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Trip to the Peruvian Jungle Capstone of Bio Research Course

Researchers radio-tracking tapirs from the Los Amigos tower. (Angelica Garcia photo)
Researchers radio-tracking tapirs from the Los Amigos tower. (Angelica Garcia photo)

The spring semester concluded in May for most Davidson students, but a half-dozen biology students are just now preparing for the final part of their "research investigations" class.

The six students spent the regular semester in a Davidson classroom learning the methodology of scientific research, and carrying out their own independent research projects. Those studies were preparation for the next aspect of the course–a July 21-July 29 residence at the "Los Amigos" scientific station in the Peruvian Amazon jungle.

Following a long boat ride from the city of Manu, Peru, the students and their Research Manager Meagan Thomas will spend nearly a week observing jungle fauna and shadowing scientists-in-residence at Los Amigos.

During the spring semester, each student conducted an individual research-based project. They also each helped compile a field guide for the Peruvian trip by researching and reporting on several species of birds, reptiles and amphibians they may see there.

This trip was funded by the Davidson Research Initiative Group Investigation program through the generous funding from Carole and Marcus Weinstein.. Thomas said it's a rare opportunity for students interested in tropical environments.

"They'll see endangered animals you don't find anywhere else in the world," she said. "We're all excited about seeing the very rare, reclusive short-eared dog, and the Hoatzin, the only species of bird that eats only leafy vegetation."

Katie Greene '18 hopes to shadow scientists working with tropical cats, such as jaguars, ocelots and jagurundis.

"I hope we will be able to catch a glimpse of these rare, amazing creatures on our trail cameras," she said.

Annalee Tutterow '17 will be experiencing her first trip outside the country. For that reason, she said, "I expect to experience many firsts. I am most looking forward to conducting herpetological surveys and observing the Amazon come alive at night."

Los Amigos is one of three Peruvian biological nature stations founded in 2000 by the Amazon Conservation Association. The three host more than 50 researchers annually from Peruvian universities, and international institutions such as Wake Forest, Duke and Oxford. It also accommodates student groups like the one from Davidson, and welcomes tourists interested in jungle observation.

"I'm really looking forward to the sheer number of animals we might see, especially since they are so different from the ones found in North America," Brie Bowerman '17 said. "Staying at a research station will also be an awesome experience, giving us a close look at the projects the Los Amigos researchers are working on."

The station operates on a "muddy boots" principle, gathering data in the field on threats to the jungle like illegal gold mining and logging. They partner with local communities to assess the situation and work toward informed conservation solutions. Trained scientists support visiting researchers with their conservation projects, which include species monitoring, conservation corridor design, establishment of protected areas, community engagement, reforestation and agroforestry.