The last month has been filled with many new experiences and fun times. The five of us started out in Crucita which is in the dry coastal region of Ecuador. We began sampling in Portoviejo, an area not too far from Crucita. Each of the sampling areas offers a different unique ecosystem that greatly vary in the vegetation and insect diversity. A big indicator of being in the dry forest area of Ecuador are the large trees of the species Ceiba trichistandra (picture below). They are found only in dry tropical forests of the Pacific regions of Ecuador and Peru, and are just beautiful. In the wet areas that receive vast amounts of precipitation the vegetation is a dense wall of green and full of life.
I specifically enjoyed the night walks through the forest, one of which took place in the wet area of Rio Palenque. It seemed like all of the cool animals came out at night, ranging from large pseudo scorpions to tiny frogs. We even came across a couple of animals that lit up the forest on their own by using bioluminescence. The click beetle has two spots on each side of their head that light up, and the lightening bug’s abdomen, much like the ones in North America, shine bright. What the tropical forests lack in light, they make up for with sounds. There were constant chirps, buzzes, and calls from amphibians, insects, and bats that were incredibly different from the sounds heard during the day, which primarily came from birds.
As much fun as the night walks were work had to be done, which for me was sampling insects and spiders. I sampled multiple sites in order to gather preliminary data for my master’s thesis, which will look at the network structure change along an elevation gradient. To find the insects I have been using visual, sweeping, and black light techniques. Each technique has bias towards certain groups of insects, which makes it important to employ as many techniques as possible. The visual method is geared towards finding larger insects that are slower moving, whereas the sweeping method collects flying, and faster moving insects in the vegetation and air. The black light method enables the collection of many nocturnal insects, and has by far allowed for the most diverse collection. In order to gather spiders I visually locate the webs and collect those using vials. After collecting and sorting insects/spiders by order, and if possible family level, we are going to analyze their nutrient composition (nitrogen & phosphorus). I’m already looking forward to next year when I’ll be doing more in-depth sampling of spiders and insects in the Andean region!