Whitney R. Harris World Ecology Center

Whitney R. Harris World Ecology Center: Newsletter: June 1998

 

1998 Jane and Whitney Harris Lecture

The Jane and Whitney Harris lecture was held at the St. Louis Zoo (Living World Auditorium) on Tuesday 14 April. Dr. Harry W. Greene, herpetologist and evolutionary biologist with the Museum of Vertebrate Zoology at the University of California, Berkeley lectured on: Frogs and snakes: The texture of biodiversity. The lecture not only provided an intimate look into the details of some of the world’s most fascinating creatures, but also into the man who has devoted his life to understanding and conserving these organisms. Dr. Greene’s dedication to education and scientific research was evident as he described how snakes manage to swallow food items much larger than their head and why female western diamondback rattlesnakes forgo food for several months to take care of their offspring. Dr. Greene’s presentation and the spectacular slides, many photographed by Michael and Patricia Fogden, enthralled the audience of 200.

DIRECTOR IS DISTINGUISHED VISITING PROFESSOR AT UNIVERSITY OF MIAMI

Each year the University of Miami invites a well-known biologist to spend two weeks interacting with graduate students in their Department of Biology. This year Bette Loiselle was the Distinguished Visiting Professor and she spent a hectic two weeks giving seminars, teaching a short course entitled: Habitat- and landscape-level approaches to conservation, and visiting field sites in the Everglades.

COMPTON FOUNDATION RENEW FELLOWSHIP AWARD

The Compton Foundation undertook a major review of their giving program at the end of last year and we were delighted to receive further support from them for the 1998-1999 academic year. The Compton Foundation will again fund fellowships for graduate students from Latin America and sub-Saharan Africa studying aspects of conservation biology and sustainable development.

FROM THE DIRECTOR’S DESK

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My "desk" today is alongside the Rio Sucusari, just a few kilometers upstream from the Napo River in Amazonia Peru, and approximately 100 km from Iquitos. The Napo is one of the Amazon’s major tributaries, originating from the Andes of Ecuador. Like the other great rivers that arise from the geologically-young Andes, the Napo is laden with nutrient-rich sediments giving it a characteristic "cafe con leche" color. It is high river season now, and although the effects of El Niño have not been felt directly within the region, locals say that the increased rain and snow melt in the Andes has resulted in unusually high inundation of the flooded forest ecosystems in north-east Peru. Soon, however, the river levels will begin to fall and the ribereinos (long-term residents of riverine habitats) will plant rice and corn in the newly exposed nutrient-rich soils. Today the river laps up to their front porch, and for a number of households, the plantain (banana relative) and fruit trees are sitting in several feet of water.

It is impossible to travel these Amazon waterways without noticing the local residents. The rivers are Amazonia’s highways, and towns and individual dwellings line its course, becoming less and less populated with distance from Iquitos and along the Amazon’s blackwater tributaries. Blackwater rivers originate from geologically old sites, and unlike the nutrient-rich waters of whitewater rivers (e.g., Napo), these tributaries are tea-colored, very poor in nutrients, and high in tannic acids.

The local residents are integral parts of the ecosystem as they clear small plots along the river, catch fish from the rivers and flooded forest, collect fruits, hunt game, and extract other raw materials from the forests. There are essentially no roads outside Iquitos, and consequently, nearly unbroken forests are found only a few hundred meters from the rivers. Just a few hours ago, we experienced firsthand the local extent of these forests 40 meters above the forest floor on ACEER’s 500 m long canopy walkway (see article on ACEER). The walkway and ACEER’s facilities brought our small group together: Nora Bynum, Academic Director of OTS (see article on OTS), Bob Matlock, Scientific Director of La Selva Biological Station in Costa Rica, Alejandro Farji from Patagonia, Argentina and veteran coordinator of OTS’ Spanish-language graduate-level field course in tropical ecology, Roldan Hidalgo, local guide with extensive knowledge of the region’s flora and fauna, and Roger Mustalish, President of ACEER. A major objective of the ICTE, and a personal goal of mine is graduate-level training in tropical biology and conservation. This is also a major objective of OTS, and a goal which fits well with the philosophy of ACEER. So when asked to help OTS expand its graduate-level training for Latin Americans by assisting in developing and coordinating a course in Amazonia Peru, I immediately jumped on board and joined my friends to explore this tropical paradise and plan the new course in Amazon Ecology.

