Thor has returned from the north of Brazil, and revisited REGUA and his cuttings in our nursery on his way home to Canada.
Talking to him about the progress of his project made interesting conversation. He enjoyed the whole experience of being in Brazil, and making new friends at REGUA and found his time with us an excellent opportunity to learn about different techniques of tropical forestation. From helping in the nursery, planting the seeds in prepared pots to planting the trees, Thor took on board the whole process.
He particularly enjoyed his time walking with Mauricio [head nurseryman] and Barata [forest ranger] in the forest, collecting seeds and trying to identify the myriad of tree species.
As for his project – to experiment with taking tree cuttings rather than germinating seeds. Thor has just re-checked his samples. Although they were probably not take at the ideal time of year there were at least a dozen new plants from the Marianeira (acnistus arborescens) species and a couple of Tabebuia cassinoides.
Thor plans to return at a different time of year and next time maybe use hormone rooting powder. As he says
“REGUA and many other projects in the tropics are still having problems germinating some species of tree and if I try at a different time of year we may have more success.
I also want to go and see other projects here in Brazil. Before I come back however, I need to tackle identifying some of the tree species and they are overwhelming here. I would recommend REGUA totally as an experience, with its peace and quiet and such welcoming people, I have thoroughly enjoyed my time here.”
Thor Smestad is a Canadian forestry expert of many years experience. He volunteered at REGUA with a brief to try to improve our plant propagation programme. See our first news on Thor’s visit here.
Many Mata Atlantica tree seeds germinate easily and only require to be collected from the forest, placed in a soil-filled sleeves, watered and sheltered from direct sun in the nursery. However, germination rates for some can be poor. For trees from the fig family for example, success may be limited. Perhaps Brazil nuts are the best illustration of this dilemma: fewer than 5% of planted seeds germinate.
The way ahead is to use cuttings of shoots dipped in rooting hormone and placed in soil. In this way, rare plants, not found in fruit, and species with seeds of low viability can be restored to the new forest plantings here at REGUA.
Symbiotic micorrhizal fungi are another issue investigated in Thor’s project. We do not know how central these fungi are to successful forest establishment and vigorous growth. By experimentally including/excluding forest floor debris (which will carry the fungal spores), the impact of micorrhiza may be assessed. Better information improves reafforestation outcomes and so there is understandably a lot of interest in Thor’s work.
Tiger beetles are always exciting to watch as they prowl about searching for food before flying off like a jet fighter to disappear out of view.
They have characteristically large bulging eyes and large mandibles for crunching up their food.
Tiger Beetles come from the Cicindelinae family, originating from the Latin word of Glow worm since most are brightly coloured. Whilst this example looks similar to a Limestone Tiger Beetle, it is one of many different Cicindela sp.
University student Juliana Leal is conducting a new experiment as part of her doctorate on bromeliads here at REGUA.
One thinks an epiphyte absorbs nutrients from their host but far from it, the roots of the bromeliads merely fix the plant to the branches, rocks or soil on which it lives. Leaves of bromeliads are fixed at their base in a circular arrangement that trap rainwater and any material falling from above on which algae thrive. Incoming sunlight powers the ecosystem, and aquatic organisms feed on algae in the bromeliad’s small pools, but ecologists are intrigued as to what is more important; the algae or the dead organic material falling into the watery habitat? What maintains the flow of energy in an aquatic ecosystem, algae or the incoming organic material?
Juliana has set up a field of identical bromeliads at REGUA with different sunlight filters that allow varying levels of sunlight to reach the plant. As algae numbers increase with sunlight she can vary the sunlight and measure the number of invertebrates feeding on algae to build a correlation. But is there a minimal shade necessary? We shall have the answers soon.
The São José trail wanders gently inside secondary forest at least 50 years old, where Bananas used to grow. It has many sunlit spots and small clearings along the main trail, which really favours the presence on nice perching spots of a plethora of both forest and canopy dwellers like butterflies, shield-bugs, robber flies, moths, dragonflies, etc.
Last year I was privileged to accompany a couple of two excellent ‘amateur’ nature photographers – Arnold and Sandra – with a keen interest in butterflies and birds for a walk in that trail. We spent a lovely morning walking the trail butterfly watching and photographing from its beginning on the Brown Trail, all the way to the Rio do Gato and the water filter that belongs to the Kirin brewery and soft drink plant.
The highlight was the metalmark (Riodinidae). This family had its origin in South America, then expanded to the Old World Tropics and recolonised South America, where around 90% of existing species occur today. The metalmark family has seen the most new species records for REGUA since the first survey which finished in 2009… and this time we came back with some amazing records:
Calospila parthaon – a species officially known from the Amazon basin only, so this is a new state record; seen on multiple days in the main trail.
