Conservation & Research
Video: Love for frogs, passion for knowledge

Discover how a young, female researcher from Peru became the leading expert on a species new to science discovered in the Amazon rainforest.

 

A strange croak in the remote rainforest leads to the naming of a new species to science. The discovery hit the worldwide media – from National Geographic to Mongabay. But who’s the woman behind the research?

 

Meet Jennifer Serrano Rojas, a recent biology graduate from Cusco in Peru, who’s dedication to research and fieldwork has made her a specialist on the Poison Dart Frog (Ameerega shihuemoy), a species new to science.

So early on in her career, how has she already achieved so much? Join her at the Manu Learning Centre, a research and education hub run by the Crees Foundation, and discover her story...

 

 

Watch: Jenni & her Frog in Action

 

 

Q&A with Jennifer: her passion, dedication & advice.

 

Why did you become fascinated by frogs?

 

When I started working with Crees as part of the field staff team, I became passionate about the study of amphibians. Their appearance, big eyes and colours, amazed me.

 

At the same time I was concerned about the need for more research, as they’re considered the vertebral groups most threatened worldwide.

 

There is so much to know about amphibians and reptiles – their habitat, ecology, behaviour. There are many areas in the world that still holds undiscovered fauna. These areas could be destroyed by human actions.

 

How did you become a leading expert on the new species to science?

 

Male poison dart frogs display fascinating parental behaviour, risking their lives to protect their eggs | Image © Marcus Brent-Smith

 

One of my favourite groups were the poison frogs, because of their beautiful appearance and amazing parental care behaviour – males risk their lives to defend their eggs. So I decided to carry out my thesis on them.

 

When I found out the the Poison Dart Frog (Ameerega shihuemoy) was a species new to science I was excited to understand as much as I could about it.

 

Knowing that a new species to science lives in regenerating forest demonstrates that these areas are important for conservation and they urgently need protection.

 

What are the risks to the species?

 

Manu is one of the most biodiverse places in the world, it has amazing biodiversity. Unfortunately, this area is facing threats such as logging, mining, and road construction causing habitat destruction and therefore the loss of species.

 

Research to study the species’ ecology, habitat, and to understand how biodiversity responds to human disturbance is very important in order to create management plans that will protect and conserve wildlife.

 

Amphibians and reptiles are two groups that are used worldwide to understand the effect of habitat change on biodiversity because they are consider indicator species, as they’re very sensitive to changes in the environment.

 

How did you get into research and fieldwork?

 

Jennifer is passionate about teaching field work and survey skills to share her knowledge with other researchers | Image © Katie Lin

 

During my internship at the MLC, through the Crees Foundation, I learnt biological sampling techniques to survey biodiversity and I practised English with all the volunteers and staff. This opportunity opened the door for me into research and I fell in love with it ever since.

 

When I became a staff member with Crees I was happy and excited. I knew it was an excellent opportunity for me to use what I had learnt at university. When I started working at the MLC I found people who gave me their time and shared their knowledge with me. Having mentors around, like Andrew Whitworth and Jaime Villacampa, helped me to become a better biologist because they taught me not only about research but also about networking, leadership and team work.

 

What I loved most about carrying out fieldwork at the MLC is waking up in the mornings to the bird calls, walking along the trails and encountering amazing wildlife, listening to the sound of frogs at night. It’s a special feeling to never know what you will find; when you head off into the forest at the MLC, one day you might see nothing, but the next you’ll see every monkey species that lives there.

 

What advice do you have for young female researchers?

 

Jennifer recording data on a snake found at the Manu Learning Centre, adding to much-needed knowledge on reptiles | Image © Katie Lin

 

I do not consider there to be any difference between the work a woman or a man can do in the field. So my advice is: if you have the chance to be involved in a project, just go for it and give your best. You will gain lots of experience and knowledge and you will enjoy it.

 

The only thing I find harder about being a woman is that sometimes in projects people still think that men will do better than women and so they will give more opportunities to men. This is changing lately because many scientific women are showing to the world that we can be successful and get good results.

 

What are some of the most important lessons you learnt in your career so far?

 

  • You need to work hard to achieve your objectives.
  • Take the opportunities that will give you new tools, skills and experience.
  • Make the most of each day, no matters if it is good or bad, because you can’t go back in time. Good times bring you joy and happiness, bad times bring you experience.
  • Be supportive, positive and encourage your team. The best results comes from the work of people who combine their efforts. You cannot work on your own.

 

How can people help tackle the threats facing Manu?

 

Researchers and volunteers working in the field at the Manu Learning Centre, carrying out surveys and recording data

 

Through research we can inform the public and authorities on key issues that threaten these species and the bigger problems that we will face if we loose them. All life is connected and when one piece is removed, then others are impacted. While I think research will help, I don’t think it will be the saviour. We need to adopt a bottom up approach that tackles the perception that governments and local people have, so that they have a change in consciousness about what they believe the flora and fauna means to the world.

 

Are you generally positive or pessimistic about the environmental challenges we face?

 

I am really positive. Lately, people are understanding the importance of conservation, the services that ecosystems provide, the problems we face. The amount of research being carried out and the number of people getting involved in conservation is increasing. This next century will be the most important for conservation. It is time to put all our efforts together to conserve the environment and biodiversity. It’s not just for us, it’s for the future generations that we need to act.

 

Thank you Jenni for being a passionate, dedicated person to work with and an inspiration to environmentalists across the world.

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