Our scouting trip to Peru follows the groundwork laid by OTS’ Education Committee, which includes Jim Hunt of the ICTE. The course, which premieres next May, will tie the knot linking OTS to ACEER and local universities and research institutions in Amazonia Peru. The ICTE and a number of its faculty associates and student alumni will play a key role in teaching 22 of Latin America’s finest young biologists. The region is incredibly interesting biologically as land and water collide in a variety of unique ecosystems including the black- and white-water rivers, igapo and varzea flooded forests, upland forests, and oxbow lakes (locally called cochas).

As we glide through the flooded forest in dugout canoes, dodging the aerial roots of canopy epiphytes which gracefully hang from the tree tops, brushing aside palm leaves that in a few months we would easily be walking underneath, and gazing at the fish which have left the main river to move into the forest in search of fruits and other foods, I can not help but think of how easy it is to become hooked by the beauty and the challenges of this dynamic and wildly diverse region.

The Amazon River is indeed captivating and many have explored its system to discover new species, understand its ecology or its peoples, search for riches in gold or oil, gather its natural products, or to find some level of peace and solitude. Linnea Smith, our dinner companion last night, visited the Amazon seven years ago as an ecotourist. Like many, she became its captive and subsequently left her internist practice in Wisconsin to set up a free clinic along the Sucusari. Her practice has changed, and daily cases now include snakebite, hepatitis, dengue fever, cholera, and other conditions which might be considered minor in the US, but are life threatening in the Amazon. With help from friends, rotarians and various foundations, Linnea’s clinic now treats over 200 patients a month and she has a trained assistant. Her clinic also provides a family planning program. [If you would like to support this vital work you can send a tax deductible donation to: Amazon Medical Project, 5372 Mahocker Road, Route 2, Mazomanie, Wisconsin 53560.]

Even deep in the Amazon, I’m reminded of how small our world truly is, as it brought together my companions from Peru, Argentina, US, and Costa Rica –all of us with a deep interest in conserving the region’s natural resources. We depend on the forest and rivers for providing food and medicine, we benefit indirectly from this tropical storehouse because of its ecological services which impact climate and atmospheric gases over large geographic scales and its biological richness provides sites for scientific research, education, and training.

The Amazon is a center of research for many ICTE students and faculty associates, and now the ICTE will join OTS, ACEER, and Peru’s research and academic institutions in helping to make north-eastern Peru a training ground for Latin America’s next generation of tropical ecologists and conservation biologists. I can’t wait!

Bette Loiselle, Director ICTE

John Denver scholarship UPDATE

John Denver was the recipient of the ICTE's first World Ecology Medal and was devoted to ecology and conservation. His concern for the environment inspired him to establish the Windstar Foundation and support environmental education and research. In memory of John and in recognition of his environmental activism the ICTE has established a research scholarship in his memory. This has been made possible through a generous challenge grant from Hal and Carole Kroeger. Hal and Carole are working with the ICTE to see that the challenge is met and we are delighted to report that we have raised over 80% of our target $50,000. The Denver family has approved naming the scholarship The John Denver Memorial Scholarship in Tropical Ecology and we all hope that this scholarship will help keep alive John’s vision of conservation and sustainable use of the world’s natural resources. This endowed scholarship will provide, in perpetuity, an annual research scholarship of $2500.

 

This Newsletter describes recent activities of the International Center for Tropical Ecology. Established in 1990 in cooperation with the Missouri Botanical Garden, the Center promotes research and education in biodiversity, conservation, and the sustainable use of tropical ecosystems. A key role of the Center is to support an interactive, international environment in which graduate training in ecology, evolution, systematics, and tropical biology and conservation can emerge. Further, the Center has a commitment to undergraduate education in conservation biology, focusing on Missouri and temperate ecosystems. The Center also promotes an awareness in the St. Louis community of the importance of conservation and environmentally sustainable policies and practices.

Endowed chair in botanical studies filled

E. Desmond Lee and Family Fund Endowed Chair in Botanical Studies, which further links UM-St. Louis with the Missouri Botanical Garden, has been offered and accepted by Dr. Elizabeth Kellogg, currently at Harvard University. Dr. Kellogg, an internationally renown plant molecular systematist, will join our staff in August 1998. Dr. Kellogg’s research cuts across several disciplines, including developmental biology, traditional plant taxonomy, molecular biology and systematics, to unravel the evolutionary relationships found within the world’s most important food family, the grasses. As a bonus, Dr. Peter Stevens, full professor and Curator of Harvard University’s impressive herbarium also has accepted a position in the Department of Biology at UM-St. Louis. Dr. Stevens will bring his extensive knowledge of the flora of Malaysia and history of classification and systematics to St. Louis. This husband and wife team will join Dr. Susanne Renner and curators at the Missouri Botanical Garden in building one of the country’s strongest programs in plant systematics. We are delighted to add these two world class botanists to our program and offer our warmest wishes and thanks to the generosity and vision of Des and Mary Ann Lee.

