Fauna Forever

An interview with Ashley Anne Wick (FFT Insect Team Coordinator), by Laura Wells (FFT Intern)

Posted in Interviews, Uncategorized by Fauna Forever in the Amazon rainforest on September 18, 2010

Intern Laura interviewed our Insect Team Coordinator Ashley on the 3rd of September 2010, and discovered everything about her work here with Fauna Forever Tambopata, as well as her funniest and scariest moments in the jungle.

Name: Ashley Anne Wick

From: Mount Pleasant, Iowa.

Ashley: Hi Laura!

Laura: Hi Ashley. Thanks for taking the time to talk to me. Let’s start with a brief background to yourself?

Ashley: Okay, well I went to Drake University, that’s in Des Moines, the capital of Iowa, and I studied environmental science, environmental politics and biology. I focused mainly on conservation biology and restoration ecology but I also studied entomology and botany. I have always been really interested in rainforests and tallgrass prairies.

Laura: Is that why you chose to work in the Madre de Dios region of the Amazon?

Ashley: Yes partly, previous to working for Greenpeace as an activist I had done quite a bit of research in the tallgrass prairies of the US and had always wanted to come to the Amazon. I did a little bit of research and was astounded by the diversity of the Tambopata and its important place in the research of many scientists that I have always admired such as Terry Irwin, E.O. Wilson and David Pearson. Coming from a background on butterfly research, I was excited to study and live in an area that had broken butterfly alpha diversity records. Aside from that, I find this part of the Amazon really interested with the interface of conservation, native agriculture, tourism and the development surrounding the Inter-Oceanic Highway.

Laura: Wow, I didn’t realise it had broken those records! So how long have you been working for Fauna Forever Tambopata?

Ashley: Well, last fall I met the principal investigator of Fauna Forever Tambopata, when I was working as a resident naturalist at Explorer’s Inn, and through a couple of conversations we decided that I would join Fauna Forever Tambopata and create an insect team, so that’s what I did in January.

Laura: What did that involve?

Ashley: I have always been interested in the idea of using indicator species to measure biodiversity. So I started some research based on testing whether or not a family of butterflies (The glass wing butterfly – Ithomiinae) could be used as an indicator species. At all the lodges Fauna Forever Tambopata visit, I have established transects in different forest types including local farms, virgin floodplain forest and secondary floodplain forest. I sample butterflies in these forests, identify them, try to figure out the species richness of them and find out if they can be used as indicator species. Of course while doing this I have volunteers join me, I train them in the methodology, identification of the butterfly species and insect preservation techniques.

Laura: Could you describe a typical day of yours?

Ashley: A typical day is; from 8 till 1, I walk transects with my volunteer- catching all of the individuals that we see. We also check traps that I’ve hung from trees and baited with a fermenting and rotting fruit mixture (shown below). In the afternoons we spend time identifying the butterflies that we have caught that day using and amalgamation of photos, guides and keys. We usually release most of the butterflies that we catch but I keep a voucher of each species that is caught. The collection is being donated to CORBITI, an organisation here in Peru. As well as that, of course I spend a lot of time with data spread sheets.

Laura: So do you know what your research shows yet?

Ashley: I am in the middle of data analysis at the moment, and my data has shown interesting things, for instance at one lodges the species richness in one virgin floodplain forest transect, there is an Ithomiinae species richness of 17 and in a neighbouring transect of secondary growth floodplain forest there is a species richness of 6.

Laura: Oh it’s good that your data seems like it’s conclusive then, and am I right in thinking that you’ve almost finished your project?

Ashley: Yes, I am completing my project to return to North America and I am moving to Canada, which will be a new home for me. There I will begin my masters, which is funded by the Canadian government and I will be developing a conservation plan of an endangered butterfly, the Morman Metalmark  (Apodemia mormo mejicanus). I am also going to be studying the effect of its host plant chemistry on the suitability for the over position.

Laura: Are you planning to publish the project you did while at Fauna Forever Tambopata?

Ashley: Yes hopefully, once we get solid statistical results, I hope to publish it in a journal such as Tropical ecology, it will be the first publication that I will publish as first author and I am really nervous and excited to write it.

Laura: That is exciting! Good luck with that. On a slightly different note, what do you consider to be the biggest threat to the rainforest?

