Our scientific research programme has 3 main areas of focus:
1. Biodiversity 2. Ecosystem-Services 3. Socio-economics
Mascotania Macaw monitoring programme
The blue-headed macaw is classified as Vulnerable on the IUCN Red List, meaning it is threatened with extinction. The blue-headed macaw lives in a very specific habitat and so is heavily affected by deforestation and other human disturbances. Their numbers are further damaged by exploitation for the pet trade, a growing problem in Peru. So far we have found a decrease in the number of blue-headed macaws on the reserve over the past few years, correlating with an increase in tourist numbers. Our aim is to successfully understand their behaviour and to educate tourists about responsible bird watching. You will be involved in this by helping to monitor the number of blue-headed macaws visiting our clay lick at dawn as well as noting their activity, and recording the impacts of tourism on the birds.
Avian monitoring in different stages of forest regeneration
Bird species composition and diversity can signify many different things about the forest, such as forest type, structure, age, health, and level and type of human impact. Hunting pressure and habitat fragmentation through roads and deforestation can largely affect bird populations. For example, healthy populations of game birds such as guans, tinamous and trumpeters indicate low to zero hunting pressure, whilst the presence of a highly specialist species such as the harpy eagle may indicate undisturbed primary forest. Not only is the ecology of many of these tropical foothill species poorly known, but the true value of regenerating forest for birds is understudied.
We conduct early morning transects along the reserve to listen and look for birds.
Butterfly monitoring in different stages of forest regeneration
There are currently more than 550 known species of butterfly at the reserve. Butterflies are significant bio-indicators as well as pollinators for many plant species, which makes understanding their distribution throughout the forest, species density and fluctuations over time, a significant research project for us. Butterfly larvae have highly specialised diets, so we can learn about the vegetation in each part of the forest by looking at the species we find in them, and by comparing our findings in each forest type we can see what effect regenerating forest has on species distribution.
Mammal monitoring in different stages of forest regeneration
In order to understand the importance of regenerating rainforest for mammal species, we have used a series of camera traps set up around the reserve to capture images of mammals in all three forest types. So far more than 40 large mammal species have been recorded at the MLC, including 13 individual jaguar. Due to the elusive nature of many mammal species the rest of our research is more ad-hoc. You may find yourself unexpectedly tracking puma prints for half an hour, or trying to frantically count the number of peccaries that just crossed your path. These encounters are vital to our understanding of the way mammals use regenerating forest.
Amphibian and reptile monitoring in different stages of forest regeneration
Amphibians are excellent indicator species as they are extremely vulnerable to changes in their environment. They have very thin skin which they use for gas exchange, and this makes them very sensitive to chemical pollutants and also to changes in climate (e.g. temperature and humidity). This means that they are one of the most important bio-indicator species on the reserve, but it also means they are incredibly vulnerable, and are threatened by human activity the world over. Studying the way they use regenerating forest is therefore vital for assessing its conservation value.
Past Project - Forest regeneration monitoring
The history of the MLC reserve makes it a natural research lab for investigating the effects of different land uses on regenerating forest – from the 1950’s to 1980’s it was used for logging, agriculture and pastureland. We are able to study the flora and successively changing dynamics of disturbed forest. This is a unique opportunity and one which is of international importance, given how much rainforest is destroyed globally each year. We do this by collecting litter – leaves, seeds and sticks – as they fall from the trees in different forest types, then drying and weighing them, and recording their mass.
This is part of an ongoing project in partnership with Oxford University. Monitoring changes in the biomass levels will allow us to gather information about the regeneration rate of the forest and determine whether the reserves of carbon in the forest are changing.
By gathering data on carbon storage and sequestration of the regenerating forest, a value could be put on the forest which could prove useful in preventing further deforestation under the REDD (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation) scheme.
Past Project - Bio-indicators project
Many invertebrate groups, such as orchid bees and dung beetles are used as focal taxa in environmental disturbance studies due to their ideal characteristics as bio indicators. Some orchids are entirely dependent on orchid bees for pollination and reproduction and some species of orchid bees will also visit many other plants to meet their needs. This makes orchid bees very important pollinators in tropical forests.
Many dung beetle species show a graded response to various kinds of disturbance. Studying dung beetles can help us assess the ecosystem health and function which may be a directly related to human disturbance.
At the Manu Learning Centre we have a biogarden which is used for research purposes. We want to know what are the best methods for producing the greatest yield of fruits and vegetables using the smallest growing space. This information is then fed back to our community project staff who direct work locally on the ground in our beneficiaries’ Biogardens. Everything grown is carefully looked after by interns, weighed, measured and then used by the MLC kitchen.
Sustainable Community Initiatives
We work with local communities in Manu to create sustainable income that meets the challenges faced by remote rainforest towns. Poverty and lack of access to higher education in Manu forces many families into unsustainable work such as illegal logging, slash and burn agriculture, and mining. Not only are these often dangerous and unhealthy, with little financial return, they also contribute to rainforest destruction. To date our community projects have positively impacted more than 600 people.
Crees works specifically with local mothers to combat malnutrition, by providing resources and knowledge to build biogardens that produce nutritious, fresh food for families, and extra income through surplus crops.
So far volunteers and local mothers have created over 30 family biogardens, and have helped build two institutional biogardens. Since beginning our work with biogardens in 2009, this has resulted in an annual increase in income for the direct beneficiaries of biogardens, and an increase in child nutrition and health.
The Crees agroforestry plots are planted with local farmers, and provide both short and long-term income through producing sustainable wood with banana production.
This is an environmentally sustainable livelihood that provides a sustainable alternative to illegal logging activities in the surrounding forest. Agroforestry encourages species diversity, increases soil nutrition, and creates carbon credits that can be sold to further support the project.
We have helped turn more than 61 hectares of abandoned and degraded land into agroforestry plots, which have subsequently seen increased biodiversity, help plant over 10,000 banana trees, 7,000 hardwood and softwood trees, and created the first program in Peru to ever commercialise carbon credits on behalf of a local community sold to Oriel College Oxford University.
60% of Peru’s land surface is covered by rainforest and with tourism as the third largest – and fastest growing – industry in Peru, the need for knowledgeable and motivated professionals who will advocate for the Amazon has never been higher. We are working with the local community to provide students with the tools to use their environment both sustainably and to their maximum advantage; establishing livelihoods which link rainforest protection and prosperity.
Despite living in one of the most biodiverse places in the world, local people do not often get the chance to venture into the forest – private or reserved land that is protected from anthropogenic activities. We want to give local students the opportunity to explore the forest, meet people from different cultural backgrounds and participate in conservation research activities.
Other support As with any survey, scientific research involves much more than going out and studying flora and fauna - there is a whole lot of work that goes on behind the scenes to make conservation research possible!