Interchange program between UM-St. Louis and National Museums of Kenya

Under the Interchange Program between UM-St. Louis and the National Museums of Kenya (NMK) Dr. Joseph Mutangah visited the ICTE in April. Dr. Mutangah is the Plant Conservation Co-ordinator with the National Museums of Kenya and completed his Ph.D. at the University of Wales. In his current position he leads a team surveying habitats, mapping biodiversity, and assessing habitats in order to establish conservation priorities in Kenya.

Dr. Mutangah split his time between the ICTE and Missouri Botanical Garden and we are exploring ways to continue collaboration in research and training with the NMK. As part of this program one of our graduate students will undertake an internship with the NMK in Nairobi. We are delighted to be able to strengthen our link with Kenyan biologists and look forward to a fruitful interchange experience. This program was established following Dr. Richard Leakey’s visit in February 1997 and is jointly funded by the Freund Foundation and Jane and Whitney Harris.

World ecology day 1998

The theme for this year’s World Ecology Day (Friday 23 October 1998) will be Getting off the ark: The new role of zoos in species and habitat conservation. The Saint Louis Zoo, a leader among zoos in these new conservation efforts, will join the ICTE in hosting World Ecology Day 1998. Leading experts will discuss ongoing re-introductions, conservation, and education efforts in the J.C. Penney auditorium at UM-St. Louis during the morning. Environmental displays from local groups involved in conservation will be set up outside the auditorium. Follow-up discussions at an informal workshop will take place in the Living World classrooms at the Zoo during the afternoon.

Conservation Forum

The 1998 Conservation Forum will be held at the Living World, St. Louis Zoo on 6 October 1998. Dr. Amy Vedder, Director of Wildlife Conservation Society’s Africa Program, and co-founder of the Mountain Gorilla Project in Rwanda, will join the ICTE and The Nature Conservancy-Missouri in the forum. We are in the process of inviting other International, National and State organizations involved in promoting conservation to participate in this year’s event.

1998 Scholarship Awards

John Denver Memorial Scholarship in Tropical Ecology

Ivan Jimenez was awarded the first John Denver Memorial Scholarship in Tropical Ecology. This scholarship will support Ivan’s research on the ecology and conservation of curassows, large fruit-eating birds restricted to the New World tropics. A number of tropical organisms are key elements in the functioning of tropical forests because of the ecological services they render, or because of their disproportionate impact on the ecosystems in which they live. As the New World’s largest fruit-eating birds, curassows are a key link in the successful regeneration of tropical trees. Moreover, these birds are amongst the most vulnerable of rain forest creatures because of their sensitivity to deforestation and human hunting pressure. Ivan’s research is designed to understand how these large frugivores select foraging sites and balance nutritional needs with spatial availability of foods.

Ivan is nearing completion of his first year in the Ph.D. program in Tropical Ecology and Conservation at the University of Missouri-St. Louis under the direction of Dr. John Blake. During his first year, he was awarded a prestigious General Services Foundation Fellowship administered through the International Center for Tropical Ecology because of his interest and work in conservation biology. A Colombian national, Ivan completed his Bachelor of Science Degree at Colombia’s highest ranked academic institution, Universidad de los Andes in Bogotá, in 1990. Following graduation, Ivan has pursued his interest in conservation by conducting research on Neotropical migrant birds, and becoming a participant in the highly competitive graduate course, "Tropical Biology and Conservation Biology" which is run by a Colombian NGO (FES) with funding from Wildlife Conservation Society at La Planada Nature Reserve, one of world’s key biological areas. Since 1994, he has been conducting research on curassows in the Colombian Amazon. Ivan and his colleagues have pioneered work on these vulnerable birds and are one of the first research teams in the world to study in detail their daily habits and their seasonal dependence on large patches of forest. After completing his Ph.D. dissertation, Ivan intends to return to Colombia and work as a research professor at a major Colombian university. Such a position would allow him to not only continue his tropical conservation studies, but also to train the next set of environmental leaders in his native country.

