Look who came to dinner!

Raquel and I were busy having dinner after a good day’s work, when a large beetle crashed into our table.   We didn’t recognise it, but upon consulting Celso Godinho Jnr’s field guide of Beetles of the World, we found it to be a fine example of the Flat-faced Longhorn beetle,  or Taeniotes subocellatus  of the Cerambycidae family.

Flat-faced Longhorn beetle, Taeniotes subocellatus (© Nicholas Locke)

It was first collected in 1792, making it the second discovered Taeniotes beetle, as named by Guillaume-Antoine Olivier, one of Frances most prestigious naturalists in his own important reference book.

This species is found as far north as Guyana in August / September coinciding with the same month it came to us for dinner.

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)

UNEES conference at REGUA

UNEES conference at REGUA
UNEES conference at REGUA (© Fiona Daborn)

From 22-24 October REGUA hosted delegates from Brazil, Mozambique and Germany for the UNEES conference (University meets Private Sector for Sustainability).

The project, led by Prof. Dr Leandro Fontoura of the Federal Rural University of Rio de Janeiro links the teaching and research activities of the three participating universities with sustainable actors from the private sector, creating a knowledge transfer channel in the field of rural development (in particular issues such as natural resource degradation and food insecurity).

The university partners involved are:

  • the “Centre for Rural Development” of the Humboldt University of Berlin, Germany;
  • the MA programme “Rural development and Development Management” at Eduardo Mondlane University in Maputo, Mozambique;
  • the MA programme “Sustainable Development Practice” at the Federal Rural University of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil (UFRRJ).

How does it work?

Universities contribute action and development research to help solve the problems encountered by businesses. Businesses offer internships to students on Rural Development courses to enable students to help solve challenges and understand what the private sector needs. Universities improve their courses by incorporating practical examples from their business partners and businesses contribute guest lectures as appropriate.

In Day 1 of the workshop at REGUA we heard from a range of existing partners. First up was Robson of the Comunidade Rural do Bonfim, (about 3000 people) near Petropolis in Brazil. In 1984 the Brazilian government made the whole area, including their land, into a national park, meaning that traditional activities of farming were no longer permitted. They are in the process of transitioning to be able to offer Eco Tourism to visitors and they have students from UFRRJ on placement with them to help research and plan.

Next up was Hanna from Frankenforder Forschungsgesellschaft in Berlin, a private research company working in the area of agriculture and nutrition. Hannah had recently hosted an intern from UFRRJ (Brazil) to help solve various business challenges. For example, the intern helped a local asparagus company turn the parts of the asparagus that weren’t eaten into something useful, for instance a form of packaging, or a grain that could be added to bread to increase the nutritional value.

Raquel presenting at the UNEES conference (© Fiona Daborn)

The Mozambique team, made up of professors from a leading university in the country, contributed a very interesting presentation on their partnership with a National Park, a bank and a local solar power business.

Potential new partners also had their opportunity to present – Katie Weintraub working at the Sinal do Vale regeneration centre near to Rio is a current student on the MA in “Sustainable Development Practice” at UFRRJ. She showed a great video showcasing their hospitality services and sustainability projects around forest restoration, organic agriculture, and community development. One highlight was a bioconstruction project where local youth and international architects worked together to create a “marquee” space to host events (and bring in income to help the centre become self-supporting) – the final product was an amazing octagonal space made with recycled toothpaste tubes, a material which had the added benefit of keeping the interior cool.

The final slot went to Francine from “Articulacao entre chefs e Agricultre” using the CSA method – Comunidade que sustenta a Agricultura. Francine, originally a chef, set up the business to ensure that local producers got a good price for their crops and that food was used by restaurants as close as possible to where it was grown for maximum freshness and sustainability.

In between sessions, the delegates enjoyed exploring the grounds at REGUA and catching some good sightings of both Brazilian Tapir and Capybara!

Visit of the British Consul General

British Consul General visit to REGUA (© Colin Daborn)

REGUA received a visit on Thursday 18th October from the Rio based British Consul General, Simon Wood, along with his wife Pippa and colleague Clarissa Vargas. The focus of the consular work is to promote trade and friendship between Brazil and the UK. Arriving in time for a “cafezinho” (British style, with milk!) the party then set off around the Wetland Trail, looking out for wildlife and hearing about the history and biodiversity of REGUA along the way.

