The Brazilian Atlantic Coastal Forest.

Month: March 2020

29 February 2020 – going home

Saturday was the final day of our field course, and was again overcast, rainy and cool. Our day began with our last breakfast in Brazil, which consisted of fried plantains, soft queijo minas cheese, bananas and papayas. The students and Dr. Carvalho presented Dr. Lougheed with a handcrafted viola caipira, a 10 stringed guitar-like instrument popular in Brazilian folk music. A token of our appreciation for Dr. Lougheed’s hard work, each student contributed approximately $60 reals to buy it. Dr. Lougheed was very moved by this and disappeared to his room for a bit …

The main of the day was a geocaching competition. Allen hid 12 questions related to the course made by him, Dr. Lougheed and Dr. Carvalho in various places around the field station and recorded their GPS locations. He then explained the rules of the exercise to the class, gave a few tips, and provided the coordinates of the questions. Each group then took a GPS unit and headed off into the rainforest. Every group used a different strategy, with some entering the coordinates into the GPS units beforehand in an attempt to create an optimal path, others using them to check their location relative to the questions, and a few ignoring the GPS units and following the trail. Group 2, consisting of Sean, Cheyenne, Maleeka and Sierra ended up winning the competition, getting 10 points of out 12 questions with a time of 59 minutes despite the heavy rain that began mid-way through the activity.

The students then finished packing their bags and cleaning up and we departed for São Paulo–Guarulhos International Airport at 3:15 PM. We arrived at the airport at 6:30 PM after a quick rest-stop at a Frango Assado on the SP-070, near the SP-099. After an uneventful queue through security and Brazilian customs, we departed for Chicago-O’Hare and then Toronto-Pearson on UA844/UA476. Thankfully, neither of our flights were delayed, and despite rushing through US customs and the baggage check at O’Hare, we made it back to Toronto by 10 AM on Sunday, March 1st.

February 28 2020 – Finishing up research projects & Ubatuba

Our Friday began with more light rain, overcast skies, and a surprisingly cool 18 degrees C. This was expected, as precipitation in the Mata Atlantica peaks in January, with an average of 14 rainy days in February and a cumulative annual precipitation of 2200 mm. The constant rain and high humidity have prevented our laundry from ever drying and has made our research projects and outdoor activities quite soggy.

Most students used the morning to put the finishing touches on their research projects. My group in particular collected some auxiliary data for our bromeliad tank water quality study. During our data collection, we noticed that the bromeliads in the forest with well developed reproductive organs typically had less water in their tanks, and that bromeliads on the road were typically smaller and had less consistent water quality than the forest specimens. We speculated that this species of bromeliad is best suited to a low disturbance environment with high canopy coverage, and that the tank water acts as a store of nutrients for reproduction. To examine the latter hypothesis, we took photos of each of our sampled bromeliads to categorize their stage of reproductive development. We finished the final touches on our research projects by noon, and some of us went to the north side of the field station to birdwatch, spotting some azure-winged tanagers, saffron finches, and the ever-present parakeets.

The main activity of our afternoon was a trip down to Ubatuba, with the aim of experiencing a Brazilian town and buying souvenirs. Located 20 km down the mountain and 900 m below the field station of Nucleo Santa Viriginia, Ubatuba is a tourist town with a population of around 90 000. The name of the town comes from Tupi for many arrows/canoe. It is known for its beaches, of which there are over 100 in the municipality, and surfing. The town is the official surfing capital of Sao Paulo, and Praia Itamambuca, on the north end of the municipality, is particularly well known for hosting national competitions.

As our visit came on the aftermath of Carnaval, the town felt subdued and quiet. We explored the town for two and a half hours, buying local delicacies such as juçara açai sorbet, Brazilian coffee, empanadas, and Carnaval beer, and souvenirs such as local ceramics, bird books and coffee drips. At 5:30, we took shelter from a sudden onset of rain at the Sullivan Bar Cervejaria, near Projeto Tamar and the Aquário de Ubatuba, and finally bused back up, arriving at the field station at 7:15. Our day ended with barbequing queijo coalho cheese and handmade hamburgers, complete with lettuce, tomatoes, caramelized onions and condiments, and species accounts from Kristen and Hayden, who covered the Red Breasted Toucan and Coral Snake respectively. Kristen taught us that Red Breasted Toucans, similar to flycatchers and owls, are secondary cavity nesters (meaning they inhabit tree cavities made by other species), while Hayden informed us that the ‘red touch black, safe for Jack’ saying is only true for Texas.

February 27 2020 – Species natural history, more field research, and learning more about the nucelo

Species Accounts

We commenced our morning with three illuminating species accounts. First up, Kayleigh introduced us to the coastal tree toad (Dendrophryniscus cf. brevipollicatus), a nocturnal toad that is endemic to Brazil and can be found living in bromeliads! Secondly, Maleeka enlightened us on the red-tailed amazon (Amazonas brasiliensis), a picturesque parrot with striking colours that is considered near threatened, primarily due to ongoing poaching and deforestation in Brazil. Last but not least, we had Arjun tell us about the paca (Cuniculus paca), a rotund rodent that can jump into water from a height of over 5 meters! Fun fact: when the male paca chooses a mate, he sprays the female paca with urine while she joyously leaps about. Overall, a morning filled with excitement and knowledge! Group Projects All groups ventured out into the field again today in hopes of collecting more data for their research projects. The weather managed to rain out some groups, but many prevailed. Several groups were able to collect sufficient data and run preliminary statistics to visualize their results. Hopefully everyone will be able to finish off their data collection tomorrow and conclude the final project at home.

BREAKING NEWS: Ani witnessed a real BBC Planet Earth moment play out before her eyes. She burst into the cafeteria and exclaimed, “THE CRAZIEST THING JUST HAPPENED!”. She then proceeded to reiterate her dramatized interpretation of her experience. A cicada was flying directly towards her and out of NOWHERE a flycatcher swooped in and chomped the cicada, consequently ‘saving’ Ani’s life, or at least preventing an unpleasant forehead-large insect collision.

Parque Estadual Serra do Mar – Nucleo Santa Virginia Presentation

During the afternoon, we gathered in the classroom for a presentation from Fernanda, the park manager, and Will, a local biologist employed at the park. They taught us about the park’s history, ecology, conservation efforts and research programs. We learned that the park is 42 years old, is comprised of 332 000 hectares, 25 municipalities, and has 10 nucleos. FUN FACT: there are three jaguars currently living in the Nucleo Santa Virigina area!! We watched a short video compilation of some park animal caught on camera traps around the nucleo. Some animals in the video included: pumas, jaguars, cutias, pacas, tapirs, and many more!

BIRTHDAY CELEBRATIONS – We finished the night off with some delicious white chocolate cake from Steve and Rute’s new favourite local café, in celebration of Emily and Emma’s birthday. Their wedding-like cake cutting was a fun end to a great day!

February 26 2020 – Of toads & research

Hi blog followers! I guess you could say that today was a hopping success. It started bright and early with twenty students gathered around a cucura toad. If you aren’t sure what that is, the cucura toad is a large, dappled creature typically found by rivers and waterways. Surprisingly, we found our new warty friend near the garbage bins last night. The cucura is larger than most amphibians endemic to the area, and all parties were absolutely thrilled to see this novelty. The discovery of this amazing creature opened up the opportunity for Darcey M. to present her species account and teach us all about it. She was very excited to tell us about the origin of this toad’s name, which comes from the indigenous word for “ugly man”, but we’ll let you be the judge of that. Besides this exciting species encounter, the day was mostly dedicated towards the students’ data collection for their major projects.

The students have managed to come up with interesting project designs, which were perfected last night during an in-depth class discussion. Many students started collecting data early this morning, trying to avoid the unpredictable weather that Sao Paulo State is known for. Throughout the day, Kristen, Hayden, Amelie and Arjun group continued to explore the habitat preferences of the endemic toadlets. Meghan, Heather, Sou and Emily P. spent the day measuring the surface area of leaves and forest coverage along the forest trail. Rylie, Emily L., Kayleigh, Ani continued to examine bulb density in Bromeliad epiphytes. Maleeka, Sean, Cheyenne and Sierra focused on pollinator preference on one of the flowering trees near the station. Finally, Allen, Emma, Alex and Darcey spent the day looking at variations in Bromeliad water quality according to location and disturbance. Unfortunately, around noon, a thunderstorm hit, and students had to press pause on their data collection. Luckily, the rain let up around 3, and students trucked through the muck to continue their research to collect data and fun times.

After a long day of collecting data, students took some time to input their data and take a look at some of their initial results. After a hearty dinner, some of the students treated themselves to a movie night and watched Parasite. Tomorrow – more data collection!