Los insectos generalmente no son muy atractivos a los ojos de muchos, fuera de las coloridas y “carismáticas” mariposas y escarabajos. ¿Cómo mostrar a las moscas y “gusanos” de una manera interesante y atractiva? El secreto está en exponer las vidas secretas de los insectos. ¿Sabías que puedes usar “gusanos” para ver si el agua del río es buena para beber? ¿Sabías que hay zancudos primitivos que han sobrevivido sin muchos cambios desde la época de los dinosaurios (período Jurásico)? ¿Y qué pensarías si te dijera que hay familias enteras de moscas que parasitan arañas tan grandes como las tarántulas? ¿O qué hay larvas de moscas acuáticas que poseen ventosas hidráulicas ventrales las cuales las mantienen firmemente agarradas a las rocas sumergidas
¿Cómo se puede involucrar a mentes jóvenes en temas complejos como el cambio climático, la conservación, el endemismo y los bioindicadores en un paquete divertido?
Este juego gratuito está destinado a servir tanto a niños en desarrollo típico como a niños en desarrollo atípico (como aquellos con autismo leve y otras necesidades especiales). Los materiales abarcan palabras escritas que el niño o el maestro pueden leer en voz alta, fotos para la representación visual y piezas táctiles para mejorar la comprensión.
Hay dos componentes principales de este enfoque educativo: 1) el juego y 2) reflexión intelectual (el rol del educador).
Los estudiantes participan en una combinación de temas que incluyen descubrimientos de especies, endemismo, cambio climático, especies introducidas y biomonitoreo a través de la exploración, el descubrimiento y el pensamiento proactivo.
El tablero de juego es una composición artística de imágenes satelitales de la geología y hábitats de la Patagonia (Aysén, Chile).
Tablero de juego con explicación de figuras. Diseño R. ISAÍ MADRIZ
Como “exploradores”, los jugadores parten hacia una tierra desconocida, por donde viajaran a diferentes hábitats en busca de especies de insectos raras y nuevas, las cuales deben ser adquiridas a través de herramientas específicas para cada especie (red de insectos, pinzas, etc.) Estas herramientas sólo pueden obtenerse respondiendo preguntas sobre la biodiversidad. Las preguntas variarán según el grupo de edad de los jugadores.
Durante el juego, los exploradores se encontrarán con especies introducidas y aprenderán sobre su impacto en el medio ambiente (cómo se desplazan /superan las especies endémicas). Asimismo, aprenderán sobre el microhábitat donde habita cada especie.
El enfoque de bioindicadores es simple y tiene como objetivo proporcionar a los estudiantes una sencilla comprensión de su uso como bioindicadores, así como una visión simplista de cómo identificar a los grupos.
En su andar, los jugadores pueden adquirir, a través de la adquisición de un comodín, una “especie invasora” y tratarán de encontrar una manera de “lidiar con” (controlar) las especies invasoras que se establecieron en la nueva tierra del jugador.
El juego está destinado para tener un enfoque de grupo. El jugador con más especies no es el ganador, por el contrario, el objetivo del juego es discutir e interpretar los diversos insectos y su información de hábitat para crear un equilibrio.
Los insectos seleccionados para esta primera versión del juego son una combinación de especies nuevas, carismáticas y poco conocidas. La información sobre insectos proporcionada se basa en información de publicaciones científicas y en relatos precisos e inéditos de la historia natural de la especie seleccionada.
Tarjeta de especies con explicación de figuras. Diseño R. Isaí Madriz
Reflexión Intelectual (el rol del educador)
El maestro no necesita ser un experto en entomología para usar este juego con los estudiantes. El rol de el es facilitar el aprendizaje antes y después de jugar el juego. Antes de iniciar el juego, el maestro puede dar una introducción a temas generales, como la biodiversidad, los ecosistemas, etc. El enfoque del juego puede ajustarse a los requisitos del plan de estudios del aula.
Al final del juego, el maestro guiará un intercambio intelectual entre los jugadores con el fin de ayudarse unos a otros a lograr “un planeta en equilibrio” basado en los insectos que recolectaron. Se sugiere el fomentar discusiones adicionales para que los estudiantes reflexionen sobre lo que aprendieron y por qué es importante.
El objetivo de la reflexión intelectual es estimular a los estudiantes a que expliquen su razonamiento sobre cómo jugaron el juego y su estrategia de crear un ecosistema diverso y saludable. Hay un gran potencial para lograr diversas perspectivas y resultados, lo que crea un proceso de aprendizaje más valioso.
