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2001 Field Courses

2001 Tropical Ecosystems Field Course Report

July 11 to August 2, 2001

Rick Sherman, Wisconsin Brandie McCray, Minnesota Brandie McCray, Minnesota Nadine Haalboom, Canada Melanie Schmitt, Wisconsin Joeri Strijk, Netherlands Paige Wagemann, Wisconsin Sheryl Zurock, Canada Paola Espinosa, Ecuador Catherine Woodward, Instructor Joe Meisel, Instructor Erin Hicks, Indiana Javier Lima, El Pahuma Stephanie Rexing, Indiana Brooke Talley, Indiana Emily Kidd, Wisconsin Veronica Andrade, Ecuador Thirteen students from the USA, Holland, Canada, Colombia and Ecuador united on July 11th, 2001 in Quito for this year's Tropical Ecosystems:  Andes to Amazon field course.  Here are some of the highlights, illustrated by photos taken by the instructors and students!

Everyone gets tired on the strenuous uphill hike through the mist to the Guarida del Oso with all our food and equipment!  Translated into the "Bear's Den", this rustic cabin located high on the mist-shrouded slopes of the El Pahuma Orchid Reserve is the first place we stay after leaving the comfort of our Quito hotel.  Besides learning how to identify some of the common cloud forest plant families, we identified a new bird to add to the El Pahuma list:  the Tawny Antpitta (Grallaria quitensis).

Joeri, Joe and Rick ready to hikeMisty El Pahuma Cloud Forest

The early morning mist glided through enormous Tree Ferns, giving the Pahuma mountainside a serene and ghostly appearance.  Three intrepid hikers pose with the usual equipment of camera, binoculars, backpacks, and dirty field clothes!  As we descended the Pacific slope of the Andes, we stopped to check out a mature plantation of African Oil Palm (Elaeis africana) and discuss this species' economic importance and environmental impact in the tropics. Elaeis africana plantation

Camping on Pacific Coast

By late afternoon the same day we were at Punta Prieta, on the sandy shores of the Pacific Ocean, setting up tents in the sand for our 3 day stay in the coastal dry forest.  A highly threatened ecosystem, much of Ecuador's tropical dry forest has been cut down to make way for pastures.  We all got the rare opportunity to see an all-white Ghost Bat, which was living in one of the Punta Prieta cabins.Punta Prieta classroom

After a relaxing swim in the ocean and a heated game of sand soccer, we reconvened in our seaside classroom to analyze the day's vegetation sampling data, followed by a delicious dinner of fresh fish and vegetables.  Our last night on the coast was highlighted by a bonfire on the beach. Alonso, our host, lit one of his "Bolas de Fuego" (balls of fire), a crepe-paper hot-air balloon, and released it into the night sky where we watched it disappear over the Pacific.

After a day of rest in Quito, we embarked on our journey to the Amazon, with our first stop being the Polylepis woodland high in the Andes mountains.  Our study of changes in climate and vegetation with altitude began at nearly 5000 m, in the Cotocachi-Cayapas Ecological Reserve.

Our next study site was the Jatun Sacha Biological Station in the lowland rainforests of the expansive Amazon basin.  Here we learned 11 major orders of insects and sampled them along a gradient from forest interior to pasture. Later our samples were sorted and identified at the lab, where we practiced using taxonomic keys to identify some of the more obscure specimens.Quichua dance

On a trip to the Quichua community of Cachi Huañusca, on the other side of the Napo river, we learned about the medicinal plants used by the Quichua and helped them plant a crop of yuca (Manihot esculenta). They welcomed us with music, dancing and chicha!  We also got to test our marksmanship with a Haorani blowgun, with which we were soon firing dart after dart into an unsuspecting banana inflorescence, our target for the afternoon!.

After 16 hours of travel by bus and canoe, we finally arrived at the Tiputini Biodiversity.  Upon sensing the wild remoteness of the green realm we had entered, no one complained that the trip was too long and with eyes and ears open we began our stay with an 11 kilometer hike through the rainforest the next morning.

Our species list grew rapidly.  10 species of monkeys were seen, including the rare Monk Saki (photo below taken in 2000) and nocturnal Owl Monkeys. We also got excellent looks at Golden-Mantled Tamarins, Spider Monkeys, Dusky Titis and Woolley Monkeys, some of which were seen from TBS' canopy walkway system.TBS canopy walkway

Monk Saki

Several students had the opportunity to assist Dr. Terry Erwin of the Smithsonian (front right) and his entomology crew on an early morning of canopy fogging to sample insect diversity.  Terry's work at Tiputini has been responsible for a dramatic upward revision of the estimated number of total insect species that may exist in the world:  his work in the rainforest canopy has revealed previously unimaginable diversity in the tree tops, and he estimates there may be as many as 20 million insect species on the planet!

Terry Erwin (right foreground) and students sample insects

This year's student projects included army ant pheromone trail directionality and specificity, leaf cutter ant foraging preferences, the relative importance of floral scent versus color as attractants to Hymenoptera, vertical gradients in abiotic conditions from forest floor to canopy, the effect of drip tips on leaf drying time and debris accummulation, and an instructor-led study of the effect of artificial nest position on predation rates.  Students conducted field work during 3-4 of the final days at Tiputini, and we concluded with a Symposium in which each group presented their findings to the course.

Tamandua climbing a bank of the Tiputini River, which it just swamHalfway up the Tiputini River on our early morning canoe trip a young Brazilian Tapir was spooked into the riverbank vegetation by the sound of the canoe's motor.  While it all happened too fast to get the camera ready, a little later we were treated by the unique site of a Tamandua, a new-world anteater, swimming across the river!  Joe had time to catch this gorgeous creature on film as it emerged from the swift current by scrambling up the vegetation on the far banks (see right).  Although these beautiful animals spend much of their time in trees, they are adept at swimming across the many rivers that crisscross the Amazon forest.

On our last day in Ecuador, we enjoyed the colorful sights and sounds of the Otavalo market.  To celebrate a successful course and bid farewell to our new-found friends with whom we shared this life-changing experience, we dined on Ecuadorian cuisine to the songs of the Andean altiplano.


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