Tag Archives: Research

Students investigate the health of the wetlands

RJ State University Student Group with Prof. Marcelo and Tim

Professors Marcelo Marinho and Tim Moulton returned to REGUA with their 3rd year Biological sciences at the RJ State University. Their field of interest is “Limnology and Oceanograph”, and they come to REGUA to study the biological, chemical, and physical features of lakes and other bodies of fresh water.

Every wetland is continually evolving and changing. Having followed the progress of REGUA’s wetlands since 2005, Professor Tim can state with authority that each of the three wetlands is vastly different from each other. The central wetland, created in 2005, is the healthiest with a small stream passing through; the second wetland lying below the lodge garden, created in 2007, receives a small amount of water that is diverted to maintain its level, and the wetland nearest the Conservation Centre, created in 2010, has water emerging from sources below the surface but offering a constant flow.  

The students at work. (© Prof.Tim Moulton)

The central wetland is full of underwater plants/macrophytes and its water is almost transparent. The second has water seeping under the walls and does not overflow. As a consequence it has a greenish appearance, covered by “watermeal” (Wolfia sp), most appreciated by waterfowl, including the Masked Duck, a rare visitor. The 2010 wetland is occasionally covered by orange Euglenoid algae. As a scientist Tim is really perplexed and is coming up with many questions. Have the algae have choked out the macrophytes or vice versa? Have fish stirred up the bottom? Is the wetland turning eutrophic that might lead to the death of its fish?  

Professors Marcelo and Tim are naturally very excited to learn more and have directed their students to study elements of the wetlands to reach the heart of the matter. This is a prime example of the benefits to both student and REGUA; whilst students gain experience, REGUA gains from the ongoing research that students are carrying out.

Students taking water samples on the main wetland (© Prof. Tim Moulton)

We are delighted to receive many students from diverse Universities and offer them such a wonderful outdoor laboratory. This offers us the opportunity to talk and explain what REGUA’s ambitions are and therefore provoke and reach to young thinkers who will help to shape society in the future.

These visitors will certainly be touched by the efforts and development of this project and take this model elsewhere.     

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

Golden Frogs at REGUA

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.

Brachycephalus ephippium Spix's Saddleback Toad
Spix’s Saddleback Toad (© Livia dias de Souza)

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.

Nicholas Locke

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:

Jorge Bizarro

REGUA’s First Research Convention

REGUA’s first Researchers Convention was held over three days in May.   The event was attended by over 100 delegates which included university students (both graduates and undergraduates), university professors and local and state government representatives.

The Brazilian Environmental State Agency (INEA) gave a presentation on government conservation initiatives including research and government encouragement and support for the creation of private reserves such as REGUA.

Over 40 Masters and PhD theses were presented both orally and in poster display.   All of these studies had been based on field work at REGUA.   Subjects varied from fly predation on leaf-cutting ants to floristic and fish inventories.

On the final day recommendations are made regarding broadening the range of field studies and communication strategies for the future.

It was a consensus that REGUA provides the best field research site in RJ state.

With thanks to the Petrobras GGV project for their support and funding of this event.

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.