Undergrad Research Assistants
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 1 & 2 – Amazonian wildlife conservation and biodiversity surveying
Start date expedition 1: 11 June
Start date expedition 2: 9 July
There is limited space available on expedition 2
Expedition length: 4 weeks (4 weeks terrestrial only)
This expedition is based on one of the research ships which will be moored on the edge of the flooded forest in the Pacaya-Samiria Reserve. Your first week will be completing the Amazonian wildlife and conservation course PE001, after this first week you will be part of the biodiversity research teams PE002 and will rotate between the different surveys or choose one or more on which to concentrate. It is advisable at first to rotate between all these different surveys, but to then concentrate on helping with one of the survey teams in particular since the longer you work on a survey the more helpful your input will be and the more you will learn. By spending 4 weeks in the Pacaya-Samiria Reserve you should see a good cross section of the amazing wildlife of the Amazon.
Expedition 3 & 4 – Amazonian biodiversity surveying
Start date expedition 3: 11 June
Start date expedition 4: 25 June
Expedition length: 2 weeks (2 weeks terrestrial)
This 2 week expedition is based on the research ships but is for those who want less of an in depth knowledge of the research, but who want to get some experience of the range of surveys being completed. It starts with completion of the Amazonian wildlife and conservation course PE001 and the second week is spent working with the biodiversity research teams PE002.
PE001 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.
PE002 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.
Optional additional training courses
This course can be done as part of the Amazonian wildlife and conservation course and will train you in how to use a harness and pulley system to be able to ascend 40m+ into the canopy along with a qualified instructor. This optional half day additional course costs US$170.