The investigation department is the home of various projects carried out in the Mashpi Reserve. An A-team of investigators work together in the laboratory, covering almost all existing groups of living beings.
However, we are particularly interested in the invertebrates group. Our studies of these creatures range from tiny organisms like Microstigum miniature wasps and aquatic insects in the rivers surrounding the reserve, to butterflies and their diversity according to altitude.
Within the study of miniature wasps, new species have been found that await identification by the team of the doctorate student Rosa Bonifacio from Exeter University in the United Kingdom. The importance of studies like this is down to the function of these insects in the environment. The pollination that these wasps attend to can be crucial for the survival of the plants that they visit, as they are part of the functioning of the forest.
Another collaboration that has found new species is that of the Technological Indoamerica University, which has focused on the ecology and ichthyologic (pertaining to fish) biodiversity of the rivers of the zone and that also is identifying new species of fish. This project is extremely important as it provides information on the state of fish populations and rivers where they are found, in order to appropriately manage water sources around Mashpi and the surrounding communities.
A further project we are carrying out hand-in-hand with the University of Florida is monitoring diurnal (daytime) butterflies. This study seeks to create standardized methodology for testing butterflies. To this end, an experiment is underway where four different baits are tested to determine which one attracts most butterflies to the traps hung in the two stratum of the forest, understory and canopy.
As an experiment taking place along an altitudinal gradient, this study also allows us to analyse the diversity of butterflies in the different altitudes that occur within the Mashpi Reserve.
Furthermore, specimens obtained from this study are later mounted and classified in the entomologic study that is exhibited in the investigation laboratory. The aim of this collection is to compile ecologic information for former studies in the reserve that could also be exchanged between institutions. In this way, it is used as didactic material for interactions with guests and staff training in Mashpi Lodge.
Another project that studies butterflies in Mashpi Lodge is done in collaboration with Sheffield and Cambridge Universities and seeks to describe the variety of ecological and climatic conditions in which populations of Heliconius are subjected to, and therefore categorizing the differences and similarities in the physiological adaptions that allow individuals of the same species to live in different altitudes.
Although the majority of studies are focused on species of animals, there are also investigations that emphasise vegetation in the reserve. CONDESAN is an organization that puts the spotlight on conservation and sustainable usage in the Andean region and part of its work aims to measure the amount of carbon dioxide absorption in the forests of the northeast of Ecuador.
For this reason, within the reserve there are two plots that are constantly monitored to obtain productivity and Co2 absorption data. Additionally, equipment is kept inside these plots that allows us to collect stats on climatic conditions throughout the year, which is turn helps us to carry out studies analysing these variables.
At the moment, the investigation laboratory is working with the CONDESAN organisation and University of the Americas in monitoring macroinvertebrates from the Trichoptera group, in various locations of the northwest of Ecuador, including in Mashpi Lodge.
This observation seeks to collect information to understand the relations between the community of Trichoptera with environmental and historic variations that occur within an altitudinal gradient going from 3,500 to 550 metres above sea level.
The objective of this study is to compare the behaviour of the diversity of Trichoptera with that of the tree and palm community in an environmental gradient. This study shows us the importance of having various investigation projects within the reserve that attempt to cover the majority of themes that could be investigated. This is principally because the interactions of biotic and abiotic communities within a forest are narrowly related, and in their combination bring us their beauty and ecosystem services from which we all benefit.
One of the reasons that these projects are so important to science in general is because they help to spread this information to the general public. Therefore, the investigation team is in charge of transmitting this information to the people who visit us as best they can and also to photographically document the results of these studies.
For this purpose, the laboratory also has terrariums where animals like reptiles and amphibians are housed short-term, that will be photographed and exhibited for the visitors of Mashpi.
In this way, the information collected is used for the construction of informative guides for the visitors to Mashpi and public in general. This is one of the principal objectives of the investigation lab, which implies the interaction of this department with hotel visitors.
In short, this way of transmitting scientific information becomes a great attraction for visitors to Mashpi and sews a seed of consciousness for the conservation of irreplaceable places like the forests of Mashpi Lodge.