Theope pedias – a new Três Picos Park and REGUA record, and might also be a new state record. We found a small population near the water filter, with plenty of individuals flying lazily around the wet patches.
Mesosemia meeda (very rare, second ever record) and an unidentified female that tentatively belongs to this species, also bluish.
Catocyclotis aemulius (rare and at its southernmost distribution area)
Other more common species seen were: Juditha azan azan,Melanisunxia, Eurybia molochina and Leucochimona icare matatha.
Our Young Ranger project covers many aspects of the REGUA project and the biodiversity of the Atlantic Forest. Sara Colmenares, a Colombian lady undertaking her doctorate degree at REGUA, is studying palm diversity along the altitudinal gradient at REGUA and within the Serra dos Órgãos National Park. Sara recently gave an excellent talk to the Young Rangers about palms and we’d like to say thank you to Sara for a most interesting talk.
REGUA’s collaboration in the Guapiaçu Grande Vida Project brought many long-term advantages to the Reserve. A team made up of professionals with experience in project management, forest engineering, public engagement, education from school to local authority level, mapping, publicity and media promotion. All had roots in the municipality and together were able to develop and implement a project that took REGUA into the main stream of conservation work in Brazil.
During the two and a half years of the project, GGV was a tremendous success. Planting 100 hectares of Atlantic Forest with 180,000 trees, mapping almost half the 450km ² watershed, consolidating an education programme involving 5,000 school children and responsible for REGUA’s first scientific seminar with 50 works amongst University researchers.
The project helped upscale REGUA’s capacity in forest restoration, fostered an understanding of the municipal’s environmental importance and enabled REGUA to identify land use and forest cover, which in turn helped prioritize areas for further land purchase. The project terminated at the end of 2015, but we are grateful for their contribution.
The team, although dispersed, continues to be active. Gabriela now works for German development bank GIZ, promoting development work across Brazil, she also runs her own environmental consultancy. Tatiana and Bruno have returned to teaching. Nathalie is working in tourism in her own lodge.
Lorena is an independent geographer and continues to have ties with REGUA, representing the institution at the Guanabara Watershed Committee and Agenda 21 meetings. Aline is a freelance Forestry Engineer working with REGUA to design new planting areas and continuing to monitor previous reforestation areas.
Professor Carlos works at REGUA on a part-time basis, expanding our Schools Outreach and Young Ranger programmes whilst Ana Caroline has joined the staff continuing to give REGUA her best in the office.
REGUA is very grateful for their input and proud to be able to play a part in the continued success of these valued friends and welcome their support in the future.
We welcomed a new group of students from The Federal University of Rio de Janeiro, who arrived at REGUA this week. They will study spiders on the reserve and will be taught how to sample them. The REGUA list of arachnids was last updated in 2001 by Prof. Adriano Brilhante Kury. It is hoped this latest research will result in many new additions to our list!
The task of ‘checklisting’ butterfly fauna in tropical rainforests usually demands a lot of hours spent in the field. Armed with a good camera, a pair of binoculars and sometimes a hand net or fermented fruit bait.
Around 20-30% of the local butterfly species can be sampled in 5-7 days in the height of the flight season and in the correct habitats. These are mostly common or easy to spot species, associated with natural or manmade disturbed and transition environments.
In the tropics the number of species is high but the same does not apply to the number of individuals found and populations, which can be quite scarce and elusive. That is why developing a more complete list can take over five years of intensive field sampling.
The checklist starts with the big showy butterflies (Brushfooted, Whites, Swallowtails, Skippers), but with time it is the elusive tiny hairstreaks, metalmarks and skippers that slowly grow the list. A close look at them really shows how intricate and beautiful the patterns of some of these creatures are.
At REGUA, new records for the butterfly checklist usually come from the ranks of Hairstreaks (Lycaenidae) and Metalmarks (Riodinidae), two closely related families.
The last new records have been mostly the fruit of our Lodge Guests’ photographic skills. Often these species are more easy to see and photograph on hilltops feeding on flowers, along forest hedges or trails, while sunbasking at early morning, after sunrise and in sunny spots inside the tropical forest (clearings, streams and river margins). Metalmarks are famous for coming back and perch on the same exact spot at a particular hour of the day, year after year.
In REGUA, some places where these rainforest jewels can be seen more frequently are: hilltops (for example the trees around the Lodge swimming pool and at the top of the Red Trail), clearings and trail edges (i.e., parts of the Green Trail, Valdenoor’s open area, the São José Trail) and some old forest fragments (like the Onofre Cunha and Lengruber areas).
The Caledonia mountain excursion is another highlight for higher altitude species of Hairstreaks and Metalmarks, especially from February to late April.
