Category Archives: Biodiversity

2019 Update

Dear Friends and Supporters of REGUA 

Yet another year has passed and Raquel and I, on behalf of everyone at the REGUA project, would like to share this update that is just full to the brim of encouraging news. 

The Guapiaçu Valley (© REGUA)

The mission statement of the project is the conservation of the Guapiaçu watershed achieved through the implementation of four principle programmes; protection; restoration; education and research. 

Land Purchase is a visceral part of REGUA’s protection programme and in 2019 REGUA purchased or (at the time of writing) is in the process of finalising the purchase of various parcels of land to integrate into the Reserve of 338.5 hectares/846.25 acres. This would not be possible without the continued generosity of our supporters. 

REGUA employs 10 rangers from the local community and their work consists of principally patrolling the forests along 45km of the reserve’s trail network. The aim of the patrolling is to show REGUA presence and discourage hunting.  Coming from the local community the rangers are able to share news and discuss any concerns which enables them to be part of the decisions made and work done here.  Sponsorship supports some of our rangers enabling us to increase our team as land purchase increases the size of the reserve.

Our Reforestation Team (© REGUA)

REGUA continues to reforest as part of its programme in habitat restoration. The project has now planted over 520,000 trees since 2005. Tree planting is not an easy task, but with support from many individuals, and grants from companies and supportive conservation organisations, REGUA has planted tough areas and results are heart-warming. Increasing the overall forest cover, reducing edge effect, and creating and strengthening forest corridors, which offer greater areas for biodiversity, are vital. 

Our education programme thrives with the out-reach programme to local schools meeting over 2,270 children. We have 19 enthusiastic young people in our young ranger programme and have met just under 200 school teachers and received 80 tutors on our teacher courses. All of which continues to spread our message of conservation and the value of the wonderful landscape and biodiversity in to the local communities.

Taking our education programme to local communities (© REGUA)

Over 2,000 individuals have participated in training courses and research work at REGUA and our reputation with major universities continues to grow. 

The results have led to protocols in tree monitoring established by the RJ Government; on-going experimental plots; long term monitoring plots to measure tree growth; carbon sequestration studies; seed exchange and hosting technical workshops at REGUA as well invitation to participate in seminars and congresses.

Our protection and increased continuous forest, made REGUA a suitable project to launch the tapir reintroduction programme, a fact which we feel is an clear endorsement of the work we are doing. The reintroduction project is run by the Rio de Janeiro University. REGUA currently has nine tapirs roaming in the nearby local forests. This attracts public attention and reflects the value of a safe nature reserve. Sadly things are not always straightforward and two casualties showed that bats, anaemia and infections are to be reckoned with.

Lowland Tapir reintroduction (© REGUA)

Tourism at REGUA has continued to increase as a result of its reputation spread by word of mouth, internet and social media promotion, report writing and reviews. The Lodge offers comfortable accommodation, and guiding helps to make for a pleasurable and productive time. The bird life continues to attract visitors and groups from around the globe, but similarly dragonfly, butterfly and amphibian groups are visiting. Rio is an international hub and makes the REGUA an easy place to visit being just under two hours from the airport with a remarkably preserved habitat. 

Our plans for the future are clear, we have to keep developing and promoting our work independently. REGUA wishes to expand and consolidate through land purchase and complementary programmes. Tourism continues to be an essential component of REGUA’s fund-raising.

The conservation principles and ethos has attracted political interest and with the aim of securing water resources, the Government has declared the Guapiaçu watershed as strategically important for conservation. 

Restoration in action (© REGUA)

Brazil continues to be a key area for global conservation, but it’s not an easy country to work in.  Located in a global “hotspot”, the Atlantic rainforest biome, located in an “Important Bird Area” (IBA) as defined by Birdlife International, REGUA is an “Outpost of the UNESCO Biosphere Reserve”. 

Perhaps REGUA is not pristine habitat nor is it the home to some of the more charismatic species instantly recognised by the general public, but our main contribution is that we are repairing and organising damaged ecosystems. REGUA is showing that this different approach, will one day be vital for repairing tropical forests around the globe. 

