Category Archives: Research

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

FioCruz researchers at REGUA

The Oswaldo Cruz Institute for Tropical Diseases (often referred to as FioCruz) is of global renown, considered one of the world’s leading public health research institutions. The Institute has been leading research and saving lives for many decades.

Maycom Neves, Tiago and Agostinho Perreira (© Nicholas Locke)

Recently, we received three researchers very interested in hanging insect traps designed to capture mosquitoes. Maycom Neves, Tiago and Agostingho Perreira are researching two species that are not known in their larvae stage. Interestingly enough one species, Wyeomyia knabi, first collected by Teobald in Cachoeiras de Macacu and sent to UK in 1901 was named after his beloved Wye College where he had studied.

Our researchers are looking for the young or their stages as larvae.  Sabethes forattteniiis another species that has been collected at REGUA but not very well known. Neither are a transmitter of diseases, but the FioCruz is always concerned with public health and lead research efforts into the lives of our friendly mosquitoes amongst many other creatures.     

After this brief introduction, I will certainly look out for these amazing creatures.   

Giant Grasshoppers found at REGUA

Michael Patrikeev, a long standing friend and supporter of REGUA is always coming up with amazing information on his sightings while at the Reserve.   The latest concerns two species of large grasshopper found at REGUA.   Here’s Michael’s report and excellent photographs. 

“I have identified two species of Tropidacris from REGUA

Nymph of Giant Red-winged Grasshopper (Tropidacris cristata) in Guapiaçu, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

Tropidacris cristata (Giant Red-winged Grasshopper) is the largest known grasshopper, reaching up to 14 cm in length, and 24 cm wingspan. The adults are olive or brownish-green, with orange hindwings. The nymphs are striped with black and yellow, and likely toxic. This species inhabits forested areas of Central and South America from southern Mexico to northern Argentina, and the island of Trinidad.   In flight it resembles a small bird.   

Tropidacris collaris (Giant Violet-winged Grasshopper) is found in tropical forests and grasslands of South America east of the Andes, from Colombia to Argentina.   Along with T. cristata, this is one of the largest known grasshoppers (length around 10 cm, wingspan 18 cm). The adult is mostly green, yellow-green or brown, with blue hindwings. This species is more common than T. cristata.

Giant Violet-winged Grasshopper (Tropidacris collaris) in Guapiaçu, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

I have photographed only nymphs of these species in REGUA, but would expect one of these to come to a light at the Reserve sooner or later – they are quite a sight!”

Both species are widely distributed in the Neotropics, and common.   T. collaris occurs in both forests and savanna, and T. cristata is mostly a forest species.”

More details and photos can be seen on Michael’s website here:

http://www.wildnatureimages.org/Fauna%20invert/Tropidacris%20cristata%20page.html

http://www.wildnatureimages.org/Fauna%20invert/Tropidacris%20cristata%20page.html

Amazing Treehoppers

The family of Treehoppers otherwise known as Membracidae is made up of more than 3,500 species.

Treehopper (© Nicholas Locke)

Treehoppers evolved from the order Hemiptera (from the Greek “halfwings”) cousins to many other winged insects. Treehoppers are mostly found in the tropical world and instantly draw the attention from passers-by with their incongruous shapes and especially protruding head gear, called “pronotum.”

They use the pronotum to mimic thorns on the branches they live on, preventing predators from seeing them. This is not their only source of defence however.

Treehoppers feed on plant sap by drilling into plant stems. As a result, a sugary substance called “honeydew” is secreted. The honeydew is an important food source for a variety of ants, bees and wasps. In return presence of the ants, bees and wasps keeps predators away and is a direct benefit of their symbiotic relationship.

Some species of Treehopper also have a well-developed ant mutualism, and these species are normally gregarious, helping to attract ever more ants to protect them.

The Treehopper pictured was found with others in the INEA Nursery in Trajano de Morais, around 100km from here, where we have picked up seedlings. I have identified the Genus as Heteronotus , confirmed by Dr. Lewis Deitz. 

After this brief introduction, I’m sure you will want to visit and look out for these amazing creatures. I certainly can’t wait to find more!!  

Ed: To see the symbiosis in action see Nicholas’ video here.

Orchids at REGUA

We are so lucky to receive Helmut Seehawer, orchid enthusiast who, together with his close friend David Miller, surveyed the nearby Macae de Cima valley for these extraordinary epiphytes.

Ranger Messias, Helmut, Ranger Matheus, Nicholas Locke (© REGUA)

Helmut and David identified and described close to 1,000 species found there and wrote and illustrated the book “Orchids of the Serra dos Órgãos”.   Helmut, a retired airplane pilot developed a passion for orchids when he first flew into Rio de Janeiro many years ago and spent a day accompanying fellow crew in another region of Rio looking for these epiphytic plants.

What got him hooked were their many different mysterious forms, sizes, colours and shapes which made it a complicated hobby to master.   Helmut’s fascination led him to study and survey extensive areas and today he is a recognised authority on their identification.

Helmut is 81 years old and has an unassailable passion and energy.   Since his first visit to REGUA he has identified a total of 72 genera comprising 257 species which represent 60% to 70% of known existing orchids.

Divided into the different areas he has surveyed at REGUA these are Helmut’s findings;

Green and Red Trails and Wetland area   68 genera   206 species
Rio do Gato Valley                                     36 genera   65 species
Biaza Reserve                                           35 genera   112 species
St Andre west slope                                  15 genera    25 species
East slope of Lagoinha                              15 genera    26 species
West slope of Lagoinha                             24 genera    74 species

Helmut writes “It seems that the Green and Red trail forest is especially rich but I walked it ten times, Lemgruber six times, Rio do Gato five times, Lagoinha twice and all the rest once only”

Last October, accompanied by two REGUA rangers,  I walked with Helmut to a recently acquired area, the Vidal property on the Serra do Mar ridge-line.   The first expedition was a little misty, but with Black-and-Gold Cotinga calling around us we knew were in a special place.   The next expedition permitted some mind blowing vistas of the surrounding forest for miles around.   Helmut was far too interested in his orchids to notice and he concluded that this rocky high altitude area must be one of the best places he had ever visited.

Helmut hopes to return in late May 2019 and we are only too pleased to walk with him, learn from him and share his passion.   The REGUA orchid cathedral will be ready to present a sample collection of some of the species found here and draw visitors to appreciate their beauty.

Helmut’s enthusiasm and energy encourage us to continue to increase our knowledge and protection of this amazing valley.    We look forward to seeing him on more expeditions in the future.

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.