Another interesting issue contributing to the checklist growth is the occurrence of very similar patterned species, sometimes even in very distinct genera, which once the confusion is sorted out can add another record to the list!
Marmosets and tamarins (Callithrichidae) are amongst the smallest anthropoids in the new world, they are quite different from monkeys of the old world. Marmosets are often known as “Squirrel” monkeys for their physical shape and tails resemble squirrels and have noticeably two differences from other monkeys.
Firstly they do not have prehensile tails (which are used to cling with) and secondly, although they are arboreal, they have modified claws rather than nails on all digits except their big toes. They are omnivorous and have developed specialised lower incisors, which are enlarged and chisel-shaped for gouging tree trunks and branches and vines of certain plant species to stimulate the flow of gum, which they eat, and in some species this forms a notable component of the diet.
The female produces two young a year and they also live in extended family groups of between four and 15 individuals.
The origin of the family Callithrichidae is poorly understood for there are many species (11 marmosets and 16 tamarinds to date with more being discovered principally in the Amazon basin). The Atlantic Rainforest branch sub-divided 13 million years ago coinciding with the actual separation of the Amazonian and Atlantic Rainforest biomes to form Atlantic Rainforest marmosets and tamarins but only recently after genetic studies of the “Callithrix jacchus group” were conducted were they truly separated. Today six distinct Atlantic Rainforest marmoset species are known and until recently these have been geographically separated.
However deforestation of the Atlantic Rainforest to a staggering 7% of its original area has caused migration of two species (C.jacchus, C.penicillata) into C.aurita country whilst the remaining species (C.flaviceps and C.kuhlii) have been reduced to very low numbers. The principle result of the marmoset migration is inter-species hybridisation which is worrying from a conservation point of view as the original species starts to become extinct and a valuable gene type is lost forever.
This is the case for the Buffy-tufted-ear marmoset, C. aurita known from montane Rio de Janeiro state to Sao Paulo and southern Minas Gerais. REGUA is located next to the Três Picos State Park a forested area of some 80,000 hectare of montane sub-tropical forest, home to Callithrix aurita.
Três Picos is located next to the 20,000 hectare Serra dos Órgãos National Park another montane area studied by various University research groups.
These impressive forested mountains are where Rodrigo Carvalho was captivated by this appealing marmoset and initiated his studies on the threatened C.aurita species. Since then two researchers have helped him in the area of Serra dos Órgãos. His genetic sampling of specimens in this park as well as local captive breeding populations has led to the conclusion that the species, as we know it, is facing the risk of extinction due principally to the increasing hybridisation with its foreign congeners, C.penicilata and C.jacchus.
What is to be done now? Like every species in distress a master plan is needed, one that locates existing populations; considers species protection in remnant areas; provides a detailed genetic inventory of the captive populations both here and abroad; creates a stud book and the encouragement of further breeding and finally stimulates future reintroductions in safe places that can pull the species back from its plight.
Do we want it to plummet such as the other closely rated species C.flaviceps and C.kuhlii which are bordering extinction today?
There is however another polemic factor. There isn’t a consensual opinion by biologists that species hybridisation is actually negative and some biologists affirm that the current situation is the natural evolution of the species. However others say that we cannot loose an element of our extraordinary diversity that holds a specific function in the complex Atlantic Rainforest due to human irresponsibility, after all the principle is the same; can we loose the panda or the polar bear? Rodrigo and his team believe that this is a very serious issue and they are committed to do something about it.
Fortunately Sao Paulo state and southern Minas Gerais still hold populations of C.aurita, though the forest loss is estimated at more than 95%. In the interior of Rio de Janeiro`s state, C.aurita can still be found in small forested fragments, however it is clear to all that a consistent plan that directs overall actions is needed.
Fifteen years ago when the Golden Lion Tamarin project was facing the dilemma of the conflict between reintroduced Golden Lion Tamarins and the invasive C.jacchus. Brazil`s Federal Government could not offer clear orders on its sterilisation because no studies had been concluded regarding conflict. The fact remains that the Golden Lion Tamarin project has been a success.
Rodrigo is a most experienced biologist to lead this initiative and REGUA is most sympathetic to his ideas, but how do we start?
Rodrigo is finalising his own doctorate studies and believes that it is possible to make an inventory of remaining populations of C.aurita as well as its hybrids in the higher altitude forests of REGUA and the National Parks nearby.
Rodrigo wishes to use REGUA as an example of important captive breeding programme eliminating threats, capturing and sterilising non-C.aurita, in a concerted effort to protect them in the higher elevations. He sees the higher areas as an ideal starting point to reintroduce these marmosets from captive breeding programmes.