Manu Biodiversity Expedition
Pantiacolla, SE Peru
July 10 - 23, 2020
Join the Alliance for a Sustainable Amazon in Peru’s Manu Biosphere Reserve as we explore the world’s most biodiverse rainforest and study some of its key groups of plants and animals. Our goals are to document the study area’s species diversity and monitor plant and animal populations over time, and ultimately protect the region's incredible biological wealth in the face of rapid global change.
July 10-23, 2020
About the Expedition
The Research Teams
We divide the work of surveying biodiversity across several specialized teams. Expedition participants can assist in one, all, or any combination of teams that suits their interests.
The Lepidoptera Team
The Lepidoptera team's goals are two-fold. Firstly, we will survey butterflies by day using a combination of hand-nets and baited traps. Secondly, we will survey moths at night using an ultraviolet light setup designed specifically to attract nocturnal insects. All data gathered by the Lepidoptera team will contribute to the ASA's ongoing effort to document patterns in butterfly and moth distribution and abundance throughout southeastern Peru. A single site in Manu National Park may contain as many as 1,300 butterfly species or more alone (that's more than in ALL of North America!), so Lepidoptera team members will have their work cut out for them. And, since almost nothing is known about the biology of most species in the region, many important discoveries are guaranteed, possibly even new or undescribed species.
The Bird Team
The bird team has two main objectives. First, we aim to document bird species presence at the field site as part of the ASA's ongoing effort to document region patterns in biodiversity. Second, we will be documenting bird species presence along a 500 m elevational transect to monitor changes in species' elevational distributions with climate change. Birds will be studied using point-count and walking-transect surveys; for cryptic species that are not easily detected using aural-visual surveys, the team will also mist net and band birds. This allows us to track individuals over time and learn more about the relationships between life history, survival, and local movements. With over 1,100 species registered in Manu National Park, the team can expect to have their surveying and identification skills put to the test, yet they will be rewarded by some of the best birding anywhere in the world.
The Mammal Team
The mammal team will survey these animals using three methods. First, the field site's more than 10 primate species and other diurnal mammals will be studied using traditional aural-visual surveys. Second, for more elusive medium- to large-bodied species, camera traps will be deployed throughout the forest. These motion-triggered cameras offer a major advantage for studying species that are otherwise difficult or impossible to detect using traditional techniques. And finally, the team will spend nights mist-netting bats. These are the most diverse and among the most abundant—as well as some of the most ecologically important—of all rainforest mammals, which is why we'll spend a significant amount of time studying them. Not only is the field site incredibly rich in mammal diversity, it is also home to the full complement of top predators, including six species of wild cat, so exciting discoveries are incredibly likely!
*Important note about participation in the mammal team - All mammal team members must present proof of up-to-date rabies vaccination and all required boosters to be able to handle mammals (bats only) during the expedition. Please note that this series typically requires up to several weeks to months to complete. Please contact us with any questions regarding this requirement.
The Herp Team
Surveying reptiles and amphibians is relatively straightforward but, due to the cryptic nature of many species, long hours are required to build a site inventory. Thus, the herp team will spend significant time in the jungle searching for these animals, especially at night, when they tend to be most active. But, no fear, the effort will be greatly rewarded with an incredible diversity of species! Tropical reptile and amphibian species are facing serious threats, including habitat loss and declining populations due to illegal trade and disease. In particular, the fungal pathogen Chytridiomycosis has taken a major toll on amphibian populations worldwide, including in Peru, with many species in critical decline or even extinct as a result of the disease. Unfortunately, during all of our previous expeditions we have detected the chytrid fungus in several amphibian species. Data gathered by the herp team, therefore, will be useful in understanding both the impacts of this and other threats over time, as well as how we can protect as many of these unique species as possible.
Teams are each led by biologists who are experts in their respective fields and who have extensive experience in the study region. Leaders provide training to participants so that they can meaningfully participate in the team's activities and oversee the work so that data is gathered safely and ethically.
Geoff Gallice, Ph.D.
Expedition & Lepidoptera Team Leader
Geoff has been studying Amazonian butterfly ecology, natural history, and conservation for more than the past 10 years. He has a particular interest in the macroecology of clearwing butterflies—why, for instance, some species are common and widespread whereas others are rare and geographically restricted, including the conservation implications of these patterns. He is also exploring butterfly natural history in SE Peru, working with the ASA team of lepidopterists to describe butterfly life stages and food plants as part of an ambitious long-term project to document basic butterfly biology in the most biodiverse—and most poorly studied—rainforest on Earth, that of Manu National Park and its surroundings.
