The REGUA orchid cathedral is receiving its 80% sun filter netting which will reduce the temperature significantly.
Obviously orchids are found across the entire gradient, from sea level to 2000m above sea level and the challenge is to provide an ambience that responds to their climatic demands.
We have received sound advice with regard to the structure of the building, how to provide the best environment for the specimens and most importantly, the ongoing management of the orchids. Rosário Braga (a biologist and former head of OrquidaRio, the RJ orchid club) and Helmut Seehawer, a long-standing friend of REGUA and orchid expert have been invaluable in their support.
We have been warned that watering is not a simple task, and we aim to have a semi-automatic sprinkler system to support the environment of the Cathedral. As Helmut Seehawer advised, air movement is essential and we are using wire netting on the lower section to allow for wind movement. Helmut has also suggested we use as much natural forest compost as possible.
By the end of the year, the REGUA orchid cathedral will be open to the public, an addition to the existing trail network revealing the jewels of the forest.
Walking the 50km of trails at REGUA is fascinating for birders and naturalists alike. Altitudinal range spans 30 – 2000m and there is a richness of invertebrates and plants to match the diversity of birds that draws the majority of visitors to REGUA. All classes of arthropod are present in abundance and there are many interesting patterns of distribution waiting to be identified and investigated.
REGUA’s lodge garden has a roofed, whitewashed wall complete with mercury vapour lamp generating many new records of moths for the Reserve and for Rio State. The wall often reveals a wealth of other interesting invertebrates such as this Dobsonfly (Corydalidae). Many of these creatures are difficult to see in the forest probably because they are residents of the tree canopy.
In the forest there are chance encounters with exciting species such as the White Witch Moth (Thysania agripina) Noctuidae with a huge wingspan.
December to Febuary is the Brazilian summer and usually a hot rainy season and time of maximum plant growth. This is, of course, an excellent time for all insects and amphibians. Whilst August to November is the Brazilian Spring and busy for birdwatching, it is also good for insects. Only March to July are a little quieter.
There is a profusion of wonderful butterflies. Some, like the 88, (Diaethria clymena) are very common. The most famous neotropical butterflies belong to the Genus Heliconia, with their distinctive strap-shaped wings and bright colours. These insects were shown to have co-evolved with their food plant, the different species of passion-vine (Passiflora). The vines put out new shoots irregularly and the butterflies must live a long time to be able to search out new growth and lay a full complement of eggs.
Another spectacular group of insect are the various species of huge Morpho butterflies which flit through the forest under-storey.
Diptera are interesting and diverse. There are three common sources of food that can provide for a profusion of flies: dung, carrion and some species of freshly emerged fungus. Parasitoid ichneumonids and tachinids search out the larvae of butterflies and moths whose living tissues they will feed on until they finally cause their death.
Ants are predators, roaming leaf and shoot for opportunities or different species will farm leaves with the help of fungus.
Spiders must guard against predatory wasps and some of these are very large indeed.
Beneath the placid exterior of the forest, termites work to undo the conversion of CO2 to sugar; every now and then a crash is heard acr
oss the forest as another giant tree succumbs to their tiny jaws.
There is much work to do to find out how many species of arthropod exist in these rich habitats. We are only in the earliest of stages investigating how all these myriad species interact in Mata Atlântica.
With Christmas, New Year and Carnival this has made for a busy couple of months at REGUA. The summer is also a time when staff take a well-earned break, and have time for visiting family away from the Guapiaçu area.
However, during the “quieter” time of the year, when there are fewer visitors, the priority at REGUA is to ensure that any maintenance or building words required at the Lodge are carried out.
The main task during this Brazilian summer, was to block up the old entrance and bathroom doors from the lobby area into Room 5 and open up a new entrance off the veranda at the front of the lodge, and put a new door through to the bathroom. This makes Rooms 4 & 5 truly ‘en-suite’ and more private with the lobby area becoming part of Room 4.
This noisy and dusty work had to be done in the closed season, and quickly, to ensure minimal disruption to our visitors.
With the work completed and painted, it is hard to believe that there has been any change at all.
Excellent work from the REGUA building team.
In addition, the whole lodge is getting a coat of paint, the humid atmosphere takes its toll on the paintwork, and it is vital to ensure that this is regularly done.
Some changes are also to be made to the pool area with some of the veranda columns being removed to open up the area. Maintenance work to the swimming pool and its surrounding area is also undertaken to ensure it is ready for the busy year ahead.
The humid atmosphere and strong sunlight also badly affect our pool furniture with plastic made brittle and wood a target for both termites and mould, so sourcing replacement tables and chairs is a regular task. Tom Locke, our Lodge Manager is tasked with finding suitable replacements.
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.
Livia Dias de Sousa is undertaking her Doctorate at the North State University of Rio de Janeiro monitoring the release of the Black-fronted Piping Guans.
Her study also includes a close analysis of the population of Heart of Palm, Euterpe edulis, a palm that grows throughout the Atlantic Rainforest at different altitudes. The REGUA ranger Rildo has worked with Livia before and was anxious to take her to the top of the green trail, an area where one would expect to see large population of this palm.
Whilst walking they came across Spix’s Saddleback Toad, a very small toad just the width of ones thumb. Livia was able to get some cracking photos which she shared with us. These golden toads are of the Brachycephalidae family and named “Saddleback toads”. They are endemic to South-east Brazil’s Atlantic forest and the colour is to warn predators of its toxicity.
The first Brachycephalus specimen was collected and identified in 1824 by the German naturalist Johann Baptiste von Spix, coincidentally the same person that named the Black-fronted Piping Guan. With recent field work on the mist covered Atlantic Rainforest mountains, another seven species have been discovered.