R. Isaí Madriz adquiriendo información sobre moscas de torrente para el juego. Foto Anand Varma.
Nota: Esta herramienta de aprendizaje fue inspirada por diez años de trabajo en educación, conservación y experiencia científica colaborando con distintas comunidades en todo el continente americano en temas de conservación para ayudar a los educadores a involucrar a sus alumnos y llevar las maravillas de la exploración y los descubrimientos científicos al aula.
Este juego y sus componentes se pueden adaptar a cualquier parte del mundo en dimensiones tan pequeñas como un municpio hasta un un continente y más allá. Además, se puede adaptar para diversos estilos de aprendizaje y actualmente se está desarrollando en español e inglés.
* Para obtener más información, incluidas las reglas del juego y el acceso a archivos PDF de los componentes, comuníquese por medio de la sección de comentarios de este blog o mande un mensaje a [email protected]
There’s no such thing as a seagull, according to certain pedants. How can that be?
Because it’s a gull—actually, one of about fifty gull species living in habitats all over the world, oceanic and otherwise. They range from the size of a dove to the size of an osprey, with all sorts of differences in appearance and behavior.Three of those species live here in New Zealand—including the river-dwellingblack-billed gull, the most endangered gull in the world. When I took my sketchbook and went looking for nesting gulls, I found some nests inches from the ocean and others 50 miles inland, which is about as far from the coast as you can get around here.
So…what’s wrong with calling a sea-affiliated gull a seagull? Sigh. Nothing, I guess. But by using more precise terms you can help discourage a tragic misconception: that there’s one kind of seagull, and it’s a rat with wings. In a single week I’ve watched a motorist drive casually into a flock of endangered black-billed gulls resting on the grass, cringed while a recreational fisherman traipsed through one of their breeding colonies on a river island, and heard stories about people shooting them for fun. They’re just seagulls, after all—they’re everywhere, all making a nuisance of themselves. Right?
Nope. Endangered or otherwise, each gull species is unique and deserves to be recognized as such, in my humble opinion. So without further ado, I’d like to introduce you to New Zealand’s gulls.
RED-BILLED GULL (Larus novaehollandiae)
The dainty red-billed gull is known as tarāpunga or akiaki in Māori. It’s the most common gull on New Zealand’s shores, so some people think of it as a pest. But in fact its population has been plummeting in response to things like invasive predators and changes in krill abundance caused by climate fluctuation. I think the red-billed gull is one of the dandiest birds around: sparkling white, with brilliant red accents and an attitude well out of proportion with its size.
BLACK-BILLED GULL (Larus bulleri)
The black-billed gull also goes by tarāpuka. Closely related to the common but declining red-billed gull, it’s of similar size and spunk but with a more elongated body, a more attenuated bill, and more of an emo expression. It nests in dense colonies on river islands and is the most endangered gull in the world. I generally avoid talking about politics, but I voted for the underappreciated black-billed gull in the New Zealand Bird of the Year elections. More about this gull in my next story.
SOUTHERN BLACK-BACKED GULL (Larus dominicanus)
The southern black-backed gull is found all over the southern hemisphere, where it’s usually known as the kelp gull. Here in New Zealand it goes by karoro or simply “black-back”. Opportunistic scavengers, black-backed gulls have gotten more common in conjunction with human impacts on the landscape. Even among bird aficionados they have a villainous reputation, thanks to their habit of dining on eggs and chicks. But just look at how cute that black-backed gull family is…
In the next episode I’ll take you to a special gull colony I stumbled on. Meanwhile, remember: good or bad, a gull is never just a seagull.
Turn over a few rocks and logs in a moist forest and you will certainly find a salamander. Well, not exactly. While this is true in many areas in North America and Europe, salamanders are quite rare in some other places, where other types of amphibians, such as frogs and caecilians, are common.
Contrary to the general patterns of global biodiversity, where tropical forests harbor the majority of species, the bulk of salamander diversity is found in temperate forests of the northern hemisphere. Most groups of salamanders are confined to temperate zones, including a high number of species that are be found only in the United States.
One group of salamanders has, however, successfully colonized Central and South America: Lungless salamanders (Plethodontidae). These small-size, lizard-like amphibians are usually terrestrial and inhabit a variety of habitats, including the forest floor, crevices and caves, inside bromeliads and tree holes—some are even found high up in tree canopies.
