Projects

1. Guyana’s amphibians

1.1 Amphibian diversity and baseline surveying

Guyana is particularly rich in amphibians due to its unique geographic location, and yet it is still a relatively data-deficient area of study, mostly due to socio-economic reasons (Cole et al., 2013). The study carried out by Cole et al. in 2013 is the first modern account of amphibian fauna in Guyana, with 27% of the species sampled being endemic. Therefore, there is a real need to carry out more base-line surveying to determine the extent of the diversity present in Guyana. It is estimated that at least 350 new amphibian species will be described in Guyana in the next few years (Cole et al., 2013).

Guyana is of particular conservation significance as it possesses over 80% forested land. With the recent addition of the Kanuku Mountain Protected Area, more intensive sampling should be carried out in order to determine the extent of the wildlife in what has been described as “the most diverse area in Guyana” (Conservation International, 2016). Representatives from the orders Gymnophiona and Anura are widespread in Guyana, with more than half the anurans being arboreal tree frogs, as found in the study by Senaris et al. (2007). As well as this, Guyana’s high levels of biodiversity and endemism are found particularly in highland and montane habitats (Senaris et al., 2007), both present in the KMPA. Most montane amphibian species sampled by Donnelly et al. in 2005 were described as rare.14207725_10208857989905571_3122319937947174619_o

Aims and Hypotheses

  • To determine a base-line species list of anuran amphibians.
  • To sample for aquatic caecilians.
  • To sample various different habitat areas for amphibians including upper elevations, primary forest, secondary forest, highland streams, edge areas, and disturbed areas, and determine the difference in diversity between these habitats. It is expected that upper elevations and primary forest will possess greater species richness.
  • To determine environmental conditions present in areas which amphibians are sampled.

1.2 Chytrid presence and abundance

The fungus Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis is known to cause the disease Chytridomycosis in all orders of amphibians: Anura, Caudata and Gymnophiona. It is known to cause high morbidity and mortality in susceptible species and individuals. The fungus infects the sensitive, permeable skin of amphibians, proliferating intracellularly in the superficial layers of the epidermis causing hyperkeratinisation. This effects respiration, osmosis and electrolyte exchange across the skin, and results in water imbalance and electrolyte disturbances leading to cardiac arrest. The fungus can be spread by direct contact between individuals or contact with a water source infected with the waterborne zoospores (Van Rooij et al, 2015). This disease has contributed to species extinction such as the Golden Toad, both species of Gastric Brooding Frogs (IUCN, 2016) and Rabb’s Fringe-limbed Tree Frog (Emerson, 2016). Many more amphibian populations are experiencing huge declines and are seriously threatened by this fungal pathogen, across the globe (Lips et al, 2006).
Guyana is data deficient on the presence/absence of chytridomycosis, and with reports close by in its neighbouring country, Venezuela (Aanensen and Fisher, 2016), it is important that surveys are carried out to add to the epidemiological knowledge of this disease. If B.dendrobatidis is discovered, this data will be valuable in initiating action for conservation and mitigation plans at the Kanuku Mountains Protected Area, and will hopefully stimulate further research in other pristine areas across the country.

2. Invertebrate communities in water bodies

Guyana is home to a near pristine and very unexplored rainforest, especially in the montane forests of the Kanuku area. Information on the biodiversity of this region is limited at best, but there is still a much higher amount of previous documentation on vertebrates when compared to invertebrates. “Very little is known about other faunal groups in this region, particularly invertebrates”, states the Rapid Assessment Program report (Montambault and Missa, 2002).

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One of the main results of the RAP was that Guyana has one of the most diverse plant communities in the world. This great diversity of plants provides many niches and habitats available for insects, which have clearly not been well documented (Montambault and Missa, 2002). One of the most recent publications on biodiversity in Guyana was in 2000, in which parataxonomists (members of the local communities) were trained up to quantify the insect diversity. Though this study provided some valuable data, it highlights again the lack of attention Guayana’s insects have received from the scientific community. Furthermore, this project only trained local people on how to sample terrestrial insects (Basset et al., 2000) which suggests there may be even less documentation specifically on aquatic insects in Guyana. Without the knowledge of what lives in this incredibly diverse rainforest, conservation efforts will be less targeted and effective (Montambault and Missa, 2002). Ultimately this project will improve and increase the information and documentation of aquatic insects specifically in the Kanuku area of Guyana which is very important considering its status as a biodiversity hotspot.

Aims:

  • To compare the invertebrate communities in different aquatic habitats.
  • To gain insight into the characteristics which make habitats adequate for different insect taxa.
  • To study the relationship between amphibian diversity (recorded in the amphibian project) and insect diversity and abundance.

