Category Archives: Research

New species of unicorn mantis discovered at REGUA?

Possible new species of unicorn mantis of the genus Zoolea discovered at REGUA by the Project Mantis team? (© Leonardo Lanna)

In December 2017 a team of biologists from Project Mantis led by Leonardo Lanna and funded by the National Geographic Society, spent six days at REGUA searching the forest for mantises.

The expedition was a huge success! REGUA was found to have the highest diversity of mantises of any single area of the Atlantic Forest and the team found what is most likely new and undescribed species of unicorn mantis of the genus Zoolea.

They also found not one by two males of the mythical Brazilian Dragon Mantis Stenophylla cornigera – one of the rarest species of praying mantis in the world, and took the first photos and video ever of this species.

For more details of this discovery and other expeditions undertaken by Project Mantis see the National Geographic Society website.

Stingless Bees arrive at REGUA

Bees are divided into four principal families; the Bumblebee (Bombus), Honey bee (Apis), Stingless bees (Meliponinae) and the ultra-cool looking Orchid bees (Euglossine), which are coated in metallic armour.

For millions of years, the South American continent was free of the Apis family, but early South American colonists brought the European Apis bees in the early 1500’s, leading to production of honey and a thriving business that today sees both Argentina and Brazil as the largest global producers.

Left to Right: Denilson, Rita and Jesimar at REGUA with the three first hives (© Raquel Locke)

In the 1970’s, an African honey queen bee escaped captivity and bred with the European species forming a hardier and aggressive sub-species that is found throughout the continent.    Habitat loss has led to much damage to the native stingless bee populations which represent the pollinators of the majority of the 20 thousand Atlantic Rainforest plant species.    There are thought to be close to 400 stingless bee species in existence within this biome, but with the habitat loss their populations have collapsed.

REGUA is keen to reinstate their importance to local community and farmers and when UERJ University students, Denilson da Silva and his partner Rita de Cássia made contact, we quickly jumped to the opportunity of placing a couple of hives here at REGUA.

Jesimar Medici, vice president of the non-profit Civic Association of Meliponicultors “AME-Rio” approved the project and three hives arrived in December.

We now wait and see what will happen and if successful, encourage the farming community to get involved and hopefully place further hives around the watershed.   This could have an amazing outcome for this remarkable bee!

Soil Erosion Research

It’s always great to receive our friends and University Professors from Germany, Udo and Dietmar who have always expressed their appreciation and been supportive of REGUA’s work.

The University of Leipzig and Cologne, supported by the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research, have been working in the State of Rio de Janeiro for many years. The partnership started in 2005 studying Atlantic Forest fragmentation, landscape ecology and the many biological processes that contribute to soil erosion.   They are investigating how to conserve soil and to rehabilitate degraded lands in adverse agricultural systems.

(© REGUA)

Founder Professor Wilfried Morawetz is no longer with us, but his work helped Jens and Dietmar strive forward to understand the fragile Brazilian Atlantic Forest ecological systems.    If not looked after this can have a terrible outcome, such as the dreadful landslides in areas surrounding REGUA in 2011, with much human loss.

Udo continued with the Brazilian Soil Research Bureau EMBRAPA and brought students to study with fellow Brazilian students to ensure that scientists were aware of the effect of soil degradation on a landscape, and that this can have devastating consequences on the long term.

We were pleased that both Udo and Dietmar, both staunch believers in careful soil management and forest restoration who still regularly encourage students to study, could come to see how REGUA has developed and can meet Simone and Antonio Soares Rio de Janeiro State University Professors to discuss tactics, theories and methods.

Pictured: Left to right. Students Laura and Zilka, Dr Simone Lisboa (UERJ), Prof. Udo Nehren, Dr Dietmar Sattler, Raquel Locke, Dr Antonio Carlos Oscar (UERJ) and Nicholas Locke in the front.

Ants

As faithful followers of the illustrious Dr. Edward O. Wilson, we are always keen to learn about Ants and when Professor Jarbas Queiroz from the Rio de Janeiro Rural University visited wanting to study Formicidae at REGUA, we could not have been happier.

Ectatomma tuberculatum This species feeds mostly on insects and lives in a nest made of grass cuttings above ground. When disturbed, it attacks with a ferocious bite.

Jarbas’  soft way of speaking only made us more intrigued about this very special group of insects, which many consider the pillar of tropical ecosystems.  Surprises were in store for Raquel and myself, when after 30 years living here, we only knew of three species of ants; Fireants or Solenopsis, the Azteca family of ants living in hollow Cecropias and the famous leaf cutters of the Atta and Acromyrmex genus.

Imagine our surprise when he said there must be at least 400 species present at REGUA alone.    It didn’t take long to suggest that we put together a field guide with the most common species to help those interested in their identification.

Jarbas presented Biology student Eder Cleyton Barbosa to us and Eder took to his study like a duck to water.    So far Eder has identified 120 species, bringing together a rich text and superb photos.    Eder is very talented and aside visiting a well-known laboratory at Curitiba Paraná  to identify many species,  he thinks he may have a new species.

With a few more field trips, he should have the material needed to publish his book which will be terrific to help us determine species, habit and their behaviour.

