Student numbers were low this year, but nonetheless the Tropical Ecology field course took place in Ecuador once again this summer – we simply benefitted from a high staff-student ratio! The field course is now entirely run through Manchester Metropolitan University (MMU), for undergraduate and masters students.
As usual, the course kicked off in Quito with an introductory talk on health and safety in the field (and the cities), the environments we would be going, the conditions we would be working in, the people we would be living with for three weeks (each other), and insect taxonomy. Following that, the course really got underway when we reached the Bellavista Cloudforest Reserve, nestled on the Andean slopes a couple of hours drive west of Quito. In the four days we spend in the cloudforest, students learn about measuring diversity and design small group projects. This year, we focused on one system, epiphytic bromeliads. These diverse plants abound in Ecuadorian cloudforests and hold small resevoirs of water between their leaves, making them perfect homes for myriad invertebrates and great systems for learning to measure biodiversity. The samples collected during this stage of the course will be used for a pilot study looking at plant and microbial interactions, an expansion of a project already underway in our Amazonian field site.
After an all-too-brief stay in the beautiful cloudforest, the field course moved down to MMU's Timburi Cocha Research Station in the Amazonian forest of San José de Payamino, managed and owned by an indigenous Kichwa community. Isolated and far from the luxuries of unlimited electricity and wifi and out of reach of phone or data reception, students do their individual research projects, generally at least loosely related to the specialty of a member of staff. This year, we had projects on frogs, lianas, spiders, microalgae, and heliconia communities.
This year's staff included MMU lecturers Prof Richard Preziosi and Dr Hannah Mossman, postgraduate staff Alejandra Zamora Jerez, Thomas Hughes, and Xaali O'Reilly Berkeley, and an associate researcher from the University of Barcelona, Jagoba Malumbres-Olarte. We were also accompanied by medic Dr Samuel Moody. For the rainforest part of the field course, we were joined by Dr Martin Sullivan from the University of Leeds and Cristina Guaman Burneo, from the Ecuadorian National Biodiversity Institute (INABIO).