Category Archives: Research

Walking on the São José Trail

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.

Catocyclotis aemulius
Catocyclotis aemulius (© Arnold Wijker)

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:

  • Mesosemia meeda
    Mesosemia meeda (© Sandra Lamberts)

    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, Melanis unxia, Eurybia molochina and Leucochimona icare matatha.

Jorge Bizarro

With grateful thanks to Arnold Wijker and Sandra Lamberts.   More images can be found at :  https://Observation.org

For further reading:
REGUA and Tres Picos State Park preliminary list of butterflies:
https://dl.dropboxusercontent.com/u/62403691/Soares-et-al.pdf

Paper about the Paleo-Biogeography and Phylogny of the Riodinidae butterfly family:
http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.ympev.2015.08.006

Young rangers learn about palms

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Sara talks about Palms at REGUA (© REGUA)

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.

Tom Locke

REGUA – Building Relationships

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.

 

REGUA GGV Project Team
REGUA GGV Project Team (© Tatiana Horta)

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.

New arachnid research at REGUA

7-spider-so_9866-chris-knowlesWe 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!

Small is Beautiful

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.

Panthiades phaleros L
Panthiades phaleros L. seen twice around the Lodge (© Jailson da Silva ‘Barata’)

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.

Callephelis sp.nov R
Grassy open area Metalmark: Callephelis sp. nov R (© Richard & Siri White)

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.

Strymon ziba
Strymon ziba male perching at the top of the Red Trail (1004m) (© Jorge Bizarro)

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 at REGUA

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.

Common Marmoset
Common Marmoset Callithrix jacchus (© Lee Dingain)

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.

Nicholas Locke

Landscape Ecology Courses

Ongoing Research has been carried out at REGUA for several years now.    This has been led  by Mauricio de Almeida Gomes (Post-doctorate Fellow at Federal University of Rio de Janeiro) and Jayme Augusto Prevedello (Post-doctorate Fellow at University of São Paulo, Brazil) and their team.   Here Mauricio describes their aim.

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Landscape Ecology Students (© Mauricio Gomes)

“The aim of this series of courses is to introduce graduate students to the main concepts of Landscape Ecology – an emerging biological discipline concerned with understanding the effects of spatial patterns; for example, forest fragmentation on ecological processes such as species diversity.

This is an intensive, 5-day  course focused at MSc and PhD students of Ecology from different Brazilian universities.

All major themes in Landscape Ecology are treated during the course through a combination of theoretical classes, presentations and discussions of published papers, computer exercises and field activities.

The course has been very positively received by students. There are usually around 16 students, and the facilities that are offered at REGUA are ideal for the purpose.   With accommodation, laboratory, and field study all close at hand this enables the team to do fieldwork and coursework in an excellent environment and facility.

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Working in the field (© Mauricio Gomes)

The photographs show students developing field activities on courses held over the last two years.

Ant mimic bugs

I’ve been inspired to write about a sighting just seven metres away from the REGUA office. What seemed to be a huge ant, never spotted here before, was photographed on a leaf. We currently have an inventory of ants being carried out by Rural Federal University of Rio de Janeiro (UFRRJ) researchers. To my surprise, close examination of the antennae and feeding apparatus from the photograph revealed this ‘odd’ ant to actually be hemipteran bug – an incredible ant mimic!

Nymph of Neotropical Soybean Bug <em>Neomegalotomus parvus</em> (© Jorge Bizarro)
Nymph of Neotropical Soybean Bug Neomegalotomus parvus (© Jorge Bizarro)

It has been identified as the nymph (juvenile stage) of the Neotropical Soybean Bug Neomegalotomus parvus (Westwood, 1842) (HEMIPTERA: Alydidae), or Percevejo Formigão in Portuguese.

According to Costa Lima’s Insetos do Brasil, only the immature stages are ant mimics. Alydidae bugs, or other primitive coreoids, are closely related to Leguminosae. They are not species-specific to any Leguminosae and feed on different leguminous plants (Schaefer 1980, Schaefer & Mitchell 1983), including soy beans, with potential to reach pest status.

In the field, adults were found on carrion and faeces of animals. In a soybean field in Bela Vista do Paraíso, PR, N. Parvus were found aggregating (30 to 40 individuals) in dog faeces at the time of soybean harvest. Alydidae may feed on faeces or carrion under extreme conditions when their primary food source (legumes) is not available.

The ecological reason for why the nymphs are perfect mimics of ants is still unknown. So here is an interesting theme for research.

References

LIMA, COSTA. 1940. Insetos do Brasil. 2 Tomo, Hemípteros, ESCOLA NACIONAL DE AGRONOMIA, SÉRIE DIDÁTICA N.º 3, figs. + 351 pp.

VENTURA, MAURÍCIO U., JOVENIL J. SILVA & ANTÔNIO R. PANIZZI. 2000. Scientific Note: Phytophagous Neomegalotomus parvus (Westwood) (Hemiptera: Alydidae) Feeding on Carrion and Feces. An. Soc. Entomol. Brasil 29: 839-841.

Citizen Science at REGUA

One of the marvellous things of wandering about with a digital camera in tropical forests nowadays is the ability of capturing nature scenes, oddities and novelties with amazing ease.   This opens up an entirely new world for the ‘army’ of nature lovers and widens the potential activity scope for people that share a common passion focused on some of Nature’s many faces; like bird or butterfly-watching, diving or nature photography.

A new branch of monitoring or even ‘tourism’ is arising: scientific citizen workmanship for registering and documenting biodiversity, new records, inventories, geotagging and data gathering.

Semomesia geminus (Photo:Jailson da Silva)
Semomesia geminus (© Jailson da Silva)

Picking the old saying that a picture (example) is worth a thousand words, a very rare and endangered Cattleheart Brazilian swallowtail butterfly, known only from two populations more than 1000 km away from each other, has been spotted in a new location due to a picture of Ricardo Costa, a keen REGUA visitor and amateur photographer that uploaded his picture on the web for identification: http://borboletaskmariposas.blogspot.com.br/2014/05/parides-burchellanus-westwood-1872.html
His initiative already generated a scientific paper and prompted the discovery of a dozen more localities in Minas Gerais State in 2013: http://biotaxa.org/cl/article/view/11.3.1663

Another example of ‘citizen amateurship’ sourced science is the publishing of a Rio de Janeiro new butterfly state record based on pictures taken by REGUA visitors on the reserve trails and that still hasn’t been seen by the actual ‘researchers’ yet! – Another paper has been published based on these pictures and temporal-spatial data gathered by the photos tags:
http://www.checklist.org.br/getpdf?NGD211-11

Jorge Bizarro

Socio-economic impact of REGUA

Most of the research carried out at REGUA is on the biodiversity and behaviour of species. Over the last few years however, one student from Europe has been studying the effect that the project has had on the local population.

Between for almost two years Peter Slovák conducted field research in Brazil as a part of his Doctorate study at the University of Sussex, UK.  The project was entitled ‘Private Protected Areas and Local Communities in the Atlantic Forest of Brazil: What are the Implications for Rural Development and Nature Conservation?’

The project’s focus is on the socio-economic and cultural aspects of the relationship between private conservation projects established in vulnerable natural habitats and the people living in rural communities in their vicinity. The aim was to shed more light on the impacts the project has on rural communities and their perceptions and interactions with the surrounding natural environment.

To find out more the methodology was based on observations, interviews and oral testimonies, and also required that Peter participate in everyday life and activities of the REGUA Reserve as well as the local communities.

Peter Slovak harvesting manioc with local farm workers
Peter Slovák harvesting manioc with local farm workers (© Peter Slovák)

He received training and dedicated considerable time to the study of Portuguese, but nothing could have really prepared him for the challenges encountered in the field. Ethnographic fieldwork requires a researcher to adapt to an ‘alien’ culture. Therefore, the choice of fieldwork place is as crucial as the relevance and accessibility.

Peter already knew the REGUA project from a trip to Brazil in 2008 when he spent two months as a volunteer. Inspiring conversations with Nicholas Locke the Project Director, planted the seed of interest in his mind. Thus, he was delighted when REGUA agreed to host his research project enabling his return in 2012.

The main supporters of the project were: Project Directors, Nicholas and Raquel Locke, Research Co-ordinator Jorge Bizarro, and Field Co-ordinator José Luiz Rogick Motta. Together with the rest of the REGUA team they helped to provide the excellent conditions for the completion of the fieldwork, providing constant support and assistance.

With the stunning views of Serra do Mar, friendly local people and great food, REGUA offers all that is important for a researcher: a favourable working environment and conditions for any research related to nature conservation.