The rainforest is a battleground. Ants big, small, yellow, red, brown, black, or blue, sting, chew, and bombard each other with chemicals in permanent warfare over resource-rich territories. As colonies expand and contract, creating a shifting mosaic of local dominance, only one kind of ant bows to none and knows no boundaries, the army or legionary ants. Several million strong, an army ant colony has no permanent nest, but wanders incessantly scouring the landscape for insects to feed on. Covering as much as an acre of land with voracious legions that drift continuously for weeks before retiring to temporary home bases, they are the terror of the rainforest. I like to think of our students as army ants, hungry not for bugs, or so I hope, but for knowledge.
Ashley Gingeleski monitors temperature in a research tree fern plot.
At SFS Peru, we are entering the second week of data collection of our Directed Research month. Thanks in part to their larger size relative to ants, our data-hungry students cover not one but 30,000 acres in a rainforest valley teeming with unanswered questions. How big are the local jaguar and monkey populations? Are they threatened by current hunting levels? Where have the people in the valley come from? Are forest or town dwellers most susceptible to tropical diseases? How can we best use local medicinal plants? Are these plants threatened by global warming?
Even after only one week of data collection, the preliminary answers to those questions are tantalizing but, as much as I would like to share them with you, I do not want to spoil the grand finale: a town-wide meeting where local students, authorities, professionals, and anyone who wants to join in will eagerly listen to what our students have to say about their findings. Stay tuned for the news, as, in the meantime, the SFS Peru student research legion continues scouring the landscape for scientific data.
Charlie Longtine inspects the antibiotic properties of tree fern sap.
Jadmin Mostel measures the effect of temperature stress on tree ferns from different elevations.