1998 Parker-Gentry Fellow

The 1998 Parker-Gentry Fellow is Jorge Perez-Eman. Jorge was awarded the fellowship to pursue his work on the molecular phylogenetics and biogeography of the genus Myioborus (Aves, Parulinae). Although these warblers are familiar birds of montane forests and tepuis from Mexico to Argentina, they are a difficult taxonomic group. Jorge’s research, under the direction of Drs. John Blake and Robert Ricklefs, in collaboration with Drs. John Bates and Shannon Hackett of the Field Museum in Chicago, will serve to solve one of ornithology’s puzzling questions regarding the species limits and relationships among these characteristics warblers. This special award was established by an anonymous donor to honor the memories of Ted Parker and Al Gentry who tragically lost their lives while on a Conservation International RAP expedition in Ecuador in 1993. Ted Parker and Al Gentry were two outstanding Neotropical field biologists and this fellowship supports the kind of research that would have excited them.

Stephen Doyle and Jane and Stanley Birge Scholarships

Patricia Ojeda was awarded the Stephen M. Doyle Memorial Scholarship for Tropical Ecology and is also the first recipient of the Jane and Stanley Birge Tropical Research Scholarship. Patricia is from Ecuador and her research project is entitled "Effect of individual and neighborhood traits on levels of pre-dispersal seed predation on Inga ciliata subsp. subcapitata." Inga ciliata is an understory tree and Patricia will study the role of seed predation on the population dynamics and reproductive fitness of this species. Patricia will work at the Yasuni Biological Station in the Ecuadorian Amazon. She completed her undergraduate studies at the Pontificia Universidad Catolica del Ecuador and has worked with WWF on their Biodiversity Support Program based in Ecuador.

Marlin Perkins Memorial Fellowship

Greg Basco was awarded the Marlin Perkins Memorial Fellowship for 1998 in support of his research entitled "Ecotourism as a tool for development and conservation: Does the market or the community take better care of nature?" Greg’s research will examine whether grassroots ecotourism is better at promoting conservation than market-based approaches. He will also examine the factors which best predict whether local community organizations will succeed or fail. Greg is enrolled in the Ph.D. program within the Department of Political Science.

Mallinckrodt Scholarship

Andre Chanderbali was awarded the Mallinckrodt Scholarship to continue his research into the phylogenetic affinities and geographic origin of Neotropical Lauraceae. Andre is one of the graduate students which links UM-St. Louis and the Missouri Botanical Garden. From Guyana, Andre joined our Ph.D. program in Biology in 1996, receiving a prestigious Raven Fellowship to pursue his studies.

ICTE Scholarships

Juan Fernandez was awarded an ICTE scholarship to support his research entitled "Effects of fragmentation on genetic structure and gene flow in populations of a Neotropical montane tree Quercus humboldtii Bonpl., Fagaceae." Juan will conduct his studies in his native country of Colombia, the southern most extension of tropical oaks.

Jane Whitehill was awarded an ICTE scholarship to support a field trip to collect New World genera of the tribes Caladieae and Zomicarpeae in the family Araceae. Jane, like Andre Chanderbali, is a garden student.

News of students - Present and Past

Nidia Cuello is now professor of Botany, Program of Natural Resources at the Universidad Nacional Experimental de los Llanos Ezequiel Zamora (UNELLEZ) and Director of the University's Herbarium (PORT). Besides lecturing Botany to undergraduates, Nidia is working on a book about the Cruz Carrillo National Park and a project to analyze and map the vegetation of this National Park. Nidia received her M.Sc. degree from UM-St. Louis in 1997.

Gerardo Aymard is professor of Botany, Program of Natural Resources at UNELLEZ and Associate Curator of the University's herbarium. Gerardo is lecturing Systematic Botany to undergraduate, and working on a project with Dr. Paul Berry (University of Wisconsin) studying the Venezuelan Amazon lowland forests. Gerardo received his M.Sc. degree from UM-St. Louis in 1997.

Lorena Calvo completed her M.Sc. degree in fall 1997. Her thesis research studied the impact of different types of coffee plantations on bird diversity. After completing her degree, Lorena conducted a conservation internship jointly with Wildlife Preservation Trust International and the American Museum of Natural History. She recently returned to her home country of Guatemala where she is now Director of the National Museum of Natural History. Lorena also recently founded a new biodiversity conservation organization in Guatemala.

Grace Servat and Jorge Perez-Eman, ICTE associates in the Biology Department, recently were awarded prestigious grants from the National Science Foundation to support their dissertation research.

amazon center for environmental education and research (aceer)

Founded in 1991, the Amazon Center for Environmental Education and Research (ACEER) Foundation has operated to provide students, teachers, citizen naturalists, and researchers the opportunity to learn about Amazonian biodiversity and conservation. ACEER, located in north-eastern Peru is home to a unique canopy walkway which allows a toucan’s eye view to the rain forest canopy. ACEER offers a wide range of educational and research programs, including annual educational workshops on "Rainforest Ecology" for citizen naturalists, "Pharmacy from the Rainforest" for pharmacists and other health care professionals, an "Educator’s Workshop" for teachers, and a "Children's Rainforest Workshop". Over 200 children from throughout the US attend the Children’s Rainforest workshop each year.

