Museo de Historia Natural

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

First Stop: Lima, and the Museo de Historia Natural

museum display

Students taking notes about a dinosaur skeleton at the Museo de Historia Natural in Lima, Peru.


The entrance to Museo de Historia Natural

For my third visit to Peru, I am developing a system of long-term sampling plots distributed along an elevational transect from the lowland Amazon to the Andes, up to ~3500 m. I can select plots already established by botanists who have been working here for about 30 years. It is an uncommon ideal to have most of the plants known in a tropical habitat before I start looking for the herbivores of those plants. Some of the highest diversity of plants and butterflies in the world are known from this part of Peru, so it is a better-than-good guess that the beetle diversity is also going to be tremendous.

I am also traveling with a team, which is different from my normal routine of traveling solo. That can be lonesome—not being able to share the highs of discovery, the exciting strangeness of new places, navigating unknown and unrecognizable foods, no one to help watch your mountain of expedition supplies at bus stops and airports.

My KU companions are Choru Shin from South Korea who has spent an intense first year adapting to KU and leaf beetle research. Dan Bennett is almost done with his Ph.D. dissertation on wasp systematics. I already feel the cluck-cluck maternal tension of hoping they have as good a time as I will. In Peru, we will be joined by Diana Silva, a curator of spiders at the Museo de Historia Natural and one undergraduate, Malena Vilchez, who studies tiger beetles.

Our first stop in Peru is Lima, the sprawling desert capital city of ~9 million people which was founded in 1535. We are meeting the rest of our expedition team, Diana, who is a spider specialist, and Mrs. Malena Vilchez, a student who is collaborating with the curation of the MUSM carabid beetle collection and is also a specialist of tiger beetles. The MUSM museum is 92 years old and is similar to KU’s Biodiversity Institute, with public displays and a research side. The museum “campus” includes static indoor displays, traditional dioramas, outdoor botanical walks and, most astonishingly, giant whale skeletons, the original fossils on display in the open outdoors.

Diana has already sent overland — a drive over the Andes Mountains and a 6-hour boat trip — to our field site all the chemicals we need to collect and preserve different kinds of arthropod samples. In the past, chemicals (e.g., DNA-grade ethanol) would have traveled with us on the plane. Today we also collect the important research permit that allows us to conduct research in Peru and we submit the application for an export permit that allows us to leave Peru with specimens.