Ashley: Oh that’s a tough one, there are so many threats to the rainforest but I think the biggest hope for the rainforest is people realising that intact rainforests have myriad benefits for us and I think the future of protection lies in a combination of properly using conservation dollars, sustainable ecotourism and carbon credits.

Laura: I totally agree. Okay enough about work! I want to hear about your experiences in the jungle now. You spend so much studying butterflies, do you have a favourite?

Ashley: Of course! It belongs to the family Biblidinae, and it’s called the Nessaea obrinus (Obrinus olivewing). It’s pretty common but I like the way it’s all green on the outside and a combination of blacks and blues on the inside, which you don’t normally see in the natural world.

Laura: Sounds cool. What’s the funniest moment you’ve had with Fauna Forever Tambopata?

Ashley: Oh there are a few; one was getting lost at SACHA (Read all about it at http://my.opera.com/faunaforever/blog/). Another is bundled up cuddle-fests during phase 10.4’s friaje and Sophia (our mammal coordinator) waking me up and crawling into bed with me because it was so cold!

Laura: Oh yes, I heard about the friaje – I hadn’t got to Puerto Maldonado by then so luckily I missed it! Okay, what about the scariest moment you’ve had with Fauna Forever?

Ashley: It’s difficult to say what the scariest is but the top three mostly involve rats – one time, we were camping at Lake Cocococha at Explorer’s Inn, I woke up and there was a rat crawling on my mosquito net right above my head! Another time Elisban, a native of the Tambopata jungle with an awesome knowledge of traditional medicines, decided that I have Dengue fever, and had prepared the native cure for me, which is like 20 different plants all boiled up. So I took a sponge baths using this water and woke up during the night with hallucinations that loads of rats were crawling over me. Oh and the first time I swam in the Tambopata I got bitten by a piraña – I was so scared that I couldn’t talk!

Laura: Oh dear – none of that sounds very nice! Since you’re leaving us soon, what’s the thing you’ll miss most about the jungle?

Ashley: I think I’d have to say the boat rides here, especially to TRC (a tourist lodge with a research area) and CICRA (another research station) because they are a whole day long and you get some amazing views. Also I’ll miss living without cell phones in peoples’ faces all the time and technology interrupting things. I used to be a cell phone addict and I’m recovering now! Oh and I’ll miss when I’m walking through the jungle and all of a sudden there’s a vine or a tree that’s flowering and it smells better than any cologne I’ve ever smelt.

Laura: The boat ride to CICRA was lovely. Could you share with us the weirdest moment you’ve had while working with Fauna Forever Tambopata?

Ashley: Kim and I were walking at TRC and I thought ‘oh my gosh! Some of the tourists are being so loud!’ – it turned out we were in the middle of about 300 trumpeters. (Birds of the genus Psophia)

Laura: wow, I haven’t seen any of those yet. What about the coolest thing you’ve seen in the jungle?

Ashley: Probably a three-toed sloth (family Bradypodidae) at Sacha vacayoc (a learning centre owned by Newton college) because it’s my favourite animal. It was also my nickname  – the native name for sloth, which is pelejita, because I look like a little sloth apparently. Oh and the Giant otters (Pteronure brasiliensis) at Cocacocha, because although they’re pretty easy to find, they have so much personality.

Laura: Those otters are pretty cool! Finally one last question, Are there any links to articles about you or that you have published that you can share with us?

Ashley: Sure – There was a piece just written about me for the Drake alumni newsletter, you can find it at – http://www.drake.edu/news/dbletter/eblue/index.php?article=6155

Laura: Okay cool, I’ll check it out. Well thanks for letting me interview you.

Ashley: No problem, thanks and besitos to all my friends on the Tambopata and Madre de Dios!

A misadventure, and FFT’s shining moment , by Brian Crnobrna (FFT Herpetofauna Coordinator)

Posted in Tales from the Team by Fauna Forever in the Amazon rainforest on September 15, 2010

(This is a relation of an event that didn’t really happen to me, but definitely deserves to be on this blog.  All names have been changed to characters from Lost.)

There are moments in life when one has to react without thinking, and when the stakes are high enough even basic communication becomes crystal clear without any effort in the split seconds that follow a harrowing event.  While psychologists continue to wonder, you’ll be one hundred percent sure when it happens to you.  I believe the only words I heard from an ardent FFT volunteer one late and rainy evening where, “can you get the manager.”  Although I was quite curious as to why I should get the manager, I went and found her and said only, “ we need your help.”  This seconds long exchange put into action all the best people at hand to save the life of a hapless tourist guide deep in the Amazon rainforest.

