trail

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Jaguar makes the best birthday present!

Timo Förster, an undergraduate from the University of Greiswald, Germany, is conducting a research internship with me, funded by the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD). We developed a project to study the insect communities that develop in small pools of water that plants retain (phytotelmata). Pitcher plants may be the most familiar and best studied phytotelmata communities. These pools may form in flowers, seeds, leaves, and damaged stems.  Their communities tend to be dominated by insects, especially beetles.  In 2010, KU undergraduates Joe, Riley and Tom studied such communities in two Zingiberales plants at the Los Amigos Biological Station, Peru; our manuscript is going through the review process for publication. Zingiberales are gorgeous plants and make our fieldwork more special.

I conducted fieldwork with Timo in Peru during Oct 2012 and he has stayed in the field collecting data and specimens on these unusual insect-plant interactions.   Such a lengthy field stay and enormous specimen collections will require years of study and will yield many manuscripts. I am still immersed in the fieldwork because of Timo’s weekly emails reporting on our traps, which plants are flowering, and what surprises he uncovers.  His most recent post does not concern insects, but it is quite thrilling:

“We were walking on trail 8 today (Adrian, Nicole, another researcher, and me).  Suddenly Adrian, who was walking in the front, made signs to hide behind a tree. Suddenly a big group (perhaps 20-30 animals) of white-lipped peccaries came across and we were directly in the middle of their group, as we were hiding behind a tree. About 10 seconds later, we saw a huge yellow cat walking silently only about 5 meters behind the peccaries. The Jaguar was stalking them and was walking so close to us that we could almost touch it (less than 2 meters distance). We saw the cat for about 15 seconds, until it saw us and got scared and fled. All of the time, I was absolutely stunned. After that encounter we made a big party on the mountain. That was my first jaguar and it was one of the most impressive things I saw in the wild so far.”

After many months in the field, I can’t imagine a more precious birthday gift for Timo, turning 23 today!  We are fortunate to access such high quality habitat at Villa Carmen.  I hope my June 2013 field course with KU students will return with equally precious sightings and memories.