study of morphology and molecules. In this part of Peru, I am particularly interested in chrysomelid that have become specialists of bamboo and bambusiform grasses, palms (at least the ones a 5-foot tall person can reach!) and a particular chrysomelid species that lives in unopened or slightly opened leaves of monocot plants in the Marantaceae and Heliconiaceae families. This latter group is particularly abundant here — nearly every rolled leaf has a few individuals of different species living in this tight semi-aquatic space. I like thinking of unrolling a leaf in the forest as opening a Christmas present —– which specimens, how many individuals, what is their feeding pattern?
One of the things that I forget when getting ready for an expedition is how much I have learned about field research in the past and how much there is to learn if you are new to fieldwork. I'm not just speaking of learning field collection methods or processing insects in our field lab station. When you are going on your first expedition experience, you don't know what gear to bring. What will the weather be like? What shoes are best in the muggy Amazon rain forest? What socks should you bring? What will best carry it all from Kansas to Lima to the field station and back? It is a charming reminder how much we learn from our first expedition even before we walk a trail. These are but a few of the things we are going over in weekly pre-departure meetings.
In June 2011, a team of eight University of Kansas students and two professors will participate in a unique interdisciplinary expedition to Peru. Unlike many Biodiversity Institute expeditions, this one brings together people from several backgrounds, among them entomology, ecology, English language history, journalism, graphic novels, and art. Join the group through this website as they learn field methods, experience the varied cultural landscape of Peru, and explore the Amazon rain forest at the Los Amigos Biological Research Station.