Peru

The training course and survey options described below have been packaged as a series of 2 or 4 week expeditions. Please read the packaged expedition descriptions and then move to the constituent part descriptions for further details of what you will be doing.

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Expedition options

Expedition 1 & 2 – Howler monkeys, sloths and dolphins

Expedition 1: 10 June – 22 June

Expedition 2: 22 July – 3 August

This 2 week project is based on a historical research ship which will be moored in the Pacaya-Samiria Reserve.  The first few days as the ship is navigating upstream you will be having a series of lectures on Amazonian wildlife and conservation. Once on site you will then be rotating between a series of projects including boat based surveys of pink and grey dolphin populations, gill net and rod surveys of the fish communities and point counts of the macaws and wading birds. After dark you will venture out to assist with fishing bat, amphibian and caiman surveys. Foot based surveys of the varzea habitat include forest structure surveys, mist net surveys of the understorey birds, camera trap surveys for the big cats, tapirs, peccary and deer, patch occupancy surveys for large mammals and distance sampling for the 8 primate species commonly encountered.

Expedition length: 2 weeks (2 weeks terrestrial) 

Expedition 3 – Jaguars, fishing bats, caiman and river turtles

Expedition 3: 24 June – 20 July

This project runs for four weeks and is based on a historical research ship moored in the Pacaya-Samiria Reserve.  The first few days as the ship is navigating upstream you will be having a series of lectures on Amazonian wildlife and conservation. Once on site you will then be rotating between a series of projects including boat based surveys of pink and grey river dolphin populations, gill net and rod surveys of the fish communities and point counts of the macaws. In the evening you will have the opportunity to join fishing bat, amphibian and caiman surveys. As water levels drop, surveys of the turtles are included and identification of nesting sites. During these falling water level periods, vast numbers of water birds migrate to this site to predate on the fish fry that are returning to the river from the flooded forest. During this time the numbers of wading birds will be recorded daily using boat based transect surveys. Foot based surveys of the varzea habitat include forest structure surveys, mist net surveys of the understorey birds, camera trap surveys for the big cats, tapirs, peccary and deer, patch occupancy surveys for large mammals and distance sampling for the 8 primate species commonly encountered. Over the four weeks you should get an in-depth understanding of the survey techniques used and see many of the iconic Amazonian species.

Expedition length: 4 weeks (4 weeks terrestrial only) 
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Constituent parts

Amazonian Wildlife Ecology and Conservation Course

This course has a series of lectures which cover Amazonian biogeography and biodiversity gradients, trophic structure and feeding ecology, sustainable use and community conservation strategies, and climate change. Each day there are practical sessions during morning and afternoon, where you will be joining the different research teams, learning the survey techniques being used and some of the species encountered on the surveys.

Biodiversity monitoring in the Pacaya-Samiria National Reserve

There is a large team of mainly Peruvian researchers based on the research boat and you will have the opportunity to sign up to help all of the different projects during the course of your stay or, as you get more experience, to concentrate on one or more of the projects to get a deeper level of knowledge. There is a strong research atmosphere on the boat with teams coming and going at all times of day and night on various research tasks.

  • Primates, large mammals and game birds: Distance based survey transects will be completed by the students for these groups along 2 – 3 km trails. The method and theories behind distance sampling will be explained to students and they will be taught how to recognise different species and the main identification features. These data are then combined with the camera trap data to estimate abundance of the main species and using time-space analyses to estimate densities. The density data are then used to look at the impact of recent climate change and examine sustainability of hunting.
  • Macaw Surveys: Boat based point counts are used to monitor macaws with each site separated by 500m. Fifteen minutes will be spent at each point with censuses carried out twice a day. Within the fifteen minute counts, all macaw species either perched or flying are noted and the time of observation and distances of the birds from the observer estimated. Macaws are used as indicator species of the terrestrial ecosystem and changes in their populations reflect the dynamics of forest fruit production.
  • Wading bird surveys: These surveys include 5km river transects divided into 500m subsections where all river edge bird species are recorded. The flooded forest of the Pacaya-Samiria National Reserve have the greatest fish production in the Peruvian Amazon and wading birds are used as an indicator of the annual fish production.
  • Understorey birds: Standard length mist nets are set at replicate sites in a range of habitats (riverine forest, open understorey forest, levees, liana forest, palm forest). All birds captured are identified and measured. Catch per unit effort data are compared between years to identify population trends and the impact of climate change on diversity and abundance.
  • River Dolphin Transects: 5km transects at each site are travelled downstream using a boat with the engine turned off. Information collected on sightings includes: species, group size, group composition, behaviour (travelling, fishing, resting, playing), time and position at first sighting. During these surveys students will be taught how to record the distribution and behaviour of both pink and grey river dolphins. The density of pink river dolphins is one of the greatest in the Amazon basin. Climate change is impacting the dolphin numbers and the research is identifying these recent impacts.
  • Turtle transects: Expeditions later in the survey season (depending on water levels being low enough) may also include turtle monitoring. The turtle monitoring method consists of registering the number of individuals sighted, either sunbathing or swimming. Students will be taught how to differentiate between the two turtle species found in the reserve. The head-start programme in the reserve has successfully helped recover the yellow spotted river turtle and the giant Amazon river turtle. Turtle transects help determine the population levels and the results of the head-start programme.
  •  Fish Surveys: Students will be able to work with a team who are setting standard gill nets to quantify the catch per unit effort (CUPE). The students will learn how gill-net surveys are implemented and will help with measuring, weighing and identifying all fish captured. They will also take part in surveys using fishing lines. The fishing surveys are examining the impact of recent climate change on fish populations and how this relates to the sustainability of fishing by local Cocama people.
  • Butterfly and moth surveys: This is a new project using standardised baited catch-and-release traps. Students will learn how to set-up the traps and handle butterflies and moths. The diversity of butterflies and moths along transects and in different forest types will be examined.
  • Habitat surveys: These surveys are designed to produce quantitative data on the various forest habitats (size structure and biomass of trees, levels of light penetration and ground vegetation, regeneration rates). These plots will help to understand how the recent extreme flooding and droughts are impacting the vegetation and how changes in terrestrial seed dispersers (peccaries, deer, rodents and tapir) are changing the forest composition.
  • Night time caiman surveys: This survey involves spotlight surveys of the river after dark to locate and identify caiman species in order to estimate population size and distributions. Noosing is used to capture caiman to obtain data on morphological measurements, sex and age. The black caiman has recovered from near extinction caused by over exploitation during the 1950’s-1970’s. The competitive interactions between caimans shows how the recovery of one species (black caiman) is affecting the populations of other species (common and smooth fronted caimans) and how conservation measures need to consider multiple interactions.
  • Fishing Bat surveys: This river survey involves travelling along the river for 5km during dusk recording the number of fishing bats seen flying over the river. The students will also use a batbox (ultrasonic bat detector) to help detect the bats. The fishing bats are being used as indicators of the smaller sized fish production, similar to the wading birds.
  • Amphibian Surveys: Transects of 500m will be conducted night and day during the period when amphibians are most active. Visual encounter surveys during the day will be carried out using a probe to disturb leaf litter and vegetation. To identify anurans during night transects instead of probing through leaf litter, torches will be used to catch the reflection of light from the eyes of anurans. Amphibians are also surveyed on the floating vegetation at night, where 15minute point counts are carried out where all amphibians seen are caught and recorded from the side of a small boat. Upon detection and capture of an individual morphological measurements will be taken and the distance along the transect and perpendicular distance recorded.

In addition to these surveys there are dissertation studies where assistance may also be required – for example assisting with behavioural data observations on the primate species.

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