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Field course update

Together with some of the highly respected Professors from our Faculty of Life Sciences, members of Museum staff have been highly instrumental in helping establish a number of  tropical field courses for the University of Manchester. These provide our students with a first-hand opportunity to develop practical fieldwork skills whilst studying a wide variety of flora and fauna in their natural surroundings.


Professor Amanda Bamford, Faculty of Life Sciences, University of Manchester.

Our tropical field courses typically take place in South and Central American countries, including being held in unexploited areas of rainforest in Ecuador and also conservation areas here in Costa Rica, where I am at the moment. This particular course is a new addition and has been specially designed by Professor Amanda Bamford and I with the aim of providing our students with the best possible learning experience.

The Museum’s distinguished Curator of Entomology, Dr Dmitri Logunov, and FLS’s Deborah Ashworth, have also been heavily involved in developing, supporting, and teaching on the new course over the past couple of weeks.

1 We have also been lucky enough to be joined by Alex Villegas, our Costa Rican field course representative (pictured right). Alex is also Swarovski’s main agent in Central and South America and so apart from helping with logistics and demonstrating he has provided some top quality equipment for us to make the course even more special: I would like to take this opportunity to thank Alex for all his support and help in so many ways with the field course, he’s been a star.

Swarovski Optik

In the following posts I hope to provide an insight into some of the students’ supervised projects here in Costa Rica, and provide a flavour of what our new field course is providing. I would like to thank the students, Alex, and all who have contributed with their images and video in advance. Here are just some of them:


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Field course 2013

IMG_3890At the moment I’m busy teaching undergraduate students on our field course in Costa Rica, and over the past few nights have been taking them deep into the rainforest of the Costa Rican Amphibian Research Centre. Here the students have been witnessing the incredible diversity of herpetofauna in Brian Kubicki’s private reserve.

Being the first time in the tropics for many of the students its been an incredible experience for them, and seeing so many species in such a short time appears to have really taken their breath away – apart from snakes, we’ve come across a huge amount of unusual amphibians, including many rare tree frogs.

This area is one of the richest areas in Central America for amphibians and Brian has dedicated his life to helping conserve them. Some species that are rarely seen in Costa Rica can be found thriving at the CRARC, including the rare Hyloscirtus palmeri, which looks a little like a giant glass frog. Here is Brian with a male specimen we found last night:


A Brazilian trim

illegal-deforestation-for-soy-2-1As if the deforestation rate in the Amazon isn’t bad enough, did you know the Brazilian government has released its latest figures showing an increase – from August 2012 to February 2013 the rate increased an estimated 26.82%, and an area the size of 237,000 football pitches vanished within just 6 months!

Every hour over ten thousand people are born in different parts of the world – that’s three humans every second. The human population has now reached over 6 billion and is predicted to reach 9 billion by 2050. This phenomenal increase in humans has brought about large scale changes to the biosphere and atmosphere as humans rush to claim the earth’s finite resources to match the consumer lifestyle that people in the increasingly more developed world lead.

plants_985x700_25819Tropical rainforests form a lush but now fragmented green belt around the earth’s equator. They are the most bio-diverse ecosystems on earth. Tropical rainforests cover just six percent of the worlds land mass yet they harbour over half of the world’s land species.


As well as the rich biodiversity, tropical rainforests provide a home to many indigenous people with rich and unique cultures. Tropical rainforests also provide foods, medicines, and other resources.Tropical rainforests are essential for local and global climate, being most important for water and carbon cycles.

Biodiversity Banner on Christ the Redeemer StatueTropical rainforests are being deforested at an alarming rate. Each year hundreds of thousands of hectares of tropical rainforests are being opened for logging and then cleared to make plantations for  sugar cane and palm oil. The areas are also used for raising cattle by multi-national food companies. The loss of the rainforests is affecting the entire planet and needs to be halted right now. So, what can you do to help prevent deforestation?

Some tips to help prevent deforestation:

  • Look at the ingredients of cereals, cereal bars and other products you buy and don’t buy products with palm oil in unless it is sustainably produced.
  •  Do not buy timber products from tropical hardwoods  – buy timber products that have been grown sustainably in carefully managed forests.
  • Buy tea and coffee that is grown sustainably  – do not buy these products if grown on cleared rainforest. Think before you drink.
  •  Do not buy soya grown on cleared rainforests.
  • Do not buy meat grown on cleared rainforests.
  •  Do not buy products from large commercial companies which are involved in clearing rainforests for cattle ranching.
  •  Join Our Future Planet and contribute to discussions on how to save the rain forests.
  • Join an organization that plays an active role in rainforest conservation:

     GREENPEACE               WORLD WILDLIFE                  FRIENDS OF THE EARTH 


Go compare

On Friday, my good friend George Madani arrived into Manchester from Australia. Coming straight to the Museum after his long-haul flight, he presented an absolutely fascinating talk to our University students and staff about his amazing trip to Borneo. The talk, which covered many of George’s exploits in search of some of the most interesting wildlife imaginable, was extremely well received. IMG_3678

Having the opportunity to share our interest in nature over the weekend, exchange stories about the places we’ve been and all the unusual creatures we’ve seen, George and I have been in our element. Reptiles, amphibians, and small mammals (including bats), featured most heavily!

After hearing so much about the wide variety of unique fauna there is in Australia, I was keen to show George that although we don’t quite have the number of species found there, we do also have some very special wildlife to be found here in the UK.


British Legless lizard (Slow worm), Anguis fragilis

Yesterday we visited the Lake District, and George seemed particularly pleased to come across so many different birds he’d never seen before. He was also intrigued by how much of our flora and fauna has evolved along the same lines as some of their distant Australian counterparts.  One reptile we found was a Slow worm, Anguis fragilis, our stunning legless lizard.

The weather was glorious, and driving down the narrow lanes that were flanked by slate stone walls holding such a proliferation of flowering wild plants was mesmerising – it made you want to wind the windows down just so you could check it was all for real. I really love the Lake District on such days. As the evening sun slowly descended, before our return, we made our way  to the edge of a small wood. We sat, still, quietly waiting. To our delight our patience paid off, and we were treated to the sight of a family of badgers, 2 adults and 2 kits, coming out of their set. They explored and played right in front of us for an hour. It was very special. We drove back with little silence, comparing badgers to wombats! 🙂


George Madani (Simpson/Tasmania)         Kimberly update         Borneo Update                             New Year Update                  Slow worms                  FATS, Australia