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viernes, 26 de agosto de 2011

Funding, fossorial rodents, and future assistants

A few days ago Greg Goodfellow left Laguna Blanca after finishing an excellent intern project on white-rumped tanager duet, territorial, and mate defence behaviours. He will now begin to analyse his data and write his report. This will act as good preparation for when Greg attempts to publish some of his findings.

Georgina Snelling continues to do well in her field investigations into the contributing factors in the distribution and diversity of fern species within the reserve. Recently she has started to assess the moisture levels of the different soils in each habitat type with the aid of a soil moisture probe. She has also recently found yet another new species of fern for the reserve.

There have also been some exciting recent developments at Para la Tierra in terms of what the organisation will be offering in the near future. We intend to add a new option to run along side the volunteer and intern routes visitors can take. Shortly we will be launching a ‘scientific assistantship’ option which will appeal to those who wish to contribute and help with ongoing and long term research at Laguna Blanca. By offering this additional placement Para la Tierra will be able to continue expanding on current projects and have the opportunity to publish more complex and advanced studies while at the same offering assistants the opportunity to gain valuable experience in working within a field research team. At present the options we will offer to scientific assistants are within the projects that are focused on the Plush-crested jays (Cyanocorax chrysops), the Broad-headed spiny rat (Clyomys laticeps), the White-rumped tanager (Cypsnagra hirundinacea), and the Tufted capuchins ((Cebus libidinosus paraguayanus).

Research continues to progress on my Clyomys project. I am currently in the middle of excavating their burrow systems, which has never been revealed or explored before. It has already thrown up some surprises so look out for further results on this in the near future.
We are also currently working with an ex-intern, Joseph, to try and secure a grant that will allow him to return to Laguna Blanca to continue working with this species over a 10 month period. Having Joseph back will further increase the scope and complexity of what we can study for these poorly understood animals.

We have also begun the primary stages of the capuchin project at Laguna Blanca. PLT will be collaborating with outsider scientists to gain major funding for a long term study on these primates. Currently we are in the process of applying to National Geographic and a number of other funding institutions. If successful we will be able to establish a fully operational primate project which will hold great potential not only for scientific study and publishing but also for students to develop their scientific skills in a practical manner.

Until next time ill say goodbye.

Best Wishes,


A mysterious tail, attack of the killer frogs and my new job!

Ouch! I ache all over from my feet to my legs, back and arms, even my face aches! It’s hardly surprising though, I have been pretty much immobile for almost a month and then jumped straight into digging in two pitfall trap lines in one day followed by about three hours of frogging. Hardcore! (or just really daft!).

However, the reason I have been immobile for the last three weeks isn’t due to some impressive field injury or exotic disease but the rather less glamorous necessity of writing a literature review. I am about to embark on a really interesting project on the Microteiidae lizards we have in abundance here at Laguna Blanca. These tiny lizards all have really interesting tails. In some species the tails are brightly coloured and in other species they are disproportionately long (as in three times their snout-vent length!). Why is this? Is it an anti-predator strategy to deflect attention to the tail which they can then shed? And if so why have colourful tails when most of their predators are likely to be colour blind? So many questions need to be answered and theories eliminated before I can even begin to get started on those two biggies! It looks set to be a very long but extremely interesting project, which is probably why I went a little mad digging in pitfall traps to catch more lizards and now I ache all over!

Last night’s frogging was amazing! Arriving here in the autumn meant I just caught the tail end of the amphibian season, so I have spent the winter quietly chomping at the bit waiting for the spring when they all wake up again. And I am happy to report I think it’s finally here. Last night I heard more species in one place than I have so far since I arrived. The Rhinella schniederi (the really big toads you may have seen if you have looked at our previous volunteers photos) were out in force, chorusing their little hearts out. Actually it got quite intimidating at one point as I was there alone, in the dark, knee deep in muddy water and the giant toads started moving closer and closer and every time I turned round to look at them, they stop moving… but were somehow closer when I looked back. OK so my imagination may have got the better of me a little there but it was still a little bit freaky. I do really love those toads though I think they may be my favourite!