Three RPPNs areas have been constituted and two more are waiting to be approved, taking us up to second position in the State list of protected private areas. Our conservation efforts are being recognised and they are a source of inspiration to people visiting anxious to see what the fuss is all about!

This year REGUA was able to put more land into protection, plant more trees, publish more science and receive more visitors. As a result we are
influencing public politics as to the regional importance of this Guapiaçu
watershed and encouraging others to follow us. 

We could not be prouder of our efforts. We would like to wish everyone a very Happy Xmas and a wonderful New year.

King Vulture photographed by Marco Wood-Bonelli

Here’s to a great year ahead – and hoping for more great sightings like the King Vulture photographed by Marco Wood-Bonelli in September 2019!


Nicholas, Raquel, Thomas and the REGUA Team 


Orchid Cathedral nears completion

The REGUA orchid cathedral is receiving its 80% sun filter netting which will reduce the temperature significantly.

Obviously orchids are found across the entire gradient, from sea level to 2000m above sea level and the challenge is to provide an ambience that responds to their climatic demands.

João and Tiago working hard to complete the Orchid Cathedral (© Nicholas Locke)

We have received sound advice with regard to the structure of the building, how to provide the best environment for the specimens and most importantly, the ongoing management of the orchids. Rosário Braga (a biologist and former head of OrquidaRio, the RJ orchid club) and Helmut Seehawer, a long-standing friend of REGUA and orchid expert have been invaluable in their support.

We have been warned that watering is not a simple task, and we aim to have a semi-automatic sprinkler system to support the environment of the Cathedral. As Helmut Seehawer advised, air movement is essential and we are using wire netting on the lower section to allow for wind movement. Helmut has also suggested we use as much natural forest compost as possible.

By the end of the year, the REGUA orchid cathedral will be open to the public, an addition to the existing trail network revealing the jewels of the forest.            

SavingNature capturing the beauty of REGUA

When Brian Rodgers came to visit in June, he brought his drone with a new lens that promised great opportunities.   The drone offers remarkable views that can really capture the beauty of the landscape here at REGUA, it is also a very necessary tool to help us understand the importance of the conservation work going on.    

Ryan, Ian and Brian (© REGUA)

Supported by SavingNature, Brian arrived with two students Ian Handler and Ryan Huang from Duke University, in North Carolina, USA.   Their plan was to help set up camera traps, in strategic places around the reserve, and also to continue their scientific research at the Golden Lion Tamarin project in Silva Jardim. 

Brian helped REGUA secure the Vecchi land corridor last year, an important strategic purchase to link the Vecchi ridgeline with Onofre Cunha, land which REGUA already owns and protects.   Brian was delighted to see the progress we are making in planting this pasture land to create a forested link.

Drone image of the Guapiaçu Watershed (&copy SavingNature)

Tiger Ratsnake

This diurnal snake, was seen by a group of visitors on our Green Trail, whilst walking in the forest with Adilei.

Although not venomous, they can still give a nasty bite if threatened.   Adelie knows how to deal with this sort of situation as he has spent all his life in these forests. One of the group got this amazing footage, standing at a safe distance.

Tiger Ratsnake, Spilotes pullatus (© REGUA)

These snakes lay eggs and are active on the ground and in trees.   Their prey are mammals and birds, including eggs and nestlings.   

Their defence strategy is to puff up their forebody and shake their tail.   This individual seemed quite relaxed and only shook the tail as it left the group by slithering under a nearby fallen tree.

Treks and Walks at REGUA

If you are interested in treks and walks in the forest, we are definitely the right place to come to. REGUA has over 45 kilometres of well-marked trails with breath-taking views and stunning scenery.

stunning scenery (© N Locke)

It’s a good chance to get to know the Brazilian Atlantic Rainforest and its superb attributes. This wonderful area is quite rightly considered one of the most biodiverse regions of the world. Our local team of are well experienced and have walked these trails many times, over the years. Yet every time we find something new. 

The trail pictured is the Cachoeiras de Macacu to Guapiaçu trail, a walk of 14 km, and it will take you minimum of 4 hours. There are waterfalls and fresh cool water spots and even places to swim on a hot day. 