3. Mammals of the KMPA

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The expedition will conduct a baseline survey of animals found in the KMPA using a systematic grid of camera traps and walking transects. This will provide useful data on the presence of medium to large mammals, ground-dwelling birds and other fauna of the understorey. The reserve is home to 11 of the 12 mammal species of Guyana that are in the IUCN Red Data Book. University of Glasgow Exploration Society has 13 cameras, allowing up to 6 double-facing points to be monitored. They can be set to take still photographs, video or a hybrid mode, with adjustable time and photo number.
By using GPS locating devices in the field we can accurately record the position and location of several species. The compiled species list made available by camera trapping will be a vital resource for the continued research of the wildlife of the remote KMPA. Camera traps are a highly effective tool as they are non-intrusive to the environment or animal behaviour and can provide large amounts of data with relatively little labour. By surveying animals with camera traps, population densities can be modelled, behaviour and habitat use studied, as well as species distribution and population structure (Espartosa et al., 2011). A significant advance in the knowledge of terrestrial vertebrates of the reserve could be an important incentive for future research. The Relative Abundance Index can be used extensively to give general analysis of the data provided after just 24 hours.
Different habitats will be surveyed and there is the possibility of analysing presence of species along a gradient of distance from a major freshwater source, i.e. the Rupunni river. The KMPA Management Plan expresses special interest in improving the understanding of the riparian communities and how they differ from areas of forest in less proximity to water. The current plan of having both a river based and forest based camp will enable such a study.

4. Effects of forest disturbance on butterfly diversity

The aim of the study is to document the different species diversity and abundance of butterflies between disturbed and undisturbed sites in the KMPA. This study will continue the work previously carried out by University of Glasgow in 1995, during which they compiled a list of X species. Two different methods will be used to obtain data – fixed route transect counts (“walk and count survey”) and fruit traps.
There will be two traps set up in two different locations that have different environmental conditions. Trap (a) will be placed in an undisturbed area under the tree canopy of the dense forest and trap (b) will be placed in a disturbed location within the open area of the camp.
The traps are comprised of fine mesh nets that are fixed on each side by metal hoops and secured onto a plastic square base. These will then be hung from trees using string which wraps over the branches and allows the trap to move up or down. The end of the string will be tied around the base of the trunk to secure the traps. The bait used for these traps will be dependent on the availability at the time but possibilities include mangoes, oranges, papayas or bananas. The fruit will be cut and then placed in a bowl in the centre of the trap’s base.

The walks will take place in (a), undisturbed and (b), disturbed habitats several times a week. Butterflies observed 10m to the front and to either side of the surveyor will be recorded. The walks in the disturbed area will take place along an already established track and will measure around half a mile. The walks in the undisturbed area will be divided into a series of shorter trails that lead away from the standard track. To make this comparable, each of the walks will last the same amount of time (total of one-hour observation work) rather than the length of track.

5. Bat surveying

There are 107 recorded species of bats in Guyana, making it a country with one of the highest bat diversity levels in Latin America (Lim et al., 1999). There are several studies demonstrating the discovery of new bat species in Guyana (Lim et al.,1999; Montambault and Missa, 2002), and the KMPA appears to be a particular hotspot for bat diversity, with 89 recorded species so far (Montambault and Missa, 2002). Bats account for roughly 50% of the mammal diversity in Guyana (Lim, 2013) and play important roles in seed dispersal, pollination and insect population control, making them a vital part of Neotropical ecosystems. Their seed dispersal abilities make them especially important in regeneration after rainforest disturbances, a growing threat to rainforests across the world (Bat Conservation International). These factors make bat surveying a very exciting and important part of our expedition. Two of our members will be attending an advanced course in bat handling and surveying techniques with the Bat Conservation Trust in the UK on the run up to our expedition, giving them adequate skills and knowledge for this study to be implemented successfully, and safely. An expert in the field of South American bats may join the team in the field for some part of the expedition (negotiations currently under way). The methodology will be based on mist netting techniques, with nets set up and checked regularly in several locations near camp to allow an intensive survey of the specific site. Species identification will take place in the field, and photography will supplement the data collected. This will expand the current knowledge of bat diversity in the Kanuku Mountain range, allow development of bat-focused conservation efforts, and will support the maintenance of the area’s newly protected status.

References

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Brem, F., J. R. Mendelson III, and K. R. Lips., 2007. Field-Sampling Protocol for Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis from Living Amphibians, using Alcohol Preserved Swabs. Version 1.0 (18 July 2007). Electronic document accessible at http://www.amphibians.org Conservation International, Arlington, Virginia, USA.
Boyle, D.G, Boyle, D.B., Olsen, V., Morgan, J.A.T. & Hyatt, A.D., 2004. Rapid quantitative detection of chytridiomycosis (Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis) in amphibian samples using real-time Taqman PCR assay. Diseases of Aquatic Organisms, 60, pp 141–148.
Cole, C. J., Townsed, C. R., Reynolds, R. P., MacCulloch, R. D. and Lathrop, A., 2013. Amphibians and reptiles of Guyana, South America: illustrated keys, annotated species accounts, and a biogeographic synopsis. Proceedings of the Biological Society of Washington, 125 (4), pp 317-578.
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Lim, B. K., Engstrom, M. D., Timm, R. M., Anderson, R. P., Watson, L.C., 1999. First Records of 10 Bats Species in Guyana and Comments on Diversity of Bats in Iwokrama Forest. Acta Chiropterologica, 1(2), pp.179-190
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