Volunteer Projects

Herpetology

Herpetology is the study of reptiles and amphibians, and SKIS is located in one of the world’s best places to investigate these fascinating creatures. To begin with, volunteers will learn fundamental methods of herpetology, such as how to search for reptiles and amphibians, how to hold these animals, and other common techniques for studying them. You will learn how to identify species, maintain a museum collection, and investigate behavior using camera traps. There are two primary activities that volunteers take part in - transect surveys and pitfall trap operation. We have six, 200-meter transects that span various habitat types. Volunteers conduct one hour surveys, registering temperature, humidity, and climate date in addition to herp sightings. Everyday one volunteer will run the pitfall trap, going out to the primary forest to check the four buckets and the funnel trap for reptiles, amphibians, and small rodents. All these critters are photographed and released, aside from the rare individuals, which we maintain in a collection with the Ecuadorian Museum of Natural Sciences.

Constructing and Maintaining Trails

In the jungle surrounding SKIS, where it rains at some point almost every day, building and maintaining trails is not as easy as it may sound. However this is one of the most essential activities to the function of the station. Volunteers will learn how to use machetes, pry bars, saws, and other tools to cut and clean trails, build bridges, and more. Throughout your stay you will continue to implement and augment this skill set through the upkeep of old trails and establishment of new trails and scientific transects. Additionally, volunteers make and install interpretive signage, do decorative plantings along trails, and design new trails.

Camera Trap - Wildlife Monitoring

 

Volunteers will learn the techniques and application involved with monitoring wildlife using camera traps. You will first learn about that many applications of camera traps, from reproductive monitoring in reptiles to studying movements and spatial ecology in large mammals. Subsequently, you’ll learn how to operate camera traps and when to use what settings. Volunteers will install camera traps in the wild, collecting the traps every week to download the data. Volunteers will learn to organize camera trap data and integrate that into our iNaturalist camera trap project.

Permaculture and Sustainable Agriculture

Sumak hosts over 50 cultivates, a food forest, small greenhouse, traditional agricultural plot, compost facility, herb garden, Chickens, Guineapigs, and more! You’ll learn sustainable agriculture techniques and practices from our resident permaculture specialist, Pedro. Then you’ll put it to practice, helping to maintain the greenhouse, garden, and food forest - planting, distributing compost, harvesting crops (which you then get to eat) etc. We are now in the early stages of establishing a region-wide reforestation program in which we will grow saplings of important native trees in our greenhouse. You’ll get to help raise these trees until they are ready to be planted, then we’ll visit neighboring farms and indigenous communities to help reforest disturbed areas with trees that will help restore a healthy ecosystem. That’s not to mention the many possibilities for future projects… Know something about aquaponics? Let’s make an aquaponics system! Always wanted to build a biodigester? Let’s build one!

Cave Ecology

The geology and subteranean ecology of the Río Anzu region is endlessly fascinating. To begin with, volunteers will learn the basic geological components of the Río Anzu region, starting with the identification of different rock types, followed by the assessment of more complex geological interactions. Volunteers will use equipment to analyze soil composition and measure water quality in subterranean streams. Then, using established sampling sites every 10 meters going into the caves, we’ll sample macroinvertebrate diversity as a function of cave depth and other factors. How do populations compare between different caves? How does flow rate of subterranean water affect community composition? How does species richness or abundance change as you go deeper into the caves? These are the questions we’re addressing. We’ve even discovered at least one species that is most likely entirely new to science! You’ll get to help collect data on a scientifically relevant initiative, both increasing your personal knowledge and experience, as well as contributing to our database of information that is helping inform our understanding of this unique region.

Ecological Constructions

 

Here at Sumak we are regularly working on new constructions, almost exclusively using on-site materials. Volunteers in the past have helped build a compost facility, field laboratory, solar dehydrator, pitfall trap, greenhouse, bar, fire places, and much more. Future projects may include (but are not limited to):

-Dry toilets 

-Dock for the lake

-Clay oven

-Biodigester

-New recycling receptacles

Forest Ecology

 

Interest in botany, forestry, general ecology? This project might be right up your alley. Over the last couple years university students and volunteers have helped establish a database of information surrounding forest stage, canopy coverage, forest growth rates, and tree fall rates. These efforts have helped produce insightful findings, for example, a recent paper we submitted that discusses Bothrocophias Pitviper micro-habitat selection as a function of vegetative cover. Eventually these forestry measurements may also help to answer other questions, like

-What is the effect of climate change on tree fall rates?

-How do forest regeneration rates affect bird community assemblages? 

Not only will you have the opportunity to contribute to answering these questions, but you’ll also learn how to use transects, the spherical densiometer, botanical plots, and other equipment/techniques essential to this field of investigation.

Field Laboratory Upkeep

The field lab get’s a lot of use and requires regular maintenance. In house critters need to be fed, water must be replaced, and enclosures must be cleaned. Equipment and books inevitably get misplaced and must be rounded up. Dirty work tables require cleaning and the floor needs regular sweeping. Volunteers also help take daily temperature, humidity, and precipitation measurements. These activities may not be nearly as engaging as camera trap studies, but they are necessary and generally comprise a very small portion of each volunteer’s work week.

Ornithology

Ornithology is the study of birds. In the upper Anzu watershed there are over 220 documented species of birds! At Sumak we regularly monitor the bird communities in several strategic areas. Whether you’re going out solo one morning to register species at the landslide or guiding the local university bird club to an interesting area, you’re guaranteed some breathtaking avian observations!

Ecological Art

We’re always looking for people that have an artistic disposition to work on projects at Sumak. Visiting artists have done in-house signage (for reception, bathrooms, orchid garden etc.) and assisted with making trails signs. There’s always a need for more trial signage, interpretive signage, murals, instructive creations, and more. There’s no set list of things we’ll give you to do; come for a stay and let us know you’d like to work on artistic projects and we’ll brainstorm it together - what we could use, what your skills are, and what you’d be interested in creating.

House chores...

It pains us to even list this here, but house-hold upkeep is a necessary part of living. Sweeping, cleaning the bathrooms, putting away left out items, emptying trash bins - it’s all got to be done! Don’t worry, just like the field lab upkeep these chores will make up very little of your week’s total work activity.

Independent Projects/Internships

Sumak receives all kinds of people and interests. Some visitors come as volunteers and throughout their time here are inspired to design their own project. We are always open to hearing your ideas and interests. If you pitch us a good project, more than likely we’d be happy for you to do it! Every project is different. Some projects require daily attention, others only require a couple days a week, and then others need a little bit of attention every day. So how it all breaks down will depend on the other priority activities at a given time, availability of required resources, and the need for or benefit of your proposed project. Other people, most often students, come to Sumak as interns with a specific focus and pre-established/approved project. One advantage of this approach is that interns can usually apply for and obtain external funding to pay their way. Have an idea for an exciting new project or study? Reach out to us, we’ll brainstorm how best to make it happen, and then try to support you in any way possible as you seek funding.