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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.