AMAZON RAINFOREST WORKSHOP TOPICS
Our workshop field sessions are inquiry oriented, demonstrating interconnections among living organisms and environmental conditions. The stage is set for you to gain a first-hand appreciation for the importance of science and research in rainforest conservation by observing, questioning and using various investigation techniques including: data collecting, recording, and analysis; observing and describing different rainforest habitats; identifying relationships between the distribution of animal and plant species; using taxonomic keys to identify flora and fauna; and reading aerial photographs.
The field sessions take place Sunday through Friday at: 1) Explorama Lodge; 2) Explornapo Camp; and 3) Amazon Conservatory of Tropical Studies (ACTS) near Iquitos, Peru. Workshop participants stay overnight at each location, rotate through a series of field experiences, and have the opportunity to interact with all workshop leaders. Each morning and afternoon field session is three hours and limited in size for one-on-one instruction. The workshop format also includes school visits, trading with the Yagua Indians, early morning birding, night walks and evening river explorations by boat.
Rainforest Plants & Canopy Research
Only in the last decade have field biologists begun extensive exploration of forest canopies. Many of the logistic problems of access into the canopy have been solved. Canopy studies range from measuring sessile organisms (orchids, sedentary insects, trees) and mobile organisms (flying insects, birds, mammals) to canopy processes (studies of the interactions of organisms). Use a hand lens to look at leaf characteristics by day and the bright beam of a headlamp to observe insect herbivores by night. Measure leaf toughness with an easily constructed penetrometer. Look for the presence of lichens and mosses on the leaves in the lower canopy. Compare colors and sizes of leaves in the upper and lower canopy. Learn identifying characteristics of epiphytes and bromeliads at the canopy level. The ACTS Canopy Walkway gives us a special opportunity to observe the rainforest canopy, compare life at different levels of the rainforest, and participate in research to explore this previously inaccessible region of the rainforest.
Neotropical Birds And Migration
A first time visitor to the Amazon will have read that more species of birds, including such glamorous ones as toucans, macaws, sunbitterns and tanagers, occur more here than anywhere else on Earth, and then be surprised by their apparent scarcity. Identify the food base that birds depend on. Observe birds rummaging through leaf litter for insects. How are the insects camouflaged? What birds do you recognize as fruit-eaters? Patience, persistence and keen eyes are required to find and study birds here, and it helps to follow closely behind someone who already has these skills. Learn to use the information and sketches in a field guide to identify birds. See how sound recordings can be used to attract and identify birds. Learn how you and your students can participate locally in bird monitoring studies. A good pair of binoculars is a must for full participation in this workshop.
Rainforest Ecology and Symbiotic Relationships
This workshop will take participants into the rainforest to witness the structure and function of its living components. Comparisons will be made between primary rainforest and secondary growth. The word "ecology" refers to the study of living organisms, their relationships to each other and to their non-living environment. In this rich environment of the rainforest, trees, shrubs and vines form a framework on which, with which and in which other living things flourish. Focus on jungle partnerships and observe plants that feed and protect ants, ants that feed and protect plants, microorganisms that create nutrients for huge buttressed trees and bats that are nighttime seed dispersers for a range of plants.
Geology, Soils, and Waters of the Amazon
Though it is not the longest river, the Amazon carries the largest volume of water approximately 20 percent of all river water in the world. From the huge flooded swamps in the basin to the banks of its Andean Mountain rapids, it nourishes life and transports anything that is carried in its flow. The interaction of the geology, soils and river system creates a foundation for only certain types of plants and wildlife and serves as a basis for land use for residents. In this workshop we observe the agricultural options of an Amazon family and get involved in water quality monitoring and river deposition research of the Amazon.
Insect Societies and Super Senses
Most intriguing about the rainforests' diversity of species of insects is their incredible social behaviors and ways of processing sensory information. For example, some butterfly species are able to find the one flower per acre for which they are the exclusive pollinators. You are sure to see leafcutting ant trails and mounds during the field sessions. These ants live in underground colonies of up to 5 million individuals and have intricate societies and clear working relationships in order to survive. Following trails by a scent that they leave for each other on the ground, they harvest tons of foliage from the forest each day. This workshop session will help you better understand many of these super sensory abilities and learn to display these remarkable behaviors for your students.
Wildlife Diversity, Camouflage and Mimicry
In order to truly appreciate the beauty and complexity of a neotropical rainforest, one needs a special perspective to observe wildlife and appreciate how their fascinating features and adaptations have evolved over millions of years. Wildlife has diversified through adaptations to survive and protect themselves in the hot, humid weather conditions using camouflage and mimicry among other cunning techniques. Workshop activities will include setting out bait stations and insect traps and investigating color preferences of pollinators. Learn to frame a hypothesis as a scientist, and consider conditions under which you would expect different outcomes.