So once I’d escaped the attack of the killer toads I headed over to the vernal pool which is just outside the Atlantic Forest. OMG! It was amphibianarama! I don’t know how many species were out in force last night but lets just say - it was a lot. I came back to camp with seven captures that I’m about to key out and I also recorded several minutes of their sounds which I can now use to identify which species were present. Absolutely amazing so if anyone needs me after dark I’ll be knee deep in mud with a microphone in one hand and a frog in the other!

I have other news for you all too. I have a new job title. I am now the Volunteer Co-ordiantor and Museum Curator. This doesn’t mean however that I’ll be trapped inside the museum, quite the opposite in fact. It means that I will now be responsible for the species inventories, which means more field work and a wider variety of jobs (woo hoo!). So while I will still be largely involved in the herp project, it also means that the lepidoptera (butterflies and moths), bird and bat inventories will also be my responsibility. And this is where more volunteers come in! I am going to need volunteers to help me. I’m going to need people to assist with catching butterflies, mist netting for birds and bats, checking my pitfall trap lines and of course helping catch frogs! So what are you waiting for get on-line, book a place and come and join us at Laguna Blanca. There’s not a moment to lose!!!

Hasta pronto!


jueves, 11 de agosto de 2011

Controls, close encounters and capuchins

Greg Goodfellow is into the last two weeks of data collection for his investigation into white-rumped tanager duets, territorial, and mate defence behaviours. He has been successful in collecting a healthy and valid amount of data over a 3 month period which will eventually allow him to test his project hypotheses through statistical analysis. Greg has achieved this result through dedication, hard work, and a rigid consistency in his fieldwork. These final two week for Greg will involve collecting the last few data points and also conducting control playback, i.e playbacks that are not white-rumped tanager duets. This will assess if it is simply bird vocalisations they respond to or the actual duet of a perceived rival pairs. Greg also videoed some very interesting behaviour today. During one of playback experiments which included the presence of two dummy tanagers, the resident pair flew over and approached the dummies within 0.5m. Then they came together just 1m from the dummies in the same tree and produced a return duet. This evidence shows that on some level the visual presence of rivals adds to the severity of reactions from resident pairs.

Our botany intern Georgina Snelling has now begun data collection from her 100m x 100m plots. Within each of her 12 plots she has randomly selected ten 10m x 10m quadrants. Data will be collected from inside these quads to eventually give a 10% sample of the habitats. Next week she will begin using the new equipment Para la Tierra are providing. These include a moisture and conductivity probe as well as a sunlight sensor. At the same time Georgina is building up a herbarium of ferns and other botanical samples from the reserve. This involves a lot of ‘keying out’ as botanists say.

Aimee Oxley has completed her data collection period for her Masters research into the affect of habitat disturbance on small mammals. She gained a good amount of captures and data during the allocated time period and is now collating it all together in preparation for statistical analysis.

Aimee’s study in the Atlantic forest has had an additional unexpected result and benefit. Over the last two months Aimee and the volunteers who have helped her have regularly observed tufted capuchins (Cebus libidinosus paraguayanus). The reactions from the monkeys to human encounters has been so encouraging that we are now aiming to launch a long term primate project at Para la Tierra. The monkeys were not scared (which is usually the case for unhabituated primates) and did not run away. Instead they were more inquisitive and stared at the people for a while and then carried on with their business. This is an excellent sign and we intend to habituate these groups and get to know them a lot better.

Finally, I am leaving Laguna Blanca for a couple of days next week to visit Asuncion. In the capital I will be collecting some important items for camp, holding some research meetings with Para la Tierra collaborator Dr Robert Owen, and also giving a presentation on the organisation at an English speaking class.

Until next time ill say goodbye.

Best wishes,