Everyone’s a biologist in the Mashpi Laboratory

It’s one thing to glimpse the mega-diverse flora, fauna and beauty of the Andean tropical forest outside of Quito, Ecuador; another entirely to understand and appreciate what you’ll see. Mashpi Lodge, a charter member of the National Geographic Unique Lodges of the World, set amid 3,200 acres of cloud forest in the Mashpi Biodiversity Reserve, assures that guests will be able to do both with its interactive Mashpi Laboratory, opened in July 2017.

Located right onsite just steps from the main Lodge, the Laboratory offers opportunity for guests to interact with and learn from Mashpi’s resident biologist and guides. The interior space of the Laboratory, stretching 65 sq. feet within a glass structure, is arrayed with myriad exhibits such as amphibian and reptile terrariums and pinned insects, including flamboyantly colored butterflies, bees and bugs.

As innovative as the Lodge itself, the remarkable thing about the Mashpi Lab is that as well as being a functioning scientific facility, it is a showroom, museum and a hands-on biology classroom with an important mission.

“Apart from generating more and new information about the fragile Chocó ecosystem, we communicate all this knowledge to the people who visit us here,” explains Andrea Tapia, Mashpi Lodge’s Wildlife Research Coordinator.

She continues: “Although we generate scientific papers and studies in Mashpi, the average person isn’t going to sit down and read them all!”

Andrea came to work initially as an entomologist, in charge of the laboratory and all the projects relating to insects.  A working scientist herself, she accompanies visiting investigators from universities on their fieldwork, as well as talking with guests, showing them the laboratory, interacting with children and demonstrating to them the collection.

Guests can lend a hand with the Lodge’s ongoing Camera Trap Project, learn about microphotography in the Mashpi Laboratory’s studio where the often-elusive denizens of the Tropical forest are studied, photographed and catalogued.  Conservation work is also available for those interested in learning as they go, with opportunities to assist in identifying and documenting the colour, size and other characteristics of insects.

Meanwhile, children are invited to join in guide-led nature scavenger hunts, searching out and making plaster casts of foot and paw prints for inclusion in the Laboratory or to take home as souvenirs. The Laboratory also offers a stereomicroscope with two eyepieces – much easier for young eyes to use to examine things up close.

For Andrea, the ultimate motivation is discovering a new species – her predecessor, Carlos Morochz found a frog and orchid species during his time as Resident Biologist. But finding innovative and engaging ways to communicate knowledge is the most immediate goal.

Through our work in the reserve and our contact with the guests, we are able to transmit the importance of the Chocó, and thereby generate more consciousness about the forest and conservation issues,” she explains.

“I think we also contribute to changing guests’ perspectives, by making them more aware. That’s probably my greatest challenge here: how to communicate effectively, beginning with the General Manager Marc, what we’ve learnt so far and how much we have still to learn!”

 The Mashpi Laboratory is open daily from 8:30am to 10pm and upon request.

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