If you want to come and study Formicidae here at REGUA we would be only too pleased to receive you!   Please get in touch.

Camponotus sp. This ant scavenges for sugars and will form symbiotic relationships with other insects such as leafhoppers and aphids

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.

Visiting scientists from Federal University of Rio de Janeiro

During October REGUA has welcomed several groups of university students to make use of the fantastic resources on site. Pictured below is teacher Leandro Talione Sabagh and four undergraduate students from UFRJ. Leandro completed his PhD with interactions between frogs and bromeliads and nowadays teaches at the university whilst continuing to research, now on the effects of climate change

The students are on a “scientific initiation” programme and coming to REGUA to take part in a week long experiment was an important part of their studies. On site the team were looking at the effect of water temperature on insects and tadpoles. Leandro and others Professors from UFRJ also teaches classes in REGUA.

In this visit, he and his students are preparing fieldwork classes. Part of their fieldwork involved flooding bromeliads with water (to make mini lakes) and then studying which organisms were attracted to those bromeliads in the shade (energy from detritus) and the sun (energy from photosynthetic algae) and how the community composition and ecosystem’s process differ in the two situations.

Leandro said “around 2010 a colleague brought me to REGUA and I liked it here. Nicholas and Raquel are so friendly and helpful. Now I come back at least twice a year with my students and I also teach a class here on ecology. Students love coming here but we all find it really hot! REGUA is an important place, the work here is important also, inclusive to subside the conservation proposes.”

Raquel Mattos Goncolves da Costa, Ana Luiza Lima, Leticia Silveira Azevedo, Thainá Lorrane dos Santos Morais
Raquel Mattos Goncolves da Costa, Ana Luiza Lima, Leticia Silveira Azevedo, Thainá Lorrane dos Santos Morais (© Fiona Daborn)
Studying bromeliads (© Fiona Daborn)

Stingless Bees Nest Guarding

Michael Patrikeev, a long-standing friend and supporter of REGUA, sent this amazing photograph of stingless bees, Scaptotrigona xanthotricha, also known as Yellow Mandaguari.    Along with this explanation of the behaviour taking place:

“This species, restricted to the Atlantic Forest of the south-east Brazil, inhabits primary and mature secondary humid forest, where it builds nests in cavities and crevices in trees.

The image shows the bees guarding the elaborate structures at the entrance to their nest. These structures, resembling tree fungi, are made of wax.

Nest of Scaptotrigona xanthotricha (© Michael Patrikeev)

Note the claw marks below the nest on the left.    These bees are known to produce a good quality honey, and perhaps some mammal raided the nest earlier.”

This is just one of the multitude of forest species protected in REGUA.   Each piece of information we find continues to reinforce the importance of the work which the REGUA Team and its supporters make possible.

More info can be found on Michael’s website:

http://www.wildnatureimages.org/Insects/Hymenoptera/Apidae-bees/Scaptotrigona-xanthotricha.html

 

Dragon Praying Mantis – Projeto Mantis

The Mantis Project is made up of Brazilian biologists Leonardo Lanna, Savio Cavalcante, João Felipe Herculano and designer Lucas Fiat, who are very keen on insects.

Projeto Mantis Team at REGUA (© Projeto Mantis)

They met at UNIRIO University in 2015 and soon discovered that there was no-one studying the impressive Mantis order, Mantodea.    There are over 430 genera and 2400 species divided in 15 families worldwide and they believed there could to be many in the Atlantic Rainforest.

Leonardo and his friends got together and started their first field trips in Valença a town in the South-West of Rio State and the following year caught an undescribed species, a first for science.   Their primary interest was not in just finding and identifying these amazing creatures but also raising Mantises, showing people that these insects are not dangerous or life threatening but beautiful, gentle creatures that indicate the quality of the habitat.

With their increased passion the Team started to work at Rio de Janeiro’s Botanical Garden.   They submitted a project to National Geographic in 2016 and received the funding to research the State of Rio and increase the list of the 12 genera already known there.

However, Rio de Janeiro state is very large and their study varied from sand dune habitat known as “Restinga”, Mangrove habitat to the lofty “Paramos” or sedge growing waterlogged habitat found at close to 2,600 metres above sea level in Itatiaia (two hours drive west of Rio city) where temperatures fall below zero at night in the winter.

Stenophylla sp. (© Projeto Mantis)

The team also included REGUA in their research and arrived to stay at its field station in December 2017.

One mystical Praying Mantis is the Dragon Mantis, Stenophylla cornigera described by English entomologist John Westwood in 1843.   It resembles depictions  of miniature dragon and the young biologists had never seen one.    Imagine their delight when on the first night, an example arrived at the REGUA light and they could see it in full detail.

The team of biologists collected not only one.    A second was found a couple of days later from a forest fragment just seven kilometres away, showing that the species is present along the Guapiaçu valley.    A report and video was sent to National Geographic magazine which was hugely successful.
See https://news.nationalgeographic.com/2018/01/animals-insects-brazil-rainforests/

The overall research revealed another nine genera taking the total Mantodea list in Rio de Janeiro State to 21 genera, of which 15 have been found at REGUA.