The ACEER Foundation also conducts an Adopt-a-School program, in which American elementary and secondary schools "adopt" a rural Amazonian school. This program offers a great opportunity of cultural exchange for the teachers and students, and it raises funds to supply the Peruvian schools with all the educational materials needed for one academic year. Other projects include professional development classes on rain forest ecology and curricula for rural school teachers from the Peruvian Amazon and courses on the use of geographic information systems (GIS) for ecological assessment as part of ACEER’s Peruvian Scientists Training Program.

ACEER has also been active in research and has created the first digital data base for the Peruvian Amazon using field data and satellite images. In March 1996, ACEER dedicated the new Dr. Alwyn H. Gentry Research Laboratory, which honors the internationally renown Missouri Botanical Garden botanist and ICTE faculty associate who was tragically killed in a plane crash in August 1993 while conducting a site survey for Conservation International’s Rapid Assessment Program. Dr. Gentry had set up botanical plots in the vicinity and found the region to be botanically one of the world’s richest sites. ACEER is aiming to become one of the premier research centers in South America, with a major research focus on medicinal plants. The ACEER Foundation is guided by a voluntary international Board of Directors and three advisory boards, and has established strategic partnerships with Peruvian research institutions, universities, and governmental agencies. To learn more about ACEER Foundation call 800-255-8206 or visit its home page: http://orser13.erri.psu.edu/aceer

ORGANIZATION FOR TROPICAL STUDIES

OTS is a nonprofit consortium that includes more than 50 universities and research institutions, including the University of Missouri-St. Louis, from throughout the United States and Latin America. OTS was founded in 1963 to provide leadership in education, research, and the responsible use of natural resources in the tropics. OTS teaches graduate and undergraduate field courses in Costa Rica, facilitates research, actively participates in tropical forest conservation, maintains three biological stations in Costa Rica, and conducts innovative environmental education programs. OTS’ current and past Executive Directors, Gary Hartshorn and Donald Stone, are on the ICTE’s Scientific Advisory Board. ICTE students and faculty associates have been heavily involved in OTS’ research and educational activities. Recent alumni of OTS courses include Catherine Graham, Monica Romo, Lucia Lohmann, and Juan Posada. Deby Arifiani and Luciana Griz will be participants on courses this summer. Several ICTE faculty and students have recently been involved in teaching on these courses including Gilbert Barrantes, John Blake, David and Deborah Clark, Jim Hunt, Bette Loiselle, and Robert Marquis. David Clark was recently elected to be OTS’ VP for Research, and Bette Loiselle was elected to OTS’ Executive Committee. For several years, Jim Hunt has been a key member of the Education Committee for OTS. If you wish to learn more about OTS, visit its web page at: http://www.ots.duke.edu or http://www.ots.ac.cr

 

Tropical Fantasia

The ICTE held a fund-raising event at Plaza Frontenac on 9 May. Julie Cowhey and John Huhn as co-chairs and their committee transformed the Plaza into a tropical spectacle with potted and hanging plants, gift baskets and exotic, hand-reared, captively-bred tropical birds. We thank Julie, John, the organizing committee and the sponsors of this event (Wild Oats Markets, The Rain Forest Company, Petropolis, Ronnoco Coffee, Harolds, Guaranty Trust, and St. Louis Smoothie) for making this event so successful. We also acknowledge the hard work of all the volunteers listed below. The following organizations also supported this event through donations: Bissinger’s Candy, Canyon Cafe, Cardwell’s, Caswell-Massey of St. Louis, Doug Wolter Horticultural Services, Garden Botanika, Les Enfants, St. Louis County Fair and Air Show, and Sugar Creek Gardens, Inc. All proceeds from this tropical extravaganza will be used to support the ICTE scholarship program. This event was so successful that we can already announce that Tropical Fantasia will be back on 1 May 1999, Plaza Frontenac. Save the date!

From the Editor

I thank all who contributed to this newsletter. Send future contributions to the editor, Patrick L. Osborne, Department of Biology, UM-St. Louis, 8001 Natural Bridge Road, St. Louis, MO 63121 (E-mail: posborne@jinx.umsl.edu; FAX: 314-516-6233). If you do not wish to continue receiving this newsletter, please contact the ICTE office: 314-516-6203. For further information on the ICTE and its activities visit our web page: http://www.umsl.edu/~biology/icte/

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