Living in Rio for over a year (following assignments in Tokyo and then Copenhagen), this was Simon’s first visit to REGUA which had been recommended to him by a neighbour. Nicholas and Raquel shared with them about the ambitious reforestation project and other activities including REGUA’s education work with local schools and universities.

After a lunch featuring Brazilian rice and beans alongside English cottage pie, they visited the lodge to see for themselves the warm welcome and cosy accommodation available for visiting birdwatchers and tourists.

The accidental birdwatcher

Capybara Hydrochoerus hydrochaeris (© Colin Daborn)

Volunteers Fiona and Colin Daborn report on their second week at REGUA.

We’ve now come to the end of our second week volunteering at REGUA and there has been plenty of work on trail maintenance, tree planting and nursery tasks. We’ve also chalked up a surprisingly extensive species list. We love the outdoors and all things nature but we wouldn’t classify ourselves as serious birders. At home in the UK we love seeing birds when we are out and about hiking or camping but we don’t normally keep a log. Life at REGUA is different. Whilst doing our volunteering we have so far seen an incredible 48 species of birds not to mention numerous butterflies and moths. My favourite bird is the bright red Brazilian Tanager Ramphocelus bresilius, easy to spot and still breathtakingly colourful even after a few sightings.

But there is more to REGUA than just birds. Our volunteer shared house backs on to the wetlands and most mornings before breakfast we have been down to the water’s edge to watch the group of 12 or so Capybara Hydrochoerus hydrochaeris who have made a small island their home. It has been a real treat to see them so close and they are great subjects for photos because they stay relatively still.

From the same location you can sometimes also catch a glimpse of a Broad-snouted Caiman Caiman latirostris gliding slyly through the water, keeping a low profile and watching out for his next meal. Sometimes the only part showing is a bulging glassy eye. Just once so far we have been able to see a sloth up high in the bare branches of a tree – standing just outside Casa 3 (another volunteer/visitors house) with binoculars it was great to watch him as he moved at glacial speed down the trunk.

Jararacussa Bothrops jararacussu (© Colin Daborn)

We’ve also had the privilege (?) of seeing two snakes this week. We disturbed the Tiger Rat Snake Spilotes pullatus while clearing debris on the Brown Trail – it must have sensed us coming and the first indication was a steady rustling noise as it slithered away through the leaves and then up a tree. Obviously feeling safe at that point it stayed still watching us watching him/her! Our other sighting was whilst walking back to the truck after tree planting as we followed a small stream, I glanced down and saw a venomous Jararacussa Bothrops jararacussu coiled on a rock on the lookout for lunch. As we were up on the bank at a safe distance there was plenty of time to study the impressive patterning and triangular head.

Most evenings around 5 pm you can find us sitting at the top of the observation tower, reclining in the comfy chairs and having a definite sense of being “on top of the world”. The view from there is amazing (you must come and see!) and truly hopeful – there are trees as far as the eye can see. We’ve spotted lots of hummingbirds from this viewpoint but on the walk back from the tower to our house we’ve also been lucky enough to see tapir. REGUA is in the midst of a Lowland Tapir Tapirus terrestris reintroduction programme so it has been fascinating to learn about that but even more exciting to see the tapir themselves snuffling around in the undergrowth rediscovering their native landscape.

We’re looking forward to exploring more of this landscape ourselves in Week three of our volunteering adventure. Coming soon!

Follow Fiona and Colin’s adventures at REGUA on their blog.

The orchestra of the night

Tropical Screech-Owl roost by the REGUA Conservation Centre by day and are often heard at night (© Lee Dingain)

Volunteers Fiona and Colin Daborn report on their volunteering at REGUA.

One thing we didn’t expect when we signed up as “General Volunteers” with REGUA, was that there would be an on site orchestra… but now, two weeks into our stay we are very much tuned in to the soundtrack of REGUA. The music begins before first light with a Brazilian dawn chorus; lots of high twitterings like the flute section joining the mix, preceded only by one or two mournful cicadas who emit a piercing monotone anguished cry – perhaps they just don’t like mornings.

During the day different sections of the orchestra have their turn; working in the plant nursery it is common to hear the cheerful melody of the Great Kiskadee announcing his arrival (“kis-ka-dee”), trail clearing in the forest we enjoy additional percussion from the White-bearded Manakin who sounds the high hat cymbal (if you’ve heard a Stonechat it is very similar) and while we are raking leaves by the wetlands we are interrupted by the occasional double bass bark of the placid Capybara.