Micah Scholer, Ph.D.
Bird Team Leader
Micah studies the life history characteristics of South American birds and has worked for over five years along the Manu Road from the upper extent of the cloud forest to humid lowland jungle as part of a long-term bird banding project investigating avian survival rates and life span. He's particularly interested in how patterns of molt and plumage can be used to place birds into age classes, which can help to refine models of demographic processes, as well as how facultative relationships between wood-peckers and a variety of cavity-nesting species, including owls, influence the bird community composition. Micah brings to the team incredible knowledge of the study region and of Amazonian birds, as well as how to study them safely, and an infectious enthusiasm for understanding tropical nature.
Mammal Team Leader
Harry is a biologist based in Cusco, Peru. His work has taken him to some of the remotest corners of the Peruvian Andes and Amazon, where he has conducted research on butterflies, herpetofauna, and mammals, especially bats. He has a particular interest in the biodiversity of the Manu region, where he has spent the bulk of his professional life trying to understand the complex workings of this incredible rainforest. In addition to his work as a field biologist Harry works to connect Peruvian citizen scientists with nature through digital media and technology platforms. He is one of the most knowledgeable naturalists in the region, and we are very fortunate to have him along to lead the mammal team.
Anton Sorokin. M.Sc.
Herp Team Leader
Anton has worked with poison frogs in the Ranitomeya genus both in the field in Peru and in the lab. His research delves into the evolution of behavior in poison frogs. Specifically, he is investigating how they navigate and respond to changes within their territories, as well as their spatial memory as they move through their dynamic home ranges. Anton is especially passionate about the Neotropics, having conducted research from the lowland Amazon to the glaciers of the high Andes. Besides research, Anton is an accomplished nature photographer and has contributed to various photography initiatives, magazines, and books. We're excited to work with Anton for a third consecutive year—hopefully just the third of many more!
Jessica Ferreira (Arizona, USA)
"I participated in the 2019 Manu Biodiversity expedition. To describe this expedition as amazing and life changing might sound cliché, but it really was. It is hard to comprehend how diverse the Manu region really is without experiencing it firsthand. On top of being involved in exciting research, this trip has helped make me a conscientious consumer. Witnessing the impact of logging in a place like this makes a lasting impression. Intrigued? GO!"
Ciaran Nagle (Sydney, Australia)
"The Manu Biodiversity Expedition was incredible! I was lucky enough to participate in the first one in 2018 and I’m still in awe at the incredible diversity of life I got to see, and the wealth of knowledge I got to benefit from. It was unlike anything I’d ever experienced and I can fervently recommend it to anyone with an interest in the natural world."
Angela Brierly (California, USA)
"Joining the expedition was the best decision! I envisioned a remote jungle oasis of bejeweled secrets waiting to be unlocked. I was not disappointed. The organizers, Team Leaders, local guides, fellow like-minded participants combined with discoveries greeting every turn, made this expedition perfect. I gained a deep sense of accomplishment and fulfillment by participating. The experience inspired me to pursue graduate studies exploring aspects of Neotropical biodiversity."
Day 1. The team meets in Cusco, the ancient capital of the Incas located high in the Peruvian Andes. In Cusco we’ll have the chance to pick up last-minute supplies, explore a few sights in the city’s central square, cover the basics of the expedition, and get to know the group.
Day 2. From Cusco we begin our descent to the Amazonian lowlands of Manu. Today we’ll travel through some of the most spectacular scenery on earth – from the towering high Andes we’ll drop through jagged Andean foothills draped in luxuriant cloud forest, ending in the Amazon basin. Along the way we’ll stop for photo ops of birds, butterflies, and possibly monkeys and other surprises.
Day 3. From Pillcopata we complete our journey to Pantiacolla. There’s no road leading where we’re going, so we’ll board a boat in the tiny port town of Atalaya, not far from Pillcopata. River travel in the Amazon is one of the best ways to spot elusive wildlife – Along the river keep your eyes peeled for jaguars and caiman on the beaches, monkeys in the trees, macaws and plenty of other birds flying overhead and swarms of dazzling butterflies.
Days 4-12. Now we get to work! Due to the differences in the biology of our focal groups, each team will work on different schedules and in different areas of the rainforest at Pantiacolla. The bird team will be up with the sunrise each day to open the mist nets, whereas the Lepidoptera team will divide its time between day and night for butterflies and moths, respectively. The mammal team will be out most night mist-netting for bats, as will the herp team spend long nights searching for reptiles and amphibians. Those participating in multiple teams will work with team leaders to create a work schedule.