This guide, let’s call her Ana Lucia, was new to the area and probably didn’t know the trails as well as she thought she did.  In a push to drive her single tourist, let’s call her Libby, to the very best wildlife viewing parts of the forest, Ana Lucia stumbled upon a key fork in the trail system at TRC: one trail follows a routine loop through high and low floodplain forest, the other leads deep into the old floodplain forest in a straight line–connecting to no other trials, it’s a one way trip.  This trail is a control transect for FFT: an area designated to be free of most if not all human disturbance.  Unbeknownst to Ana Lucia, two FFT volunteers had passed this way already, walking a normal mammal monitoring transect as the leader at that time, let’s call her Claudia, had done many times before.  Being familiar with the trail system, they knew they had to return the same way.

As Ana Lucia and her passenger drove through the unfamiliar ground, at some point they realized they had gone too far.  The sky was starting to darken, and whether they knew it or not they were lost.  At this point we can assume that they started to rush, loosing track of the basic habits of jungle survival.  In this state of heightened danger, they reached a bridge.

On CN trail there is a log that was felled over a medium sized stream.  A challenging obstacle even to seasoned researchers, this bridge is not maintained for tourist traffic.  Leaving aside the inadvisability of crossing it in the first place, it was this bridge that Ana Lucia and Libby had to cross to get back to the lodge and their only chance at survival.  As a complete bridge this log lies about 3 meters above the ground in the dry season, but this was the wet season, and the water was high enough to touch the bottom of the log.  Every FFT volunteer has learned to cross this bridge using the long sticks placed on both sides for stability.  We’ve also seen the water go right above the bridge at times.  Somehow, we don’t know how, Ana Lucia managed to cross the stream in some other way, and got horribly and irrevocably stuck in the mud on the opposite bank.

She tried to free herself to no avail.  Libby tried to help pull her out…to no avail.  It was at this point that their luck changed as our heroes approached, returning from the mammal transect.  Unbelievably, with three people on hand they still couldn’t get Ana Lucia out of the mud, and it was now raining–hard.  At this point there was a very real risk that the water would rise above where Ana Lucia was stuck. 

Claudia snapped into action.  With Libby still able to stay with Ana Lucia for the time it took to get help she headed back to the lodge on swift heels.  At this point Claudia had been with us for nearly two months, and her “jungle legs” were more than capable of overcoming all the obstacles and tripping points that lay on the trails between there and the lodge–about two and a half kilometers.  When she returned to the lodge she made sure Hugo, an ecotourism veteran of TRC who can toss all manner of luggage for meters one handed, was on the job.  Since they knew exactly what went wrong, they brought shovels and ropes to get Ana Lucia out. 

FFT regularly runs research protocols deep in the rainforest with volunteers that are ready to take on the associated challenges.  At our lowest moments, never once have we been in such a life threatening jam as Ana Lucia was.  What’s more, by taking these excursions to sense environmental changes in the faunas of the Amazon not only are we tackling conservation issues firmly within the global lens, we are also at times finding out about things we never could anticipate, and in so doing even providing an invisible safety net in the forest.   Conservationists, adventurers, or just interested people, without somebody getting out there we could lose track of the most important bits of information held within the ecosystem.

My time in the Amazon, by Ian Rowbotham (FFT Volunteer)

Posted in Tales from the Volunteers by Fauna Forever in the Amazon rainforest on September 14, 2010

My time in the Amazon solidified a life-long passion for conservation, and serves as a foundational experience that I can draw from for energy and direction in the future. On lighter terms, it was also an absolute blast and although the time flew by faster than I would have hoped, I could spend days reflecting on the memories from Peru. From waking up to the sound of howler monkeys overhead while sleeping in a hammock at an oxbow lake to chasing a giant anteater through the jungle, they’re difficult to put into words and impossible to think of without smiling.

            Beyond the pure epic-ness of the Amazon, volunteering with FFT gave a first-hand view of the application of conservation. While studying it in a classroom and postulating about its dire need and potential across the globe, actually seeing the obstacles, hurdles, and tribulations involved with its implementation puts it in an entirely different light. The ruthless power of the gold miners and the infuriating complacency of the corrupt officials turns even the most well meaning projects into battles, while poverty forces local populations into putting up with dangerous, destructive, and often avoidable activities. Uniting the desires of conservationists with the needs of the inhabitants is essential, and experiencing this war of trade-offs where entire ecosystems are at stake up close will drive me in pursuit of future solutions. The work of FFT is a necessity in the path to sustainable conservation, and offers an invaluable opportunity for those planning a future in the field.

An interview with researcher Mary Dinsmore, by Laura Wells (FFT Intern)

Posted in Interviews by Fauna Forever in the Amazon rainforest on September 9, 2010

28-08-2010. Laura Wells (Fauna Forever intern) interviewed Mary Dinsmore, a researcher stationed at the Amazon Conservation Association’s research station in the Madre de Dios region of the Peruvian Amazon, named CICRA:

Name: Mary Dinsmore

From: Omaha, Nebraska

 

Laura: Hi Mary!

Mary: Hi Laura!

Laura: We’d love to share a little info about you and your work on our Fauna Forever blog. Could you tell us a bit about yourself.

Mary: Sure. I attended the University of Portland, Oregon, where I attained two bachelors degrees – one in Environmental Science, and the other in Arts and Political Science. I graduated in 2009, after which I worked on a couple of behavioural projects. I’m really interested in conservation of species, and so, I did an internship at the zoo, where I worked on a project on the behaviour of elephants.

Laura: Madre de Dios is quite far from Oregon?

Mary: Yes, I wanted to gain field experience, particularly to do with primates, and found a position to be an assistant of Mini Watsa, who is currently doing research here for a PhD. I had travelled to Ecuador before and loved it, so I was really excited to come to Peru.

Laura: How long have you been at CICRA?

Mary: Two months now.

Laura: OK, and how long do you plan to stay?

Mary: Only a few days more unfortunately – I leave on the 30th of August.

Laura: Could you tell us a little more about the objectives of Mini’s project?

Mary: Mini is looking at the relationship between genetic chimerism and alloparenting behaviour in saddleback tamarins (Saguinus fuscicolis)., with an emphasis on general population genetics and group structure of this species at CICRA. Chimerism is a condition created by the horizontal transfer of genes from siblings to each other, resulting in the birth of twin offspring that are genetic mosaics or each other, and that share over 50% of their genes with each other. The effects of this condition on primate behaviour are as yet unstudied and hard to decipher. Therefore, we are focused on a specific aspect of their behaviour and look at the treatment of twins by their biological parents and the other adults in the group, and vice versa  

Laura: Fascinating! Do you need to monitor the tamarins’ behaviour every day?

Mary: There are thirty individuals that have been tagged (one shown above), within five groups – two of these are groups with twins. I go into the field with another person and a radio tracker, which I use to find the monkeys that we have tagged. The radio-tracker beeps when we get close to one of the tagged monkeys – the beeps sound closer together as we get closer to the tamarins.  Once we find the monkeys, we turn on a GPS and use it to track where they go. When we are following them, we focus largely on the twins; one of us records what the monkeys do using a technique called focaling and the other writes. We are looking for certain things like food sharing between twins, mating, when the twins are rejected food, catching bugs or insects, as well as the food that they eat. Every 10 minutes we do a scan and write down exactly what the twins are doing. We do this every day for anything between 4 and 10 hours. Also, we search for new groups using playbacks of long calls – if we find new groups we will observe them for about 2 hours, to try to figure out the sexes of the individuals and the number of young. Finally, we tag trees that the monkeys eat from or sleep in, to try to figure out why the tree is important and what types of fruits and sap come from that tree. In total we have tagged 900 trees.

Laura: That sounds like a busy schedule! What have you learned so far?

Mary: We haven’t reached the stage where we can draw conclusions from our data yet, as Mini is in the process of analysing all the data that we have collected.

Laura: So, when will do you expect Mini’s project to be complete?

Mary: It will be at least a year, but maybe a year and a half, due to the sheer volume of data that we are collecting.

Laura: It sounds like a mountain of data! Mini will be publishing all of it hopefully?

Mary: Yes, but Mini isn’t sure when that will be as it depends on how long the data analysis takes.