Brazil is the country with the most amphibian species anywhere in the world—13 percent of the 7,800 known amphibian species occur in the country. However, out of more than one thousand amphibians in Brazil, only five are salamanders. In fact, until very recently only a single species was recognized—a study in 2013 discovered three new species and provided scattered records of another one. All Brazilian species are members of the lungless salamanders group, and are restricted to Amazonia. They are all relatively rare, extremely poorly known with respect to their biology, and most already face major threats to their survival.
Pará’s Lungless Salamander (Bolitoglossa paraensis), one of the five species of salamander that occur in Brazil—the species is threatened with extinction due to destruction of its forest habitat. (Photo: Pedro Peloso)
Conservation of Amazonian Salamanders
One of the five species of Brazilian salamanders is Pará’s lungless salamander (Bolitoglossa paraensis), which is restricted to forested areas of the easternmost portion of Amazonia. Although locally abundant where it occurs, the species has a patchy distribution and is only found in a few well-preserved rainforest areas. The species does not tolerate too much disturbance to its habitat and cannot survive in open or cleared areas. Most of the species’ range is within the Amazonian Arc of Deforestation, and therefore the Brazilian Government has listed the species as officially threatened with extinction.
The other four species also appear to be rare and are usually found in areas with increasing threats to their survival. These threats include rampant deforestation, pollution, changes in rain patterns that may affect their reproductive cycle, the building of large hydroelectric dams (Tapajós and Madeira Rivers) and, potentially, infectious diseases (such as chytrid fungus).
Caldwell’s Lungless Salamander (Bolitoglossa caldwellae) was described in 2013—it was named after biologist Janalee Caldwell, whos dedicated many years to the study and conservation of Amazonian amphibians. Very little is known about its biology and distribution.
The Brazilian portion of the Amazonian rainforest harbors an incredible diversity of animals and plants, many of which are unique to that part of the globe, or are very rare.
A large portion of Amazonian species are poorly known in most aspects of their biology and geographic distribution, which makes any assessment of their conservation status difficult. In the specific case of amphibians, several Amazonian species were never assessed by the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Species. Moreover, many of those that were evaluated are labeled as Data Deficient (DD)—this means there are no sufficient scientific data for a conclusive assessment of their conservation status.
Out of the five species of salamanders in Brazil, one is listed as DD and three have not yet been evaluated. Finally, given that many areas of the Brazilian Amazonia are completely unexplored, it is possible that additional species of salamanders will discovered there in the future.
The bottom line is: we need more field biologists collecting data on Amazonian salamanders (and other organisms). This is critical for their survival.
Tapajós Lungless Salamander (Bolitoglossa tapajonica), one of three species discovered in a study in 2013. The construction of hydroelectric dams and deforestation in the Tapajós River region threatens the habitat of this species—and consequently imperils its survival. (Photo: Pedro Peloso)
While packrafting the southeastern edge of the Northern Patagonia Ice Field along Chile’s largest river, the Baker, in search of primitive crane flies, Anand Varma and I came across an exciting find.
In a fragmented location only accessible via water, among a lichened-covered forest, we discovered a single wing of the genus Neoderus adhered to the underside of a leaf, between the Northern and Southern Ice Fields. Yes, a single wing is a fantastic find when it comes to primitive crane flies.
Most likely you have never heard of them and that is because primitive crane flies are considered to be one of the rarest groups of flies in the world and only a handful of people have been able to collect them. With only one specimen ever collected in the late 1800s in the southern Chilean fjords, the genus Neoderus can be considered the rarest of all primitive crane flies.
During my last expedition in 2015 I secured four flies, the first and only specimens collected of this genus since its discovery.
stacked image of a Female neoderus sp. hanging on a Nothofagus sp. twig. Photo by R. Isaí MAdriz
With colder temperatures marking the last chance this year to find this rare group, I set off once again to complete what Anand and I started. I decided to target the locality where I found a lone wing two years prior. I loaded my backpack, took my hiking poles (or as my collaborators call them, “my gimpy sticks”, due to the frequency of my ankle injuries) and limped into one of the most pristine creeks I have seen. After a 1100ft climb and bushwhacking across dense forest I arrived to the location.
Upon arrival I removed my hiking boots and proceeded to relieve my ankle pain in the glacial creek. Soon after, I unpacked my 60+lb backpack and identified the perfect configuration for my tree tent, which was strategically located near the creek 6ft above the ground. Below my tent, I set up my “field laboratory” consisting of a stereomicroscope from the early 1980s with generic USB lights secured by duct tape and powered via rechargeable solar battery. This arrangement allows me to collect aquatic insects and immediately identify any promising specimen under high magnification. The dream camp set up of any insect-loving seven-year-old!