Days 13-15. With our work finished, we’ll retrace our steps back to Cusco to conclude the expedition. We’ll have a farewell dinner in Cusco as a group and then make sure each team member makes it to the airport for their flight home on the expedition’s final day.
The expedition fee covers all project-related local transportation and all accommodations, including transfer to and from the airport (or bus terminal) in Cusco, all other transportation to and from the field site, all lodging (hotels in Cusco and Pillcopata, as well as a basic campsite that will be set up and maintained by field staff), and all food (3 meals per day, plus coffee, tea, and snacks, except meals in Cusco). All field equipment related to biodiversity surveys (insect traps and nets, specimen storage equipment, GPS units, mist nets, snake hooks, etc.) will also be provided.
What's Not Included
The fee does not include meals in Cusco, international or domestic airfare (i.e., from your home country to Lima, and then on to Cusco), or personal expenses in Peru (e.g., souvenirs, alcoholic beverages, etc.). Personal gear and equipment, including tents or other camping gear, binoculars, etc., are not provided. Medical expenses, including travel/medical insurance that covers you in Peru (required), as well as any costs associated with medical care and/or evacuation in Peru, are also not covered by the Expedition Fee.
The first night of the expedition will be spent at a mid-range hotel in Cusco. The following night will be spent at Hotel Gallito de las Rocas, the only mid-range accommodation in Pillcopata. Rooms at both hotels will be shared, and are basic with shared bathrooms. Meals during stays at hotels will be taken as a group either in the hotel or a nearby restaurant.
During the survey period at Pantiacolla we will be camping at a rustic site with very basic facilities at the edge of a the Alto Madre de Dios River. Expedition members should each plan to bring a tent (or share with another team member), a sleeping pad, and a light sleeping bag. Meals will be cooked for us at the campsite, under the rain forest canopy and a brilliant jungle night sky.
How to Apply
Joining the expedition team is easy! Just follow the following four easy steps:
1. Make sure you meet the eligibility requirements (See FAQs).
2. Fill out the form below. Once we receive it we'll send you further instructions.
3. Pay the $150 deposit to reserve your spot on the Expedition. Please read our Terms & Conditions and Cancellation Policy before making a payment.
4. Return all follow-up documentation and pay your full balance by June 12, 2020.
Am I eligible to participate?In order to join the Expedition you must 1) be at least 18 years old (unless accompanied by a parent or guardian); 2) have proof of medical and travel insurance that covers you in Peru; 3) be in excellent physical condition; 4) have a valid passport or ability to travel to/within Peru. No formal training or education is required; we invite people from all background to assist our biodiversity surveys. However, a healthy curiosity for tropical nature, a positive attitude in the face of challenging field conditions, and a willingness to work with people from a variety of backgrounds to achieve a common goal are essential. Please note that if you plan to join the mammal team, and wish to handle mammals (bats only), then you will need to provide the ASA with proof that you are up-to-date on your rabies vaccination, or that you will be by the time the Expedition begins.
How do I get there?The Biodiversity Survey begins and ends in the city of Cusco, located in the high Andes of Peru’s Cusco Department. There are two ways you can travel to Cusco: overland (i.e., by bus) or by air. A bus from Lima usually takes just over 20-25 hours; a direct flight from Lima is about 1 hour. The Cusco airport (CUZ) is serviced by Latam and Avianca, both of which have daily flights from Lima, but you can also purchase flights through international carriers that are operated by one of these local airlines. You might find it more convenient or cheaper to purchase a flight to Lima from your home city, and then a separate flight onward to Cusco. If coming by bus, we recommend either Cruz del Sur, Movil Tours, or Tepsa; these are the most reliable companies that have service to Cusco and they have the best safety records.
Do I need a visa to enter Peru?Citizens of the United States do not need to apply in advance for a visa to enter Peru for stays of 90 days or less; a visa will be granted at the international airport in Lima upon entering the country (or at the border with a neighboring country). Requirements for citizens of other countries vary, and we recommend that you check these with the website of your country’s embassy in Peru.