Laura: We look forward to that! Where do you think we might find it once it’s published?

Mary: I’m not sure yet, but it’s coming from the University of Washington, Saint Louis.

Laura: Great, thank you Mary. One final important question; what do you consider to be the biggest threat to the rainforest?

Mary: The impacts of humans, specifically mining, deforestation, and a lack of political influence.

Laura: And what actions do you think are required to solve the problem?

Mary: Education of local people and stricter government regulations, especially for activities such as mining.

Laura: Thanks for your time Mary. We look forward to seeing Mini and her hard-working team’s work published soon.

Mary: Thanks Laura!

For more information about Mini Watsa and her research, visit www.primatesperu.com.

A behavioural study of Pristimantis & Phyllomedusa, by William Howell (FFT Volunteer)

Posted in Factual Amazon by Fauna Forever in the Amazon rainforest on September 5, 2010

Hi there, Will from UEA again.

When I decided to make the journey to Peru and volunteer with FFT a big influence came from hearing about the support they offer to students conducting final year research projects.

Being offered the opportunity to collect data for my dissertation in such a remarkable and unique study location, with the help and support of experts in the field was simply too good a prospect to pass up. So firstly, I would like to thank all of the FFT team for their support and tutoring over my time in Tambopata, especially Brian who helped open my eyes to a world of possibilities in studying herpetology and from who, I learned so much.

I first became interested in the Amazon and particularly tree frogs after studying them in my 4th year of school and ever since then I have always wanted to go to the Amazon and see the many beautiful and inspirational frogs as well as other anurans that live there! Given that I am heading into my final year in higher education it seemed the perfect opportunity to relate my degree course to a group of animals that I am truly passionate about.

My dissertation will set out to assess the influences of various environmental factors on the behaviour of two genus of frog namely Pristimantis & Phyllomedusa. The ultimate aim of this thesis is to expand upon the ideas already put forward by many herpetologists and other animal scientists about the effect of the lunar cycle on animal activity, and will also seek to assess the relationship between amphibian activity and levels of relative humidity along with air temperature.

The following is just a brief extract from my proposal highlighting the project’s main aims.

‘The majority of our understanding of these animals is based around behaviour and morphology, with the works of Wente and Phillips and those of Gerhardt et al. being at the forefront. These researchers and others have looked extensively at mating behaviour, the variety and seasonal changes in morphology of amphibians, and in more recent years the impacts of habitat fragmentation and the prevalence of a fungal disease Chytridiomycosis.

This research project seeks to examine both male calling and morphology of Pristimantis (shown above) & Phyllomedusa, two genus that have not been widely studied from a behavioural-ecological perspective, to expand on the knowledge we have already and to determine if there are any relationships to be found between phenotypic morphology and mating success. It is also my intention to analyse and expand on that which is already known about the influence of the lunar cycle, humidity and temperature on the activity of these species. The more that can be learnt and understood about these animals the more can be done to preserve them in the wild.’

The data collection methods for this project were simple but reliable, using a Dictaphone to record vocalisations and a hygrometer to record humidity; I recorded frog calls during the evening from about 17:30 onwards. Over the course of the phase I managed to collect well over 20 hours of data to analyse back in the UK.

With the help of Brian and some equipment from the FFT herp bin, I was able to construct a small open-air enclosure for a male Phyllomedusa palliata (shown above). So I could study the process of colour change in the individual between day and night, and also to examine the behaviour when introduced to another male presenting either conspecific colouration or heterospecific colouration. The aim of this smaller study is to delve a bit deeper into behavioural ecology when assessing the importance of colouration or colour signalling as an indicator of being a conspecific or heterospecific male. There has been a great deal of research into colour signalling, and the ability to change colour, a paper by Chaney et al. (Facultative Mimicry: Cues for colour change and colour change accuracy in coral reef fish.) examines the instigating factors behind colour change and covers the reasons for colour change in the bluestripped fangblennie. With papers such as this and others, I am hoping to pull together the broader ideas behind behavioural ecology and contribute to a better understanding of the behaviours present in these animals.

Will’s in the process of analysing his data, but he’s promised to update us on his findings as soon as he can, so keep an eye out!

Herp haunts of the Amazon, by Brian Crnobrna (FFT Herpetofauna Coordinator)

Posted in Factual Amazon by Fauna Forever in the Amazon rainforest on September 2, 2010

To answer the most simple of questions regarding Amazon herping, I want to take this blog to outline all the places one should look in order to find reptiles and amphibians.  It is the most common question I receive, since many people are understandably overwhelmed by the rainforest habitat, and despite all the things that appear before them they don’t know which ones they are most likely to see a herp on or in.

My most likely first answer will be “the surface of leaves,” which isn’t a very helpful answer considering how many leaves there are, but it’s true.  The best way to herp in the Amazon is to go out at night and throw some light on nearby leaves, the ones that are up off the ground in the understory.  In this way you’ll find some frogs before too long.  When I say “the surfaces of leaves” I could stand to be a bit more specific, but there might not be much more to this trick.  Leaves that have a smooth surface on top, free of hairs or spines meant to drive off invaders, are the best, and big round ones are the most visible.  Sometimes the frog sits in the middle of the leaf, where it may take a water conservation posture that makes it look like a green blob, especially during the day.  Or it may be situated more towards the base of the leaf where stability is greatest; depending on what the frog is doing at the time.  You can observe enough bugs on leaf surfaces to make a strong argument that the frog is hunting when it’s sitting in the middle of a leaf.  However, a couple other options are that it’s thermoregulating–that the particular microclimate and temperature of the leaf is providing the frog with the heat is needs–or that is in reproductive behaviour–that the leaf is giving the frog a good position to broadcast its call far and wide.

Tree frogs of the genus Dendropsophus are what you’re likely to see in this way, and in so doing you’ll be taking stock of most of the amphibian species in the forest, when you include the occasional rain frog, toad, or monkey frog that shares the habit.  Additionally, you will occasionally encounter a lizard or snake on a leaf at night.  These are a certain subsection of species, which sleep in seemingly obvious places.  Predator avoidance is the leading theory on why this is.  Also, the abrupt loss of heat from the setting sun may leave some lizards out cold and needing to sleep on random leaves.  Here, they are ideal prey for one of the most common snakes in the forest: Immantodes cenchoa, the chunk headed tree snake.  Look for these and other snake species sprawled out between branches or weaving their way up trunks or vines.

The way a snake gets from the ground to the canopy in a forest is illustrative of the interconnectivity of the habitat.  In observing such animals you can see how the forest structure gives way to varied microhabitats that may all contain different species.  Going beyond the first set of leaves presented to you, it’s easy to spot a large Osteocephalus tree frog as it uses its astonishing agility to run up a palm trunk and into the canopy.  During the day on the trunks of larger trees you may find lizards like Plica plica that have a specific microhabitat preference for such spaces.  Beyond that though, in the main canopy of the forest itself you’ll be hard pressed to find anything without climbing gear.  Not only are things too far away when they’re forty meters above you, they often have cryptic coloration such that viewing them from below makes them wash out against the sky, and viewing them from above makes them blend in with the ground.  This is the “bicolored” strategy of species like Phylomedusa palliata and the beautiful Xenoxybelis vine snake, which adds another green level to its color pattern so it can hide in vines and leaves as well.

Opposite the canopy level is the ground, which you may find is just as diverse and multidimensional.  Ground-dwelling herp species range from the large whiptail lizards that run across the ground, to frogs that hop around the leaf litter, to the small specialized frogs and lizards that spend time just underneath the litter layer, to the snakes and other bizarre creatures that freely travel below the soil surface.  These animals will always be able to survive better in areas where the leaf litter is thick and full of prey, like ants, termites, and small crickets.  But they will always be easier to see in areas where the leaf litter is sparse and they can’t hide as easily.  There may be more to this, since I regularly observe animals laying on bare soil both on and off trials.  Even animals that make their living in the leaf litter will occasionally reach their peak active temperature, after warming up and eating their fill of insects.  At this point they may just as well seek out cooler environments like bare soil or puddles.  This is why I always search areas of bare soil, not only because they may attract overheated herps, but also because they often are a sign of invertebrate activity–the prey source of most reptiles and amphibians.  By far the most worthwhile bare soil area to search is the leaf cutter ant nest, which is not only teeming with various prey items, but also provides habitat for a variety of animals whom the ants allow to live in their space.  The ants are busy collecting and storing leaves.  Inside the nest the leaves ferment and grow fungus.  The decomposition involved becomes a heat source in of itself, even during the coldest nights in the forest.  Heat seeking animals are not only aware of this; some reptiles will even lay their eggs in or near leaf cutter nests to incubate them.  This works alongside the obvious abundance of underground space in which snakes and frogs can live, provided the ants don’t kick them out.

