As we enter into the final month of this extremely varied field program, during which we have explored the biological and socio-cultural diversity of the Amazon basin and of the adjacent high Andes, our students are working on final preparations for the start of their Directed Research projects. Based on their course topics, and under the guidance of our faculty members, a variety of research topics have been defined and with them, the goal of gaining further insight into the local culture, economy, and their relationships with the natural environment. At the early stage of this process, students are preparing to enter the field by researching current literature and designing specific research plans. The advice of their mentoring faculty is essential in shaping a realistic and viable research proposal and in collecting and organizing their field data collection.

Three dominant topics involving environmental issues with a clear component of their social impacts and consequences have dominated this year’s scene. A first group under Dr. Adrian Tejedor, a biologist with vast experience in the Amazon rainforest, has chosen to explore the traditional local use of the tree fern, a conspicuous and diverse plant in our area, in healing superficial skin injuries. This group is exploring tree fern ecology and diversity, as well as the sustainable use of this resource, whose conservation in the context of expanding deforestation is becoming a priority.

A second group under Dr. Lisa DePaoli, an ecological anthropologist, is currently working on sociocultural change related to both Andes-Amazon migration and agricultural patterns, changes in diet, and the impact of the expanding road network on food security. Several local communities will be involved in an assessment of changing patterns in food.

Under the guidance of Dr. William Helenbrook, a conservation biologist, the third group is researching the impacts of human disturbances on wildlife, as well as the potential health risks of animal transmitted diseases on the local indigenous rainforest inhabitants. The research will study local fauna, such as monkeys and jaguars, as well as include community members in an assessment of the interactions between humans and wildlife.

Final research reports, due early May, will be presented to local authorities and the general public at the Technical Institute of Pillcopata. From there, students will travel to Cusco, the ancient Inca capital and an important Peruvian city in the Andes, to present their research to faculty and students at one of the principal universities.