Leonardo says that REGUA is at an elevated level of habitat protection.   Perhaps the significant area of remaining forest cover, full altitudinal gradient and low demographic pressure all influence but the fact is that as an indicator species, Praying mantises reveal that the REGUA conservation project is working in the right direction.

Stenophylla sp. (© Projeto Mantis)

For further information, the Mantis Project can be found at: https://www.instagram.com/projetomantis/?hl=pt and https://www.facebook.com/projetomantis/

                Good luck team !!

 

 

 

all photographs courtesy of Projeto Mantis

New damselfly species discovered at REGUA by Tom Kompier

A new damselfly to science – Forcepsioneura regua sp. nov. (©Tom Kompier)

We are delighted to announce that a new Damselfly species for science of the Forcepsioneura genus found at REGUA by Tom Kompier has been named Forcepsioneura regua sp. after the reserve. This is one of two new damselfly species described by Dr. Ângelo Pinto with Tom as co-author in their paper In honor of conservation of the Brazilian Atlantic Forest: description of two new damselflies of the genus Forcepsioneura discovered in private protected areas (Odonata: Coenagrionidae), published in the zoological journal Zoologia.

Tom’s contribution to our knowledge of dragonflies and damselflies has been magnificent and provides valuable evidence of the importance of this reserve. He started his research in 2012, making several visits during the varying Neotropical seasons, travelling from the Netherlands to REGUA throughout 2013 and identifying 204 species in this region. Tom was supported by Dr. Ângelo Pinto and Professor Alcimar Carvalho of the Natural History Museum/UFRJ. This resulted in the publication of A Guide to the Dragonflies and Damselflies of the Serra dos Orgaos, South-eastern Brazil (see details on our publications page).

The principle difference between dragonflies and damselflies is the position of the wings when resting. Dragonfly wings lie transversal and damselfly wings lie flat alongside their abdomen. 204 species have been recorded at the reserve and REGUA hosts annual visits to see the odonate and in an eight day visit it is possible to see at least 160 species!

Congratulations and thank you Tom for the magnificent contribution your work has given us and you have inspired us to continue to develop studies in ants, butterflies and spiders.

Second Tapir release begins!

Following the arrival of three Lowland Tapir Tapirus terrestris at REGUA last January, a further two males and a female named Jupiter, Valente and Flora arrived at REGUA in Guapiaçu as part of the continued Tapir reintroduction programme at REGUA on Sunday June 10th.    Sadly, we sustained the loss of the large adult male from pneumonia in March so these three new individuals were a most welcome addition to the remaining population, a mother and adolescent tapir who are very well.

The Tapirs arrive (© Nicholas Locke)

This reintroduction project has been carried out in partnership with Professor Fernando Fernandez, Maron Galliez and Joanna of the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro (UFRJ) and approved by the Rio de Janeiro State Environmental Department (INEA) as well ICMBio.

The tapirs arrived after a tiring 24 hour trip of over 1,000 km from the Klabin conservation project in Northern Paraná State. They were transported in their travelling cases but had behaved admirably and arrived quite calm.

Following much local interest, the cases were promptly taken to be unloaded and released in their two and a half acre quarantine pen created especially for them within a secluded part of the wetlands. The quarantine area has a small pond in which to play and enjoy.

Lowland Tapir has been extinct in the state of Rio de Janeiro for over 100 years and the arrival of these animals at REGUA represents the very first reintroduction of its kind in Rio de Janeiro state.    REGUA starting reforesting lowlands in 2005 with the support of the World Land Trust and in 2005 created RPPN status which protects these restored forests for the future.

The first crate being carefully lowered (© Nicholas Locke)

Lowland forest has virtually been eliminated in the State and REGUA’s protected area of 300 hectare Atlantic Rainforest adjacent to the enormous Três Picos State Park looked a very attractive area that could guarantee sufficient habitat for the species.

Being herbivores, tapirs consume all the fruit they can find on the forest floor. Feeding on fruit and walking large distances in the forests, they are regarded as the ‘gardeners of the forests’. The UFRJ team understood the need for reintroductions as a means to learn more about this species and their adaptability whilst REGUA wants the animals to spread tree species, increasing forest diversity and ensuring its resilience on the long term.   Likewise, captive breeding programmes are only too delighted to support such well conducted release programmes as it provides the justification for breeding these lovely animals in captivity.

Until their supported release, and like their predecessors Eva and Flokinho the three tapirs will enjoy a diet of fruit and vegetables, up to 8 kilogram per animal per day together with dried maize, to keep them well nourished.  Professors Maron and Joanna will keep their eye on them ensuring that the radio collars are not bothering them and they like their diet. After their release they will find fruit and maize nearby, but like most native animals they will probably prefer to roam and return to the solitary lives they enjoy.

Their release will provide valuable information as to their wanderings and habitat preferences, but there are already camera traps in the pen to check on their nocturnal behaviour and later more will be placed in the forest.

Exciting times ahead for our tapirs and for our biologists!!

You can see Flora’s arrival into the quarantine pen here:  Flora’s arrival filmed by Nicholas Locke.