Not only does my tree tent provide a dry refuge from sudden rainfall, characteristic to this area, but it is also the perfect barrier from the numerous avian intestinal discharges I am constantly being bombarded with by territorial birds.
With sunset approaching, I decided to have something to eat. I packed all the necessary gear for this short expedition but managed to forget food.
Loose in one of my backpack’s hipbelt pockets, I found a handful of stale trail mix (from sometime since September) and a piece of chocolate.
Lack of aesthetically pleasing or “proper” camping food, seem to be a trend for this site. A couple of years ago, my food bag punctured and got wet while reaching this exact location, leaving me to consume lukewarm soft cheese, soggy bread and broken crackers accidentally blended into a paste-like consistency. Read more about this particular story here.
This time was no different. As I searched the creek looking for the unknown larvae of Neoderus and other aquatic insects, I intentionally separated the largest common stoneflies. I later proceeded to make my “back-country specialty” of au naturel stonefly and stale raisin kebabs on endemic southern beech twigs, complemented with all-you-can-drink glacial melts. A true delight! My other options were: 1) No food or 2) Soggy almonds and common black fly larvae, but the latter are quite slimy and a last resort among the edible insect choices on my list.
With hunger “satisfied”, I set up my blacklight a few feet away from the stream. While waiting for insects to be attracted to the light reflected on a white sheet, I set off into the dark forest in true nerd-like fashion with my rain pants synched up to my mid abdomen, my cuffs tucked into my socks and sporting my night vision goggles in search of nocturnal six-legged gems.
stacked image of a female Neoderus sp. resting on Nothofagus sp. twigs. Photo by R. Isaí MAdriz
Throughout the night, the UV light attracted all sorts of insects, including Darwin’s beetles, half-inch-long parasitic wasps, caddisflies, moths and many midges. Alas, no Primitive Crane Flies.
Soon after midnight, rain drove away most of the insects and continued to pour until mid-morning. With sunrise approaching and a sufficient few hours of sleep, I climbed out of bed, ate a forgotten stonefly still in the “food” container and the piece of chocolate for breakfast, put on my rain gear and limped across the forest in search of the insect I came for.
After wadding through the creek for a couple of hours with no success, I decided to direct my attention to the numerous fallen trees around the forest. Interestingly, a large decaying tree still hangs 8ft high over the creek. Underneath, a Neoderus female. After squealing like a piglet for some time, I proceeded to secure the specimen. Crane flies in general are well known among taxonomists to lose or detach their legs at will. This particular female had all six legs still attached, making it the only pristine specimen in the world.
With my precious find, I headed straight back to camp. Once there, I frantically packed it all up and awkwardly limped back to my vehicle a few miles away, all the while juggling the specimen, my heavy backpack and my “gimpy sticks”.
I drove eight hours back to my headquarters and proceeded to photograph the female. After a long and continuous photography session of 48hours the female finally died, but not before yielding the photographs above. These, along with one poor quality image from 2015, are the only photographs of a live Neoderus in existence. A true reminder of the biological jewels awaiting discovery in the vicinities of the Patagonia Ice Fields.
R. Isaí Madriz identifying aquatic insects in the field. PHOTO BY R. ISAÍ MADRIZ
*The Neoderus specimen in the photographs above belongs to a new species of primitive crane fly. A scientific (peer reviewed) publication is in process to formally describe this species.
Why did wild dogs vanish in Serengeti National Park? New answers are emerging. (Photograph: Per Harald Olsen)
It was the year when the Serengeti National Park’s music, or at least one section in its chorus-of-the-wild, died. In 1991, the twitters and whines of African wild dogs went strangely silent in Tanzania’s iconic protected area.
Scientists began tracking wild dogs, also called painted wolves, here in 1964. Over the next quarter-century, researchers watched as the wild dog population dwindled, then disappeared. Why did these canids effectively go extinct in a land where gazelles and other prey were plentiful?
Could the biologists themselves somehow be responsible?
An African wild dog in Tanzania’s Ngorongoro Conservation Area surveys its domain. (Photograph: Per Harald Olsen)
The blame game
It’s anathema to researchers to think their actions might cause harm to an endangered species like the African wild dog. But in 1994, Roger Burrows of the University of Exeter unleashed the controversial idea that it was indeed scientists’ actions that led to the dogs’ demise.