As evening approaches, and especially after heavy rain, it is the turn of the baritone section – a rhythmic baseline of rich gurgling is added by the numerous frogs and toads in the soggy undergrowth. Their song is surprisingly deep and loud, each croak followed by another just one tone higher or lower. Before long, our friendly Tropical Screech-Owl, who regularly visits to choose his dinner from the many moths by our refectory lights, sounds the final haunting note of today’s symphony. Time for bed before it all begins again!

Follow Fiona and Colin’s adventures at REGUA on their blog.

Fiona and Colin’s volunteer diary – week 1

Fiona and Bruno weeding in the REGUA nursery (© Colin Daborn)

Volunteers Fiona and Colin Daborn report on their first week at REGUA.

Nearly at the end of our first week as general volunteers at REGUA and we are loving it so far. After a warm welcome from Nicholas, Raquel and the team on Monday (8th October) we were out with Jorge (REGUA Research Coordinator) on the lush “green trail” in search of butterflies. When we got back we had time to settle into our room in one of the volunteer houses, complete with well stocked bookshelves and a table perfect for writing up our sightings.

Tuesday saw us working in the plant nursery with Mauricio and Bruno planting seedlings and preparing new soil bags. Bruno turned out to be a fantastic Portuguese teacher too, so we expanded our vocabulary whilst weeding!

On Wednesday the sun was shining as we joined the hard-working ranger team led by Rui, planting out young trees to help reforest bare slopes. It was impressive to see the team workflow with each person having their own task – hoeing, preparing holes, adding compost, bringing the plants up to the steepest slopes in two baskets on the back of a mule, then passing the young trees across the slope so that the rest of the team could do the final stage of planting.

After a dramatic thunder and lightning storm, Thursday dawned wet and the air was filled with the sound of contented frogs! After a morning back in the nursery we joined the rest of the team for a short drive out to have lunch with one of the families who have a small holding adjoining REGUA land. Our host was so grateful to REGUA for protecting the land in the valley surrounding his farm that he wanted to provide a Thank You lunch. The table was laden with rice and beans, manioc, various salads, pasta, a local speciality of baked cod with boiled eggs and two meat dishes including one prepared in the blood of a chicken. Just when we thought we couldn’t eat another mouthful, dessert appeared – homemade passion fruit mousse or Brazilian trifle! After lunch we joined Professor Carlos back in REGUA classroom for the weekly session of the Young Rangers. Colin shared a presentation on his work as a National Trust ranger in the UK and there were plenty of lively questions about the size of snakes in Dorset! (photo 3)

It has been a great opportunity so far to share our skills and experience with REGUA but also to learn a lot about our new environment from the team and the many visiting scientists. We’re looking forward to seeing what next week brings!

Follow Fiona and Colin’s adventures at REGUA on their blog.

Colin planting (© Fiona Daborn)
Colin presenting (© 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

 

7th Annual visit for Miraflores School

Having children visit is what keeps REGUA going, for they are the ones that one day will inherit the responsibility of caring for this World.

Nicholas with pupils (© Raquel Locke)

The Rio de Janeiro Miraflores bilingual school made their 7thannual visit this year, expressing their keenness to learn about Nature and helping to plant native trees.

Miraflores’ School’s director Luiz makes sure that this event is given the right importance for he sees in this excursion, an activity that awakens the pupils to environmental responsibility.   This year REGUA received 65 children between the age of 6 and 7, divided them into smaller groups to walk them around the reserve showing flora and fauna, from insects to reptiles and mammals to the trees growing.   Being a bilingual school they demand the talking in English enjoyed by all.   They visit the nursery, fill the individual plant bags, plant seeds and transfer seedlings to understand what is involved in the entire process to start a forest.

Children planting trees (© Raquel Locke)

Their walk shows that forests can be started and provide habitat for a multitude of species. They feel responsible and connected, and learn that restoration is only about effort.

The school has been visiting annually since 2011 and I always remind them that they are the reason why we want to continue planting trees. It is a true privilege too offers these children the opportunity of sharing this unique experience here at REGUA.

Thank you Luiz for providing the opportunity to share our work with you; your staff and your children.