Above all, trails of this kind offer walkers a chance to see the importance of what REGUA is trying to do, restoring and protecting the forests to allow their ecosystem to function healthily. Isn’t this our responsibility?

      

Raquel Locke in the forest (© N Locke)

Duke University students visit REGUA

You will have recently read that the US charity SavingSpecies helped REGUA acquire a parcel of land. Once planted with trees this will be an important corridor linking two established forests.

Setting up the camera traps (© Nicholas Locke)

We recently received students from Duke University in USA. The three students; Bridgette Keane, Chiara Klein and Jacob Levine set up camera traps in both remnant forest blocks to record the fauna present. In time, and once the replanting programme has been completed in the new plot, there will be comparisons with what is using the “new” corridor.

They also planned to take panorama images with the famous ‘Gigapan’ system, a system developed for taking many high resolution photos and stitching them together to make a massive panorama photo. 

Having set up their project, these delightful students left us to go onto the Golden Lion Tamarin project. After three days REGUA’s bird guide, Adilei and I collected the video material to see what was moving in these patches of forest.

Preparing for the panorama! (© Nicholas Locke)

The results were startling for we recorded a Cracid; Rusty-margined Guan (Penelope superciliaris), the less common Grey-fronted Dove (Leptotila rufaxilla) and White-tipped Dove (Leptotila verreauxi). The mammals were brilliant with a tail(!) of Brazilian Squirrel (Sciurus aestuans), several Agoutis (Dasyprocta leporina),  and Common Opossum (Didelphis marsupialis). To top it all Crab-eating Raccoon (Procyon cancrivorus) was also captured on film. These species are using the forest to forage, which is great for seed dispersal and helps the nutrient cycle. 

Most Neotropical mammals are nocturnal, and the use of camera traps helps us understand which animals are present in these forests.   We are really impressed that these species appear to be quite common in this fragment border and this is the required base line information for us to monitor the forest corridor once it is planted. 

To view the Agouti video, published with the kind permission of the Duke University project, click here

New Lizard for REGUA!

REGUA’s Keeper of the Wild ranger Rildo da Rosa Oliveira funded by the World Land Trust found this banded lizard on the red trail at around 600 metres above sea level. This lizard has very short legs and if were not for the scales on its body, one could mistake it for a salamander, but salamander are not currently known to be further south than Roraima, Northern Brazil.

We had help to identify this individual from Canada’s naturalist Mike Patrikeev who stated it was Banded Galliwasp, Diploglossus fasciatus of the Anguidae family.  

Banded Galliwasp (© Rildo da Rosa Oliveira)

Indeed this example measured close to 30 centimetres in length, and Rildo said that in all his years as a ranger, he had only once seen this species before.

There is a similar Banded Galliwasp (Diploglossus lessonae) endemic to Brazil’s Northeast region, rated “Least Concern” by the IUCN, but I wonder whether it’s Atlantic Rainforest cousin is as common? In fact, we all wonder when we shall see another one. 

The Orchid Cathedral

Our readers will no doubt be following new on the construction of our extraordinary Orchid Cathedral, made possible by a generous grant from the San Diego Orchid Society and Peter Tobias.  

Though progress is slow, the Cathedral will be ready for our dear friend Helmut Seehawer, set to arrive this coming April. Helmut, now 82 is to continue his inventory of the orchids here at REGUA. We are delighted because he still has the energy and all the experience in identifying the species on the mountains here at REGUA. 

The Orchid Cathedral (© Nicholas Locke)

 To think that the total number of species of orchids in the world stands at 20 thousand of which 5% or one thousand are found in the mountains here at REGUA and environs. Bathed in cloud forest and stretching from over 2,000 metres to sea level, we can only being to appreciate how lucky we are. 

The Orchid Cathedral, a sun-screened area of 300m², will feature a rocky base, tree ferns mixed with palms, ground plants and some native small Myrtle trees, such as Eugenia sp, to which orchids will be attached. Posts will also hold some of these epiphytes. A path meandering through the house will allow visitors to see why these plants are so special, and interpretation signage will help the visitor understand the delicate role they play in nature and why so many people get excited about them. 