The final place to mention is the prize that comes with working in tropical rainforest environments.  The presence of very large trees in concordance with often thin and weak draining soils means many plants do their best to stay standing by widening out their base of support.  In many tree species this takes the form of buttress roots.  Named for the architectural structure that supports church arches and the like, buttress roots generally take a triangular form running from the main trunk of a tree out to areas of ground surrounding it.  More often than not, the buttress roots become a tangled mess with numerous folds and fissures, the structure of which presents many obstacles and opportunities to the animal community.  The many enclosed spaces created by the tree buttress may serve as perfect living spaces for herps, and long running roots can become natural walls, which can collect dispersing animals.

The positive attributes for finding animals inside the buttress are obvious, but the total effect is observable from a slightly different perspective.  The quintessential place to find a snake would be curled up against the side of a tree buttress, but the times that that actually occurs can be counted on one hand.  While multiple reptiles may be living inside the buttress, they will generally stay deep within the structure where they are completely out of sight.  The time when we can encounter them is when they are out and active in the forest.  Inside and against the buttress is nowhere near as valuable as within the range of the buttress’ intensifying effect.  Herpetologists have found that the number of observations of animals goes up when you’re within ten meters of a buttress.  So to increase your chances of finding something it will still be a good idea to walk around the tree buttress, but looking outside the buttress at the multiple stems and leaf litter areas that lie close to it will be more productive than going straight in.

Only 984 hours to remember the rest of my life, by Madison Wise (FFT Volunteer)

Posted in Tales from the Volunteers by Fauna Forever in the Amazon rainforest on August 22, 2010

The Amazon region of Madre de Dios is home to a little over a hundred different species of amphibians, so for me, coming here and being a part of this program has been a life-long dream finally birthed into fruition. If there was a way of putting into words the ecstaticm I feel every day, having a chance to participate in the workings, co-habitat in the same environments, and actually witness the presence of some of the most captivating animals is a jaw dropping, awe-inspiring experience that I am hoping to remember every moment of.

My education has been primarily focused on herpetofauna with a Bachelors of Science in Biology and Chemistry, and having a strong interest in amphibians since I was seven years old motivated me strongly to come to this region with one of the highest biodiversity of amphibians and reptiles.  The FFT program gives people access to these areas and gives everyone a chance to manifest a similar love and appreciation for the fauna with or without similar interests and drives.

My interests being so strong were well met with the friendly froggy faces I so dearly adore. Even in the dry season I have been witness to some of the species I dared to dream meeting in the wild, among them, the Yellow-footed tortoise (Chelonoidis denticulate), Coral Pipesnake (Anilius scytale scytale) (shown above), Crested forest toad (Bufo margaritifer complex), Pale striped poison frog (Epipedobates hahneli), Three-stripped poison frog (Epipedobates trivittatus), Short nosed treefrog (Hyla brevifrons), Convict tree frog (Hyla calcarata), my personal favourite the Clown tree frog (Hyla leucophyllata), and a Barred monkey frog (Phyllomedusa tomopterna) (shown below), also worth mentioning, I stumbled across a never before seen red phased Atractus flammigerus and laid witness to a Common Mussurana (Clelia clelia clelia) eating an Amazon blunt headed tree snake (Imantodes lentiferus) only feet away from an on-looking Amazon egg-eating snake (Drepanoids anomalus)!

The people of Fauna Forever are equally captivating with their cooperative leadership, accommodating guidance and enthusiastic companionship. There are still 14 more days left in the phase, and I look forward to every minute that I can share this environment with these beloved creatures and will be returning with a new found enthusiasm, direction and motivation to continue making efforts of conservation and preservation because as it is possible to see firsthand, one person really can make a difference.

Keeping you up to date with FFT (Laura Wells, FFT Intern)

Posted in Tales from the Team by Fauna Forever in the Amazon rainforest on August 20, 2010

Well, a lot has happened here since my last blog, which was…coming up for two weeks ago now. Wow, it doesn’t feel like I’ve been here that long.