Wild dogs became stressed, Burrows stated, when researchers immobilized and placed radio collars on them. The stress suppressed the wild dogs’ immune systems, he said, allowing diseases they already carried to kill them.
Burrows’ hypothesis rattled biologists who had long depended on radio collars to follow animals, especially endangered species. The implications went far beyond the Serengeti, say ecologists Craig Jackson of the Norwegian Institute for Nature Research, Eivin Roskaft of the Norwegian University of Science and Technology and colleagues at the Tanzania Wildlife Research Institute and Carnegie Institution for Science.
The team recently published a paper debunking Burrows’ thinking in the journal Ecology and Evolution. Serengeti wild dogs, the researchers found, weren’t the victims of science.
Wild dogs can roam onto Serengeti National Park lands. But they rarely do. (Photograph: Per Harald Olsen)
Life on the periphery
Although Serengeti National Park was, and is, without wild dogs, the dogs survived in the park’s outskirts. These outlier wild dogs have been studied since 2005. Many are outfitted with GPS collars; data show that the dogs sometimes briefly cross park boundaries. “Therefore, wild dogs could reside there,” says Roskaft. But they don’t.
There are now more than 100 wild dogs in 10 packs outside the park in the Ngorongoro Conservation Area and Loliondo Game Controlled Area. Between 2006 and 2016, Roskaft and colleagues report, 121 wild dogs from these locations were handled by researchers, with 45 of the dogs radio-collared.
How many of the 121 survived for a year or more afterward? Some 87.6 percent, or 106 wild dogs. Scientists’ “interventions did not evoke disease outbreaks, and the high survival rate does not support Burrows’ hypothesis,” the biologists write in their paper.
Ecologist Craig Packer, a National Geographic Explorer and director of the University of Minnesota Lion Research Center, has studied lions in the Serengeti for more than three decades. Packer, who was not involved in the study, agrees with its conclusions. “This paper,” he says, “nails the coffin on the whole debate.”
Wild dogs face competition from hyenas at kill sites. (Photograph: Per Harald Olsen)
In: Hyenas and lions. Out: Wild dogs.
More than 25 years after wild dogs vanished from Serengeti National Park, none roam its grasslands. The answer, ecologists believe, is also the reason the dogs first faded away: hyenas and lions.
Rather than an extinction, Roskaft says, wild dogs’ disappearance was a shrinking of their range in response to increasing numbers of hyenas and lions. These carnivores often scare wild dogs away from their food.
The dogs moved out to the “far suburbs” — hillsides to the east of the park. The hills may offer safe places for wild dogs to den and raise their young.
With wild dogs out of the way, hyena and lion populations boomed. Any wild dogs brave enough to stay were left with slim pickings.
The evidence is clear, says Roskaft. “Increasing competition from hyenas and lions likely led to the downfall of the Serengeti National Park wild dog population.”
Packer and colleagues came to a similar conclusion. Between 1966 and 1998, the park’s lion population nearly tripled, they found, and wild dogs declined. Wild dogs once occupied park areas with low numbers of lions, which the dogs abandoned as lions “saturated” the region.
Serengeti National Park offers wild dogs – and other predators – plenty of prey. (Photograph: Per Harald Olsen)
A seesawing Serengeti
The picture was once very different. In the 1960s, Serengeti National Park was recovering from the effects of rinderpest, a disease of cattle that infected ungulates such as wildebeest and buffaloes – lions’ prey. The park’s lion population declined, and its wild dogs increased.
As rinderpest was brought under control and ungulates returned, lions followed. Soon wild dogs were edged out.
“A large number of wildebeest and lions, however, is a more ‘natural’ state for the Serengeti than the conditions that once allowed wild dogs to occupy its plains,” says Packer.
The big puzzle, he says, “is why wild dogs are able to co-exist with lions in places like the Selous Game Reserve in Tanzania and Okavango Delta in Botswana. We suspect there’s something about the habitat that provides the dogs with ‘safe spaces.’”
With more answers needed, Roskaft is happy to put an end to the conjectures about radio collars. “Tools that help us understand endangered wild dogs and other species are important to protecting these animals,” he says, “especially in a world where carnivores are struggling in the face of a growing human population.”
No wild dog twitters and whines wend across Serengeti National Park. But, says Packer, “effective conservation requires multiple locations since species cannot always co-exist in all circumstances.”
To wild dogs traversing the Serengeti: at least for now, your melody is perhaps better sung in the savanna next door.
A wild dog in the Ngorongoro Conservation Area gazes across the savanna. (Photograph: Per Harald Olsen)