Should any volunteer wish to come and help us organize the interior, we would love to hear from you!!

It is getting exciting around here and already an air of expectation is setting in.

For more information on volunteering at REGUA see here.

What a difference a year makes!

It’s amazing how things can change in a year.   It’s just over a year since I was last at REGUA, and so much has happened.

Most noticeable to the lodge visitor is the tapir release project where  five Lowland or Brazilian Tapir (Tapirus Terrestris) have been released at the nearby wetlands, they often make the short trip up to the lodge garden.   It is surreal to see guests at night photographing moths at the moth wall, with a rather large mammal wandering past on its evening patrol, both seemingly unaware of the other.

Tapir in our restored wetland area (© Sue Healey)

The Tapir have managed to get food off the garden feeding stations so a suspended higher-level table has now been made.   The Common Marmoset (Callithrix jacchus) were a little perplexed initially but soon mastered the art of a trapeze-style dash across the wires.   Some continue the more traditional approach – head first down a nearby tree.

The lodge orchid garden continues to develop, and with ferns and bromeliads amongst the rocks it makes a breeding area for house wren and feeding area for hummingbirds, the lantana and milkweed are doing well, again both favourites with the hummingbirds.

Other changes may not directly affect our lodge guests but they are making a huge difference to local visitors, including school visits, with a new car park by the conservation centre – hopefully no more buses getting stuck in the mud!   A new accessible trail has been created to Amanda’s hide, bringing opportunities where previously it would have been impossible for some people to enjoy the delights of the wetlands.

On the project itself, we reached the milestone figure of 500,000 trees planted and continue to plant – over 69,000 trees were planted in the 2017/18 planting season alone, thanks to the generous donations from many of our supporters.

Wouldn’t one million trees planted be a great figure to reach in the future!

With more key land areas coming under REGUA’s care, increased wildlife corridors are being protected and created in the Guapiaçu catchment area.   This will extend the range for many species of wildlife and enable them to strengthen in population, increase genetic diversity and increase the overall biodiversity of the valley.

Restored and reforested wetland area (© Sue Healey)

Our Rangers continue to patrol the forest, adding security and monitoring the wildlife, whilst there has been a huge reduction in hunting in the area since the project began, we cannot stop our vigilance even though there is very little evidence of hunting seen or heard now.

If you would like to support REGUA’s work, full details on how to make a donation are available from our “donate” page here.

If you would like to volunteer, please see our link here for full details.

Bromeliad research

Camille in the field (© Nicholas Locke)

Climate change is predicted to increase the intensity of extreme climatic events such as severe droughts.  Little is known on how freshwater ecosystems respond to severe droughts in the neotropics.   Terrestrial organic matter, primarily derived from plant litter, represents an important food resource in these nutrient limited freshwater ecosystems.

The PhD project currently being undertaken by Camille Bonhomme from Universidade Federal do Rio de Janeiro (UFRJ) wants to investigate the effects of quantity of terrestrial matter subsidies on the response of the recipient aquatic communities to drought stress.

Camille will use tank bromeliads along with their associated aquatic invertebrates as model ecosystems. Tank bromeliads are neotropical plants. Their interlocking leaves form rosettes that collect rainwater and dead leaves from the overhanging trees, creating an aquatic habitat for various species of invertebrates.  

Bromeliad communities (© Nicholas Locke)

In the field experiment, bromeliads will receive either few or high quantities of leaf litter inputs. After a natural colonisation and equilibration period, the diversity and composition of the aquatic invertebrate community that colonised the bromeliads will be assessed and compared to the quantity of subsidised resources.   The bromeliad micro-ecosystems will then be submitted to a drying and rewetting event, to assess their resistance and resilience.

Camille hopes to show firstly that the variations in leaf litter provision will determine the composition and quality of the colonisation (including number of species, food chain length and overall community composition).

Secondly, that the leaf litter quantity will affect the stability of the community submitted to drought, expecting the higher provision of leaf litter to give greater support, by offering a “buffering” effect to the community. It is hoped to show that leaf litter will provide short term refuges for invertebrates and be more attractive for recolonisation after the drought.

We look forward to seeing the result of Camille’s research.