As a researcher doing fieldwork in a foreign country, I normally stop in cities for the essentials: meet collaborators and process paperwork for research permits. Little time is made for savoring the city or indulging in its daily life. Early in the planning of this field course, we decided to dedicate 2-3 days to an orientation to Peru, through an academic tour of it museums and cultural life. This is my 4th visit to Peru, so it is time that I also steep myself in this side of Peru; I am as much a student as the other participants accompanying me.
One of the interesting aspects of field research is having the opportunity to experience the culture of the community and the country we visit. For our varied group on the Peru trip, we are going to see places in Lima such as cathedrals, monasteries, museums and historic centers. But while we are there, something else will be happening: a presidential election. In Peru, it's mandatory to vote, so on voting day, most everything in Lima closes as 9 million people try to get around town to vote.
I specialize in chrysomelid leaf beetles. Chrysomelidae (about 40,000 species) forms one of the largest radiations 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.
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?
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.
While Diana and Malena headed out on another night walk, Dan, Choru and I set up the mercury vapor light trap again in front of my cabin. As we tied the white sheets, and turned on the light, the wind was picking up speed. We had been warned that a “friaje”, a cold polar wind coming up from Patagonia, was heading our way. Despite the wind, the number of insects coming to our sheet was low, the diversity was still good, with some unusual specimens we had not sampled before.
Our days have developed into a pattern of servicing the traps in the mornings: picking up all the arthropods collected by the traps, returning to the lab and processing the specimens (cleaning, sorting, labeling), then each person going off in a different direction to use specialist techniques to collect their favorite group. I spend the afternoons surveying palms, heliconias and bamboos for their particular fauna of chrysomelid beetles.
Today is a big day: reviewing the available established plant plots in the area, relocating their markers (boundaries of edges and internal sub-quadrats), selecting a plot we will follow in the next few years, and setting up several kinds of traps to capture insects. One of the reasons arthropods are so diverse is because they divide any habitat into 1000s of microhabitats, with many insects specializing on particular aspects – flower feeders, seed drillers, stem and leaf miners, soil arthropods, root feeders, parasites, parasitoids, predators….an insect specialist must h
post by Malena Vilchez, of the Peru research team