Call for public action as sexually transmitted fungal epidemic hits the invasive harlequin ladybird

Hesperomyces virescens (photo: Katie Murray)

Hesperomyces virescens
(photo: Katie Murray)

Today Matt Tinsleymyself (University of Stirling) and Helen Roy (Centre of Ecology and Hydrology) launched a survey track the spread of a sexually transmitted fungus in UK ladybirds. If you see any ladybirds, have a closer look and see if you can spot this fungus. You can find the survey here.

Hesperomyces virescens

Laboulbeniales are a group of fungi that infect many different insect species, including ladybirds. Hesperomyces virescens is a species of Laboulbeniales that is transmitted between ladybirds during mating, although it can sometimes spread between individuals that rub against each other when they cluster together in groups during overwintering. Infections of the fungus can be seen fairly easily because it appears as yellow, finger-like projections on the surface of the ladybird. Due to the sexual spread of this fungus, it is more often found on the underside and between the legs of males, and on the top of the wing cases of females, as these are the areas that come into contact during mating. Individuals with very heavy infections can be covered with small yellow spines, and can almost resemble miniature hedgehogs!

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Seedlings of Darkest Peru

The beginning of October sees me in my final week of my stay at Cocha Cashu biological station, in the Manu National Park in South-East Peru. The tropical paradise was opened to researchers in the 70s by John Terborgh and has seen an unimaginably high number of important ecological research and brilliant minds disseminated into the scientific world. My arrival, with collaborator Harald Beck, mammologist from Towson University, botanical assistant Adrian Torres Paucar, and a boat engine that took 3 days to splutter and grumble its way up river, was heralded with the beautiful neo-tropical scenery of the Madre de Dios river complete with macaws, skimmers, jabirus, monkeys, caimen and even a tapir! BUT being a new and enthusiastic PhD student there was no time for loitering about to admire the (excessively distracting) scenery, so day 1 saw us marching out into the field to begin stage one of operation seedlings.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

My research is based around tropical plant community assembly, I am aiming to find out how trophic interactions influence the seedling community, i.e. How seedling herbivores affect the change from seedling to adult community structures, and the relative importance of different herbivores in the maintenance of biodiversity. This information will then tell us how the loss of mammals (ie from hunting) and the change in herbivore communities due to anthropogenic impacts will impact the plant community diversity, and how this will affect the future of the neo-tropics and the people that rely on this system. To do this we have put great effort into excluding semi-factorially mammal, insect and pathogenic herbivores from seedling communities, in order to monitor the changes in seedling communities.

To start with we had to locate 384 seedling plots, set up by Timothy Paine 10 years previously, and last monitored 4 years previously. The plots were marked with a small iron rebar poking out of the leaf litter and potentially some ant gnawed/lichen covered flagging, needless to say when we were presented, by Lisa Davenport, with a metal detector our lives became simultaneously easier and more entertaining. Treefalls and hungry ants couldn’t stop senior metalico (otherwise known as  Adrian) from ensuring a speedy and successful stage one of operation seedlings.

Stage two of operation seedling involved tagging and measuring hundreds of seedlings, it did not take me long to learn that most seedlings are not only generically small and green, but bear small resemblance to their adult counterparts. So we may not have a name for all of them yet but we can rest assured they all have decorative orange necklaces and my full care and attention for the foreseeable future!

Meanwhile lifOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAe at Cocha Cashu goes on as usual; an after work canoe in the small oxbow lake by the station, containing numerous grumbling caimen, giant otters, piranhas, a cacophony of birdlife including daily kingfishers and the beautiful agami heron, and a tranquil reminder that I am in fact in one of the most beautiful places in the world, floating on a tropical lake surrounded by sights and sounds that should never be underappreciated; A chat with a young and enthusiastic, or a not-so-young-but-still-enthusiastic scientist, ready to share their stories over dinner; A free afternoon to watch birds and monkeys on the trails, or climb Cocha Cashu’s first (and second) canopy tower (courtesy of photo journalists Christian Ziegler and Joris van Alphen) embracing a fruiting Ficus.

