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!
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.
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):
-Dock for the lake
-New recycling receptacles
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?