One characteristic of rain and cloud forests are the diversity of epiphytes, life forms growing on top of other life forms. ‘Aerial garden’ is used nowadays to refer to roof-top gardens sprouting on little-used spaces of high-rise buildings around the world. Classically, it has referred to the plethora of plants that assemble on the trunks and limbs of rainforest trees. ‘Aerial aquaria’ are the bromeliads that accumulate rainwater, soil and animal communities at the base of the rosette of leaves. Canopy walkways, aerial traps, open-air gondolas, and zip-lining are frequently being constructed for scientists and nature lovers to learn about these hard-to-reach forest layers.
In our daily walks along trails at the Zurqui de Moravia site near San Jose and here in the Monteverde Cloud Forest, we take advantage of fallen trees and broken tree limbs to test out our botany knowledge, add a few more families to our life lists, and poke around for hidden snakes, frogs, and especially insects. I don’t have the heart to peel off the carpet of mosses, filmy ferns, and flowering orchids to find beetles and bugs. Documenting the arthropod community living in the phytotelmata of a bromeliad is destructive sampling – tearing leaves apart and using forceps to spread the soil. Fortunately, this is not the focus of my current research nor permitted by my Costa Rica research permit; thus, I am spared the conflict of attacking these gorgeous bromeliads for cryptic insect treasures.
I visited Monteverde in June 1994, as a student in a field course led by former KU professor, Dr. Michael Greenfield. This was before my own current students here were born! Back then I was enchanted by the forest, its birds awaking me as they began singing from about 4 am, by the clouds drifting in with their misty moisture, and the overwhelming diversity of plants. The old field station inside the reserve was a wooden 2-story construction, with poorly lit rooms and scary showers. My student companions and I then complained of the wet and cold, while enjoying being far from home in this extraordinary forest.
In 1951, 11 American Quaker families migrated to this area in protest of the Korean War. Costa Rica had abolished its army and was an attractive destination. As the community established and grew, developing a low-key farming model, biologists began arriving for research. The reserve was established in 1972 to protect one of the world’s most diverse and virgin forests, with 6 ecological life zones and more than 2500 species of plants.
Today, Monteverde has grown, like Costa Rica, into a super-successful model of nature tourism and conservation. The road, now paved, passes through the towns of Santa Elena and Monteverde. My jaw dropped with the number of shops and hotels. The new field station offers fine dining, its own gift shop, and a small army of workers and guides. The forest is still a wet and cold place and the station still has heart-stopping frigid showers.
It is a remarkable site to view the busloads of school groups and families and their uniformed guides arriving early, even before 7am, paying the entrance fees and heading off on the trails. More wondrous is that over 70,000 visitors come here annually to learn about biology and ecology!
Before the start of the program I had to pleasure of traveling around Costa Rica with my dad. It was an experience unlike any I have had before. First off I loved all the different chances to experience the difference in culture. For a little while we lived with a Costa Rica family. That was a very eye opening experience, because it showed me that their everyday life isn't that different from ours in the states. Also, eating home cooked food every day we were with them gave me good insight to the typical meals; breakfast never changed, and dinner was essentially the same every time but with a different protein. The other thing I now find very cool is the plants. When I was traveling with my dad I saw a lot of the plant order that we are here to study and didn't even know it. However, now that I have some field experience under my belt I realize I was surrounded by them. I didn't realize how abundant they were here, and I never would have guessed at all the different organisms that live on the plants. I'm looking forward to the rest of our research. All in all it has been a great time so far, and my favorite place was the Manuel Antonio National Park, so I am excited to be returning there for the weekend.
Yesterday I learned to collect beetles with a method called beating. This involves a sheet (fabric or nylon) on a wooden or PVC frame and a stick (e.g., a broom handle) to collect insects from trees and bushes. You hold the sheet under the branches with one hand and hit the vegetation with the stick with the other hand. The insects fall from the plants unto the sheet, and you can then quickly collect them by hand or using an aspirator. It sounds pretty simple, but for a first timer it is not so easy. Being 5’1” tall, it was a little difficult for me to reach some of the overhanging tree branches. Having a long beating stick made for some awkward moves. You also need to be quick to catch the insects before they recover from shock and fly away. Beating needs a lot of practice. Overall, it is an interesting to way to collect insects and also get some personal aggression out at the same time.