Excluding mammals was the most time consuming and sweat, blood and tear producing. Starting out with dragging 80 9m iron rebars from the river to the station left us all exhausted and wondering what exactly we had gotten ourselves into. Following this up with cutting them all into pieces with a hack saw confirmed our worst suspicions in this regard (that is…more sweat, blood and tears to be produced).  The 64 exclosures consist of 8 iron rebars holding out wire mesh strong enough to bounce a peccary (depending on the level of enthusiasm on the peccaries part), surrounding the seedling plots. One exclosure per transect had small agouti doors cut into it, so that small mammals (agouti sized and smaller) could enter but the larger, peccary sized mammals were kept out. These exclosures simulate a hunted forest where mammals such as peccaries maybe removed, but rodents would not. Operation seedling stage 3 complete.

Field Work 38

 The fourth and final stage of operations seedling 2014 saw the emergence of goggles, rubber gloves and chemical masks, ready for the application of pesticides. Insecticide, fungicide and water applied to all treatment plots to exclude insect herbivores and fungal pathogens. Nothing feels worse than killing things in the rainforest but there has been the odd occasion where it feels a bit like revenge for wasp stings, ticks, a healthy layer of blood sucking fly bites and the odd bullet ant sting (or 3 at once for the unfortunate Harald), I hope only that science will benefit from the loss of some of our 6+ legged friends, and that some fortunate seedlings appreciate their luck! I thank Noeme and Adrian for coDSCN4109ntinuing to thrash about in the field with chemical masks so that my project may continue, and hope that no more karmic retributions from bullet ants come their way!

Adventures in Panama

by Rebeka Mayhew

Today marks five weeks for me on the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute’s Barro Colorado Island in Panama and surveying the bird communities in the Barro Colorado Nature Monument. I am one of Daisy Dent’s PhD students and I am currently in Panama to examine how bird species and their functional composition changes in regenerating forests. Barro Colorado Island (BCI) is located in the artificial Lake Gatun in the middle of the Panama Canal.

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Brazilian research visas: a “how to?” get through the paperwork minefield and get into the field

I’m one of those lucky people that get to work overseas for fieldwork. And not just anywhere, I get to work in the Brazilian Amazon. I hope.

I say “I hope” because the long (and I mean long) process of actually being allowed to work in the Brazilian Amazon is still ongoing, and I leave in less than two months. I wanted to write this blog because behind the scenes of any field research and conservation – the “oooo I wish I was working in XYZ like you” type – there is often a bewildering maze of bureaucracy to get there. I’m going to focus on my experiences of research visas and permits for working in Brazil, but some of the general advice will be applicable no matter the fieldwork location. Continue reading

Stories of the forest: I

I am two weeks into a five-week stay at  Lopé National Park, Gabon. This is the first field trip of my PhD and I am here to meet the SEGC team and observe and learn about methodology that has been used over the last 30 years to collect the tree phenology data I will be analysing over the next few months. Firstly, Lopé is beautiful. It feels like a real privilege to be here, even for just a few weeks. The study station is a 12km drive from the nearest village in the middle of a truly un-hunted patch of forest and savanna. We regularly look up from breakfast to see or hear buffalo, elephant, duiker, colobus, parrots, mandrills (the list goes on…) just going about their business in front of us.

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A short history on the luck, failings and success of field work

This blog entry has been triggered by encountering the article: “let’s re-write the scientific paper1 flagged up by Anna Doeser on twitter.

It discusses how modern scientific papers are too formal and that we should: “… report our research more nearly as it happened; let us overcome our fear of revealing our humanity, our good luck, even our failings, and acknowledge the contributions from our intuition and imagination as well as the hard graft in the field and at the bench.” Continue reading