Medicinal Uses of Amazonian Plants
Nearly half of all prescriptions dispensed in the U.S. contain substances of natural origins, and over half of these contain a plant-derived compound. At the present time, there are over 120 useful prescription drugs obtained from plants. More than one-third of these plants grows in tropical rainforests. Indeed, tropical forests are the last great storehouse of natural pharmaceuticals. Diosgenin, ipecacuanha root, reserpine, quinine, and quassia are only a few of the many naturally occurring drugs found in the roots, leaves, stems and bark of rainforest plants. Local practices often provide valuable clues to the potential value of plant extracts. How have nature's evolutionary forces created the chemical defenses, pheromone attractants, color schemes, and scents that are at the heart of contemporary sources of natural medicines and healthcare products? Join a naturalist guide in the medicinal plant garden and on a jungle walk down the Medicinal Plant Trail at ACTS to search for and observe tropical forest plants that are used for medicinal purposes, both by indigenous Amerindians and by western pharmaceutical companies.
Rainforest Cultures and Conservation
Conservation is the key to human survival within the lush and productive environment of the rainforest. This paradoxical situation is reflected in the lifestyles and cultural adaptations of the Amazonian people if they take too much from nature, their own future is jeopardized. Participants will learn ways of using the rainforest without destroying it, be introduced to many of the organizations that are working for tropical forest preservation and conservation, and visit areas that were clear-cut to see how rapidly the forest can renew itself when given a chance.
The Ribereņos and Yagua people will take part in the Culture & Craft Fair activities. Workshop participants will also visit the villages of some of the Ribereņos who make their living on the banks of the Amazon and witness a lifestyle, which in many respects has remained unchanged for thousands of years. The Ribereņos, or River People, may be indigenous or mestizo (mixed Indian and Spanish descent), but they are defined as people who have settled along the river banks of the Amazon Basin and make their living from the land by way of agriculture and fishing the river. The Yagua are the indigenous people of the rainforest who have an intricate social system incorporating a shamanistic religion and inherent knowledge of the healing capacities of rainforest products. They have shown strong adaptive abilities where they have come in contact with the larger culture and are in a state of transition. The knowledge they hold is quickly becoming diluted, as they become more a part of the "modern" world.
Other subjects addressed in the workshop include:
Amazon Reptiles and Amphibians
Lizards, snakes and other reptiles have waterproof skins, yet are not restricted to moist places. Amphibians, on the other hand, quickly lose water from their bodies and must live in damp, dark areas. For these animals the rainforest floor and understory is ideal, and a careful search during our daytime or night hikes will uncover a variety of species, each with its own interesting cryptic or aposematic coloration and life history. Equip your camera for some interesting macro photos.
Rainforest Products and Their Uses
Tropical rainforests are the origin of many products such as spices, expensive hardwoods, resins, gums, aromatic oils, fibers and canes, pharmaceuticals, tanning agents, dyes, house plants, rubber, cocoa, nuts, fruit and other foods. Participants will see how some of these are produced and manufactured, how some areas are degraded by exploitation of the forest, and how well-planned programs can produce economically important products while helping to insure the forest's survival.
About 500 species of mammals occur in the tropical rainforests of the Amazon including monkeys, opossums, sloths, dolphins, bats, cats, deer and rodents. But despite the wealth and diversity of the mammalian community, most visitors to the American tropics see only a handful of wild mammals. This is because most are small, nocturnal and very secretive. By setting mist nets to catch bats, workshop participants will learn how neotropical researchers capture and study mammals.
All the beautiful photos of Amazonian plants, animals and scenery you have seen published in books, magazines and promotional materials didn't just happen. Many otherwise excellent photographers have been very disappointed with the photos they have brought back from the rainforest. The jungle forest floor is characterized by extremely low light levels, punctuated by bright spots of sunlight, consequently producing a very difficult situation for taking good pictures. Rainforest animals are often high overhead concealed in the canopy, fast moving or so cryptic that they exhibit little contrast with their surroundings. Special attention will be given to the patterns of nature in the rainforest. You will learn how to photograph growth, flow and change in the natural world by improving your composition, focusing and lens choice. And you will learn where to look for the various individual patterns lines, curves, forms and textures that can illuminate the whole ecosystem. Bring your camera, macro lens, flash and small tripod and learn the specific techniques of rainforest photography.