Click here to read the Report for Operation Wallacea. It gives a more detailed overview of what we did and how the data is being used.
What We Did
We spent the duration of the trip on the Rio Amazonas, a refurbished boat from the Rubber Boom period. All of our surveys were conducted in the Pacaya Samiria National Reserve. The Pacaya Samiria is the largest flooded area in the Peruvian Amazon and the second largest protected natural area of Peru. It has an area of over two million hectares.There is a high diversity of flora,fauna and aquatic life: 527 bird species, 102 mammals, 69 reptiles, 58 amphibians, 269 fish and wild plant species and 1025 grown. It is flooded for half the year so there is limited time for samples to be gathered. These flooded periods are important, as fish hide among the roots for breeding and feeding. This is important for seed dispersal and maintaining the nutrient content of the soil. All the data that we collected was used for wildlife monitoring to provide information of how well conservation is working. Wildlife also provides information on the impact of climate change, pollution and over exploitation. We looked at both density and abundance analysis to show actual population sizes and trends in population.
At the end of the trip we had the privilege of visiting one of the traditional Cocama villages. After a tour of the village we were fortunate enough to see a traditional dance performed by the local high school students, which we were also able to partake in and played some games with the young children of the village. The locals sold us some crafts they had made from rainforest materials. Most communities in the reserve are involved in conservation. They are taught to sustainably use the forest to provide food, medicine and building materials. As well as this they are asked to fill out, record and submit information about the wildlife they saw.
- Primates, Large Mammals and Game Birds: Distance based survey transects took place along 2 – 3 km trails.These data are 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 is spent at each point. Censuses are carried out twice a day (once in the morning and one in the afternoon. 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: 5km river transects are divided into 500m subsections where all river edge bird species are recorded. The flooded forest of the Pacaya Samiria National Reserve has the greatest fish production in the Peruvian Amazon; and wading birds are used as an indicator of the annual fish production. Great Egrets were the most common on our surveys.
- Understorey Birds: Standard length mist nets are set at replicate sites in a range of habitats (riverine forest, closed canopy 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 traveled 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.
- Fish Surveys: We used both standard gill nets and fishing lines to catch the fish. Each fish caught was weighed and had its body length measured. The species and area they were caught in was also noted.The fishing surveys are examining the impact of recent climate change on fish populations; and how this relates to the sustainability of fishing by the local Cocama people.
- 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. Captured Caiman are used to obtain morphological measurements, sex and age. In the large enough Caiman, stomach samples are also taken and analysed. 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. We used a Batbox (ultrasonic bat detector) to help detect the bats. The Fishing Bats are being used as indicators of the smaller sized fish production. Our first bats survey was slightly unsuccessful, as we confused the sounds of the engine with the Batbox; so that our numbers were inaccurate and could not be used. Our second one however, was more successful.
- Amphibian Surveys: Transects of 500m will be surveyed at each site.Transects are conducted night and day, during the period when amphibians are most active. The length of time spent on each 500m transect will be between 1h 30min‐4hrs. Visual encounter surveys (VES) are carried out using a probe to disturb leaf litter and vegetation. During night transects,torches are used to catch the reflection of light from the amphibian eyes . Upon detection and capture of an individual, each specimen will be handled carefully and morphological measurements taken. The distance along and perpendicular distance from for each specimen will be recorded.
When on the boat, we had the opportunity to speak to the guides about their life in the forest (some things were lost in translation due to our lack of Spanish and their lack of English!). The local people have become more and more involved in conservation in recent years. This is due to the fact that climate change and over-exploitation of the forest has had some very negative impact on their livelihoods. Over-fishing and over-hunting have decimated their food supply, particularly in the flooded months. Climate Change causes the flooding to occur earlier or later than expected; making it difficult to estimate when to plant crops. However, since conservation has become a larger priority for the local people and the Peruvian government, food security from hunting and harvesting the forest has risen. Climate Change however remains an issue for farmers. When speaking to the guides, they described their job working in conservation not only as very important to them but as the most interesting part of their lives. They said that they really enjoyed teaching people about the rainforest and how important it is.