Invisible Imprints of Glacial Melt

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Student Research Reports, Summer 2018

Gumercindo and packhorse Chumpipaya descend to Laguna Sibinacocha, at the south side of the Cordillera Vilcanota. (Photo by E. Steigerwald.)
Gumercindo and packhorse Chumpipaya descend to Laguna Sibinacocha, at the south side of the Cordillera Vilcanota. (Photo by E. Steigerwald.)

Invisible Imprints of Glacial Melt
By Emma Steigerwald

In the Cordillera Vilcanota, a glacier-draped mountain chain of southern Peru, three species of frogs are simultaneously dealing with the local impacts of climate change and with an emerging infectious disease. My exploratory trip to this site allowed me to begin my dissertation research, which will examine how these pressures interact through the medium of these frogs’ population genetics. The findings of this research can shed some light on how the complex, multiple challenges faced by wildlife in a changing world may not simply affect species in an additive fashion. During the trip, I began collecting genetic data and data on infectious prevalence and intensity across the landscape, met my local collaborators, became familiar with the landscape, began forming plans for a series of environmental education workshops during my second field season, and gave a presentation on my research at a university in Cusco. My team’s fieldwork was incredibly productive, but for the next season I plan to schedule more time to complete our itinerary. High elevation fieldwork is taxing, and I want my team to not only be productive, but enjoy the opportunity to be in this beautiful place and have relaxed conversations with local people. I have come to Berkeley from a project working on designing an ecological corridor for an endangered endemic parakeet of the Ecuadorian Andes, where I spent a year collecting genetic and complementary data for the project. I have also previously conducted research on the ecological impacts of changing human pressures for Yellow-legged gulls in Spain. My previous field experience includes assisting on a scarlet macaw reintroduction project in Mexico, a kiwi translocation project in New Zealand, a project exploring the impacts of deforestation on howler monkey parasite loads in Ecuador, and a project mapping sifaka territories in Madagascar.

With Gumercindo and Peter in Osjollo Pass, the longest transmontane pass in the Cordillera Vilcanota. (Photo by E. Steigerwald.)
With Gumercindo and Peter in Osjollo Pass, the longest transmontane pass in the Cordillera Vilcanota. (Photo by E. Steigerwald.)

We must take careful precautions in this fieldwork to not transmit Bd between frogs and sites, sterilizing equipment between animals and anything that has touched the ground before moving across the landscape. Here, a Marbled four-eyed frog peers over single-use nitrile gloves as he is measured, weighed, sexed, swabbed, and contributes a toe tip to science. (Photo by E. Steigerwald.)
We must take careful precautions in this fieldwork to not transmit Bd between frogs and sites, sterilizing equipment between animals and anything that has touched the ground before moving across the landscape. Here, a Marbled four-eyed frog peers over single-use nitrile gloves as he is measured, weighed, sexed, swabbed, and contributes a toe tip to science. (Photo by E. Steigerwald.)

Vicuña, like the landscape they live upon, only appear at times to be pacific and static. In reality, males get into hair-raising fights, and spend hours pursuing each other across the landscape, screaming like banshees. The snowy peaks of the Cordillera are visible in the background. (Photo by E. Steigerwald.)
Vicuña, like the landscape they live upon, only appear at times to be pacific and static. In reality, males get into hair-raising fights, and spend hours pursuing each other across the landscape, screaming like banshees. The snowy peaks of the Cordillera are visible in the background. (Photo by E. Steigerwald.)

Legends associating frogs with rainfall did not emerge only for obvious reasons. Tradition dating back to Incan culture, and possibly back to pre-Incan tradition, named not only the bright stars of the heavens, but also the negative space around the stars—the “dark constellations”. Hanp’atu, “the Toad”, was a dark constellation that rose from the horizon synchronously with the first seasonal rains. (Photo of one of our many camps, at Upispampa, by E. Steigerwald.)
Legends associating frogs with rainfall did not emerge only for obvious reasons. Tradition dating back to Incan culture, and possibly back to pre-Incan tradition, named not only the bright stars of the heavens, but also the negative space around the stars—the “dark constellations”. Hanp’atu, “the Toad”, was a dark constellation that rose from the horizon synchronously with the first seasonal rains. (Photo of one of our many camps, at Upispampa, by E. Steigerwald.)

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