Interestingly these toads have only three toes on each foot, and two fingers on each hand. Saddleback Toads are active during the day, and live in the leaf litter on forest floors. The eggs undergo direct development, hatching into miniature toads, without a tadpole stage. The eggs are laid on the ground, and covered in soil to protect them from the heat and predators. Brachycephalus are found only on cloud forested mountaintops so our forested valleys need to be conserved for populations to move. The disturbance and later fragmentation of these forests isolates populations and this is felt to be the worst threat to the species.
We hope that with the restoration and protection of the land within REGUA other guests will get a chance to see these rare amphibians.
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.
“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.
The photographs show students developing field activities on courses held over the last two years.
The first Forest Restoration Seminar was held at the Rio de Janerio State Environmental Department (INEA) last November.
Spearheaded by the Eco Atlantica Organization, REGUA and INEA; the aim was to present the restoration efforts by five well known environmental projects occurring in Rio de Janeiro state. The INEA had an opportunity to share its own agenda emphasizing its intention of increasing forest cover from the current 17% of Atlantic Rainforest to 20 % in the next decade.
By presenting results and discussing issues and objectives, the Seminar identified financial continuation and the difficulty of planting forests in private land as the main hurdles to overcome. However the presentations showed that the participating projects have become more efficient and better at their work to contribute towards overall conservation in their local areas.
The organizations taking part, ITPA, Mico Leão Dourado, Onda Verde, Crescente Fértil, REGUA and Ferroport have contributed to forming 2,000 hectares of forests over the last decade and the opportunity of such a Seminar to discuss the successes, failures and opportunities will help encourage future initiatives. The cooperation and support by the government and private institutions will be a driving force to meet those demands and such Seminars are valuable events for the framework of the overall plan.
Volunteer bird guides Wes, Jerome and Clive have worked hard in supporting Adilei (our resident guide) in guiding our guests over the last two months and they deserved a well-earned break. A window of opportunity presented itself with a few days without guests and I suggested a trip to the southern area of Pereque, Ubatuba and Itatiaia, where we might find some new birds.
We left early one morning and in spite of the rain, we saw our two most wanted species Black-hooded Antwren, and Fork-tailed Tody-Tyrant. These species have a tiny distribution, and Pereque which is located at sea level is one reliable area to see them. The latter species has been seen at REGUA, but is by no means a regular sighting.
We steamed off for Ubatuba to prepare ourselves for the next day. Leaving early for our hotel we birded the renowned Fazenda Angelim where we had great views of Ferruginous Antbird, Buff-throated Purpletuft and Spotted Bamboowren, all equally challenging species.
The afternoon saw us at the Sitio de Jonas. This is a world famous spot for hummingbirds with sixteen species possible. Mr Jonas retired from a job in Sao Paulo city and is now feeding hundreds of hummingbirds – using over 4kg of sugar daily! The two species everyone wants to see are Festive Coquette and Sombre Hummingbird. We had great views of both species and with time available, headed up to Engenheiro Passos to spend the night in a magnificent hotel visited by the Emperor Don Pedro himself over 100 years ago.
Needless to say the birding along the first six kilometers of the road leading to Mount Itatiaia was just amazing. The road is easy to bird, the species kept popping up and the guides just kept finding new species. Red-breasted Toucan, Red-breasted Warbling-finch, Thick-billed Saltator, Golden-winged Cacique, Plovercrest, Sharp-billed Treehunter, Mouse-coloured Tapaculo , Serra do Mar Tyrannulet, Olivaceous Elaenia and Black-capped Piprytes were all seen here.
With Black Hawk-eagle at the higher areas we also added Araucaria Tit-Spinetail and the Itatiaia Spinetail amongst many-many other species, everyone was left deeply impressed. Wes patiently called in the spectacular Speckled-breasted Antpitta, and we craned our necks to get a view within the tangled undergrowth – a joy that left us all enraptured.
Finally, we arrived to spend the night at the Ipé hotel and in the evening still had a chance to see Buffy-fronted Seedeater, a nesting Blue-winged Macaw, Magpie Tanager at the feeders and before turning in, Tawny-browed Owl.
The following day, an early start once again, and we had Robust Woodpecker flying into the mist During the course of day we had magnificent views of the Large-headed Flatbill, White-throated Spadebill, with more Buffy-fronted seedeaters all around chirping in the high canopy whilst they fed on bamboo. Brown Tanager, Brown-breasted Bamboo-tyrant and Drab-breasted Bamboo-tyrant, Lesser Woodcreeper, Slaty Bristlefront, Sharp-tailed Streamcreeper, Star-throated Antwren were all seen here and finally after a tough climb through the bamboo undergrowth we found White-bearded Antshrike.
Soon it was time to return to REGUA – a thoroughly tired but satisfied group.
The REGUA reforestation programme is occurring at a rate not thought conceivable just ten years ago. We first planted an area of three hectares and thought it was hard work. We had no experience and every time the sun came out, we thought the trees would die. Nethertheless we persevered and every year we gained more experience and became better and better at this work.
Today we are planting twenty times that area in a year and the REGUA team is divided in three sectors. We have the seed team that procures seeds in the forest, picking up seeds of close to 180 species. The nursery team that is getting wiser at breaking seed dormancy and getting great uniformity in the production of seedlings, and there is the field team that transports the seedlings to the field and looks after them, nurturing them with patience and care.
The sad picture of destruction of the 1920s is slowly reverting to forests of the future. Just a century after areas were cut down to make way for pastures, the same areas are being restored to forests.
These forests now generate employment within the local community; act as new buffer areas to the large forest of the escarpment, forming an ever larger forest block that offers new habitat for the biodiversity around, which in turn leads to more research opportunities and potential tourism.
Gradually the small fragments of fading forest value can make it back and through forest corridor planting those islands can be reconnected offering a safer future for the species found here at REGUA.