Two M.Sc. students in the Chaboo lab presented posters on their research at the annual meeting of the the Entomological Society of America, Knoxville, TN, 11-14 November 2012. The ESA is the largest professional entomological organization in the world, and the annual meeting is a great place to contact other entomologists. Mabel and Sofia were able to get feedback and ideas to improve their research, while catching up many interesting talks in beetle systematics, genomics, climate change, and fieldwork.
The Gyrinidae are a family of charismatic aquatic Coleoptera commonly known as whirligig beetles, for their gyrating swimming style. Gyrinids are peculiar for having completely divided eyes giving them the appearance of having four eyes: two that peer above the water and two that peer below the water. They swim about on the surface tension of the water kicking with two pairs of paddle-like legs. The species selected for this month is a whirligig beetle in the genus Gyretes. Gyretes can be characterized by a furry pubescence that usually outlines most of the beetle´s body. However, the Gyretes selected here is nearly completely covered in this hairy pubescence. It also happens to be one of the largest known Gyretes. It is found here in Venezuela and I (Grey) am hoping that I will have the opportunity to collect this charismatic gyrinid on this trip.
At first you won’t see many beetles…” a piece of advice given to me regarding collecting in the tropics. I thought that was a lie. I’ve seen the photos of brightly colored scarabs and blacklight sheets full of insects. This advice echoed in my head today as I entered the Costa Rican rainforest for the first time today. Sure enough, beetles did not throw themselves at me! I had to seek them out as I would in any other place. The beetles that I study for my dissertation research are known as riffle beetles, and they live in fast-flowing streams throughout the world. The first stop on the hunt for riffle beetles was a relatively small stream (or Quebrada as they are known in Spanish) draped in mosses and mist, close to the Lodge. I collected with the help of Frazier and the students from UCR. It took a few tries, but before long, we had collected a diverse batch of elmids. It looks like this is going to be a good trip after all!
I had my first in-the-field birthday today. Monica, a curator and professor at the University of Costa Rica whom has joined us this trip into Tapanti National Park, graciously baked us a b-day cake. I’m not big on celebrating birthdays, and I had in fact forgotten about today, so if it weren’t for, I’m assuming Andrew’s insistent pursuit, my birthday would have gone un-noticed/-celebrated.
Crystal couldn’t finish her dinner today, so I had both our dinners. Two fish heads were also consumed and on another note still no sign of an army ant emigration column. Unfortunate, considering I’ve seen more species, and genera, than last year’s trip in March.
Today’s agenda, for those that are keeping track was sifting, sifting, sifting.
A few days ago I hiked through the forest for the first time covered in DEET. I swatted at every insect that came near me. Finally I conceded that I did come to the rainforest with an entomologist. I was going to have to touch some bugs. About halfway through I got my vial out and started catching beetles. Every time I caught a beetle I'd ask Dr. Chaboo, "What kind is this?" it turns out that, each time, I had caught a chrysomelid, her specialty. I wondered how she could tell what kind were chrysomelids. They all looked different to me. After lunch we had our first art lesson. We all picked something to draw. I chose one of my beetles. We spent about 30 minutes to an hour on our drawings. My eyes followed the little beetle around the vial, wishing it would hold still, and I examined each part closely before trying to replicate it on paper. After I finished my drawing, Dr. Chaboo brought in a vial of specimens she had caught by sweeping the grass with a net. There were all kinds of insects in the vial. As I examined them, I started to recognize several even though they looked different from each other. I asked if some were chrysomelid beetles. She said some were. I realized I could recognize the chrysomelids from drawing the ones I had caught. I told Dr. Chaboo. "Good! The class worked then," she said.
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. In this part of Peru, I am particularly interested in chrysomelids that have become specialists of bamboos 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?
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?