So, as I said, Kim and I went to the Jungle, just for a couple of days. That was awesome, my first time in the jungle and I think I was broken in gently! Kim took me for a walk on the afternoon that I got there, and she introduced me to some of the wildlife in the Jungle. Then I met all the volunteers and it was nice to hang out with all of them. The following day we got up early to go to Cocococha Lake, a 5km walk there and then a leisurely row around the lake to see giant otters, these guys are endangered and protected, so we were really lucky to get to see them so closely. We also saw loads of monkeys, cutter ants and some interesting tree species including wandering palms and strangler figs, which were absolutely HUGE! They’re called strangler’s because they literally strangle trees which they grow on – you might be able to see a gap in the middle of the roots in the picture below where the original tree was before the strangler took over.

The next day we travelled back to Puerto Maldonado with the whole team, everyone bought souvenirs and did their laundry and it was so nice to hang out at Anaconda lodge again, with some amazing Thai food, a welcomingly cold swimming pool and lovely little monkeys (one of them shown below). After that, we even had time for a good night out in Puerto, with memorable events including the volunteers doing the limbo with a broom in The Plaza Bar, which, may I say, serves a mean Caipiriña.

Anyway, the volunteers and all the team, save Kim and I, went back to the Jungle after we briefly celebrated Ashley’s birthday on the Friday. This time the team have gone to CICRA – a research station with some inspiring scientists carrying out research there I am told. Sounds like they’re all having a blast, the views are b-e-a-utiful and everyone’s seen loads of wildlife. Today Dave and James get back and then we’ll spend a couple of days catching each other up on everything. After that Kim and I get to take their places and go to CICRA too. I’ll let you know all about it when I can. Over and out :)

Amazon Fun, by Laura Wells (FFT Intern)

Posted in Tales from the Team by Fauna Forever in the Amazon rainforest on August 12, 2010

Hi all!

I’m the new intern here at Fauna Forever Tambopata. My Name’s Laura Wells and I’m a 3rd year Environmental Science student from England, doing a year in industry as part of my course.

On Friday night I left Cusco, where I’ve been learning Spanish for 2 weeks, and took an overnight bus through the mountains. It was such a long journey and so frustrating that it was dark – I could see that there would be amazing views if it had been light. The stars, however, were stunning – they were just so bright against a sky with absolutely no light pollution and I saw the southern cross. :) I arrived in Puerto Maldonado on Saturday at about half six in the morning and I’ve got to say waking up to see the cloud forests in the mist while the sun was rising was a perfect start to my time here. Dave picked me up and took me to the house, which is a little basic but it’s pretty cool. Here are a few observations, not complaints, about how the house may be different from what you or I are used to. There’s no hot water and we only have water for a few hours in the morning and a few hours in the evening. The internet is possibly the slowest connection I have known and there are 5 of us that fight over it. There’s no glass in the windows so the noise from the street is pretty loud and it’s so damn dusty and hot. Of course, it’s a different way of life to back home, but I’m a little used to it from some travelling I’ve been doing recently – but but BUT everyone I have met from the team so far is really cool and it should be fun living with them all. There’s Dave – Marketing Manager, Kim – Project manager, George – who runs Fotoforever (Fauna forever Tambopata’s sister project.) Finally, there’s James who doesn’t really work for Fauna Forever but he’s a mean cook and he helps us all out. Puerto Maldonado is nice too, it’s small but seems like you can get almost anything you need if you look hard enough, and there’s some awesome food here too.

My first job is to get this blog up to date and keep it that way. So watch this space for blogs from me, the team and volunteers, as well as other interesting thought leaders, organisations and local parties that are all relevant to what Fauna Forever is about and what’s going on with us. My second job is to get a Facebook fan page up and running, so please join that, and as well as being able to keep up to date with us, the first 1000 members will be entered into a very exciting competition!

So, now you know a little bit about who I am and what I’ll be doing. All in all I’m really excited about my time here with Fauna Forever Tambopata. I’m also very excited to be off to the Jungle today! Kim and I are going to Explorer’s Inn to meet up with the volunteers, some of who are from the same university as me – UEA (The University of East Anglia). So it’ll be cool to meet and catch up with all the volunteers and bring them back to Puerto Maldonado. So that’s it for now but I’ll tell you all about my jungle experiences and what’s happening here when I get back  :)

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