What about money in Peru?Peru’s currency is the Nuevo Sol, usually referred to simply as the ‘sol’ (plural ‘soles’). The exchange rate as of Nov. 2019 was about S/. 3.30 to US$1, and this has been stable for several months. ATMs are widely available in most major Peruvian cities, including Cusco, many of which dispense either soles or US dollars. You will receive a slightly better exchange rate at a currency exchanger (available in Cusco) than at an ATM when withdrawing Soles. We recommend that you avoid changing money at airports, as the rate will be fairly poor. How much money you will need while in Peru (and not on the Expedition) will depend on your taste and spending habits. As a rule, you can eat a meal at a fancy restaurant in Cusco for about $10-20 (S/. 30-65); cheaper places (e.g., set lunch or ‘menu’ restaurants) will obviously be much less. Prices for hotels also vary—backpacker hostels may charge S/. 30 per night, whereas nicer hotels will charge as much as S/. 200-300 per night; high-end tourist lodges in the jungle might be as much as $100- 300 per person, per night.
What's the weather like?The expedition begins in the city of Cusco, where temperatures are generally mild during the day and cooler at night (average high in January 11°C (52°F), average low in July 7°C (45°F). During summer months (June-August) temperatures can drop below freezing, especially at night, so make sure to bring one change of clothing to keep you warm before heading to the jungle. The expedition base camp is located where the Andes mountains meet the Amazon basin. Days can be hot when it's sunny (35°C/95°F) or cool if it's cloudy or raining (20-25°C/68-77°F). Evenings generally are cooler than days. Summer also brings ‘friajes,’ which are cold snaps resulting from a cold front moving north from Patagonia along the Andes mountains. Temperatures during friajes can drop below 10°C (into the 40s F), so keep your set of Cusco clothes handy just in case. Although we’ll be in Manu during the region’s dry season, it can still rain any day of the year, so you should also be prepared with rain gear.
What kind of clothing and gear should I bring?We will provide all of the gear and equipment that will be used for our field surveys (e.g., collecting and surveying equipment, etc.). Everything else is your responsibility. The Expedition involves camping in the rainforest, thus there are several items that you will have to bring with you in addition to your clothes, toiletries, etc. Each team member must have a tent (or arrange to share one with another participant), a sleeping pad, and a light sleeping bag or something else to sleep with, as well as several other items. We will provide a complete packing list once you've paid your deposit and recieve the Full Expedition Description.
How do I stay healthy in the rainforest?Despite some of the stories and exaggerated tales from past explorers in the Amazon, the rainforest is not as dangerous or scary a place as many people think. Today, the vast majority of visitors enjoy a completely safe and healthy stay. Nevertheless, we take the safety of our team members very seriously and offer a number of recommendations to help ensure that you have a safe and enjoyable time in Peru. Perhaps the greatest nuisance to humans in our study region is posed by biting insects, including mosquitos and biting sand flies. These are also the vectors of several rare, but potentially serious, tropical diseases. Malaria, Dengue Fever, the Zika virus, Yellow Fever, and Leishmaniasis are all rare but present in the Amazon. We recommend that you discuss your travel plans with your medical doctor for specific recommendations of which vaccinations and/or prophylaxes to take.
What's a typical day like in the field?Most days start early (e.g., breakfast at 6 or 7 am), so that we can make the most of the shorter tropical daylight hours for surveying biodiversity. Those on the bird team will typically be up earlier, since bird activity peaks just after first light; herpers will be out until late on most nights, so will require a bit more time to sleep in. Lunch and dinner are generally taken together as a group, around 1pm and 6pm, respectively, and field work is conducted in between meal times. We take meals very seriously—surveying biodiversity in the rainforest is hard work!
What's the food like in the field?In Cusco we’ll have a wide selection of restaurants to choose from, ranging from local Andean and Peruvian cuisine to international fare, and spanning all budgets. At the expedition base camp at Pantiacolla we will have three healthy meals daily, which will be prepared onsite and served by the expedition chef. Meals are always produced with fresh, local ingredients, some of which come right from the fields outside of Pillcopata. Hot water for coffee and tea, as well as snacks, will be available at all times. We are happy to accommodate any special diets or food restrictions (e.g., allergies, etc.) with advanced notice.
What is phone and internet service like?There is good cell coverage in Cusco (discuss international rates and plans with your home carrier), and limited reception at in Pillcopata, as well as somewhat-reliable WiFi at all of our hotels. Once we depart for Pantiacolla, however, there will be no cell or internet coverage. This Expedition is a time to disconnect and immerse yourself in nature!
How do I do laundry?Cusco has tons of cheap laundry services available. In the field, we wash clothes by hand. We recommend that you bring laundry soap (preferably biodegradable) with you. Otherwise, you can purchase soap and/or detergent in Cusco or Pillcopata.
Still have questions? Send us a message: