morpho. heliconius. nymphalidae. canthon. coprophanaeus. pamphobeteus.
Understanding the diversity, population dynamics, movement characteristics, and habitat preferences of arthropods in Amazonian Peru
The Invertebrate Research Team, with headquarters in the city of Puerto Maldonado, is tasked with monitoring the diversity and abundance of focal butterfly, dung-beetle, and spider species at each of our wildlife research sites across the lowland rainforest and cloud forests in southeast Peru. In addition, the team is tasked with understanding how focal species respond to changes in their environment, from forest degradation and deforestation to climate change, and thus are also active in collecting data on climate variables, vegetation characteristics, and land use. Collecting incidental information on predation of butterflies, dung-beetles, and spiders is also important. Such data is fed through to those members of Fauna Forever studying food webs.
The subtle wing-pattern difference between Colobura
dirce (left) and C. annulata (right). Photo: Augusto Mulanovich
A Brazilian wandering spider (Phoneutria nigriventer)
Photo: Chris Kirkby
Methods Used and Skills Taught
The methods and techniques that our volunteers and interns actively learn in this team, under the leadership and supervision of our invertebrate research coordinator, include dung-baited pit-fall traps for dung-beetles, fruit-baited Van Someren-Rydon traps for butterflies, transect-based sweep netting for butterflies, intensive searches of 10x10 m forest plots and fixed period random searches for spiders, intensive counts of individuals in social spider colonies, as well as plot-based habitat and vegetation assessments. Data analysis and visualisation programs that we use and teach, include R, SPSS, Estimates, and QGIS. Click here for more details about this program.
Schematic diagram of live pit-fall trap set-up for dung beetle sampling in Amazonian Peru. Roof for rain not shown.
An Amazonian dung beetle (Dichotomius boreus)
Photo: Trond Larsen
A Typical Day
A typical Van Someren-Rydon fruit-baited trap for sampling butterflies. Photo: Matias Peres
Research periods are split into morning, afternoon, and night sessions, although typically active fieldwork is largely undertaken during two of these sessions on any particular 24-hour period (e.g. morning and night or morning and afternoon), for a total of between 6-7 hrs per day. Morning session activities begin after breakfast at 8:00 am with checking and/or re-setting traps for butterflies and/or dung beetles, including preparing fresh bait mixtures. Trapped individuals are identified, counted, and in the case of dung-beetles measured and weighed before being released. Some species of butterfly and dung-beetle are also marked with a non-invasive colour pattern to help identify recaptured individuals at later sampling periods to help estimate density of these species. Some individuals may be taken back to the station in order to take close-up macro photographs of them, especially when field identification of them is hard, and then released back at the point of capture. When re-sighting traps, the GPS location of these are noted, as are the microhabitat types around each trap. Afternoon sessions for butterflies and dung-beetles are similar, although the field portion tends to be shorter, with more time dedicated to inputting and analysing data. Spiders large and small are sampled in 10x10 m plots located randomly throughout the forest habitat types of interest, and to a lesser extent during timed walks through the forest. During intensive fixed search periods within plots, as many spider species as possible are sampled by temporarily capturing them and placing them in Tupperware boxes. Ground- and subterranean-dwelling species are also sampled. With the help of magnifying glasses and photos, each species is identified and subsequently released within the plot. When it comes to colonies of social spiders (Anelosimus eximius), we use large bait material (e.g. grasshoppers) to entice the spiders out into the middle of their large web where we can more easily count the number of individuals in the colony. Nightiime sampling sessions are dedicated to spiders and again involve a combination of plot sampling and random walks in the forest habitats of interest at each site. When weather conditions may not allow for invertebrate sampling to take place, then these periods are used for data entry and data analysis purposes using project laptops. Sundays are designated for relaxation and personal exploration of the local area around each field site, with various local destinations on offer.
Sometimes it is possible to get very close to wild Morpho butterflies, like this Morpho eleanor filmed at the Venado Station, Tambopata, Peru. Video: Chris Kirkby
A happy bunch of mating Harvestmen spiders of the Genus Leiobunum on some Tobacco plants in the Quellomayo area, Cusco region, Peru. Video: Chris Kirkby
Volunteer and Intern Participation Fees
1 week - US$ 500
2 weeks - US$ 900
3 weeks - US$ 1200
1 month - US$ 1600
6 weeks - US$ 2200
2 months - US$ 2850
3 months - US$ 4100
All meals (veg options available) and lodging (shared rooms), scheduled transfers, field training and supervision, research permits, research activities, local Sunday expeditions.
Flights, non-scheduled transfers, clothes washing, rubber boots, rain poncho, personal medical issues.
Any time of year. We recommend successful applicants arrive in the city of Puerto Maldonado (PEM) on either a Tuesday, Wednesday, or Thursday if at all possible. The city is served by daily flights from Lima (LIM) and Cusco (CUZ) via the airline Latam.
Non-profit Fee Breakdown
Books and Field Guides
Butterflies of Southern Amazonia
By: Garwood & Lehman.
Dung-beetles of Cocha Cashu Biological Station, Peru.
By: Trond larsen
Dung-beetles of the Amarakaeri Comunal Reserve, Peru.
By: Gorky Valencia
Rypstra and Tirey (1991) Prey size, prey perishability and group foraging in a social spider. Oecologia 86(1): 25–30.
Binford and Rypstra (1992) Foraging behavior of the communal spider Philoponella republicana (Araneae: Uloboridae). Journal of Insect Behavior 5(3): 321–335.
Lamas (1994) List of butterflies from Tambopata (Explorer's Inn). In: A rapid assessment of Tambopata, Peru. Conservation International, Washington DC.
Robbins (1996) Taxonomic composition and ecological structure of the species-rich butterfly community at Pakitza, Parque Nacional del Manu, Peru. In: Manu: The biodiversity of Southeastern Peru (eds. D.E. Wilson and A. Sandoval) Smithsonian Institution Press, Washington DC.
Lamas (1997) Comparing the butterfly faunas of Pakitza and Tambopata, Madre de Dios, Peru, or why is Peru such a mega-diverse country? In: Tropical Biodiversity and Systematics. Proceedings of the International Symposium on Biodiversity and Systematics in Tropical Ecosystems (ed. H. Uhlrich) Zoologisches Forschungsinstitut und Museum Alexander Koenig, Bonn.
Larsen and Forsyth (2005) Trap spacing and transect design for dung-beetle biodiversity studies. Biotropica 37(2): 322-325.
Larsen et al (2011) Insects of the Tropical Andes: Diversity Patterns, Processes and Global Change. In: Climate change and biodiversity in the Tropical Andes (eds. Herzog et al). Inter-American Institute for Global Change Research (IAI) and Scientific Committee on Problems of the Environment (SCOPE).
Priester (2013) Evaluating nymphalid butterflies as indicators of biodiversity in southwestern Amazonia. Masters Thesis. Columbia University.
De-Silva (2015) Diversification of clearwing butterflies with the rise of the Andes. Journal of Biogeography 43(1): 44-58.