This site serves to document the collection trip that Rodolphe Rougerie and Alex Smith made to the Nouragues Research Station in French Guiana in January and February of 2011.

Alex Smith is a molecular ecologist, based at the University of Guelph in Ontario Canada, who is interested in the molecular ecology, phylogeography and food ecology of ants and parasitoid wasps.  My ant research is principally in Costa Rica in Guanacaste Province. My hope and intent is to continue this monitoring for the long term and to considering pairing this ACG monitoring with an ongoing program in Nouragues.

Rodolphe Rougerie is a post-doctoral fellow at the Laboratoire ECODIV, Université de Rouen, France, whose main research focus is the biodiversity of Lepidoptera through a combination of traditional and molecular methods in systematics. In particular, Rodolphe is coordinating efforts toward assembling a reference library of DNA barcodes for all Lepidoptera; DNA barcodes are short, standardized DNA sequences used for species identification and discrimination

You will find more details about Rodolphe’s research by visiting his website where browsing the images will quickly take you into his world and introduce his "pet group", a family of (cool) moths named Saturniidae... with many spectacular members collected in Nouragues


The Nouragues Field Station is a scientific research station of the Centre national de la recherche scientifique (CNRS) set up at the heart of the tropical rain forest of the Nouragues Natural reserve, French Guiana. We were working at the Inselberg site is the "historical heart" of the Nouragues station. The camp owes its name to the granite hill overtopping it. The mission of the Nouragues research Station is to foster scientific research in tropical rain forests, at a site remote from major human activities.

The Inselberg camp was GigaPan'ed on our last day.  See the full-screen GoogleEarth browser plugin view here, and follow the panorama title below to the GigaPan site to explore the whole panorama.

The Inselberg site is very isolated and only accessible by helicopter, or boat and a long hike from the Pararé site located along the Arataie river.  We flew in and out from Cayenne.

Helicopter transport from Cayenne to the Inselberg camp of the Nouragues Field Station. Flying past the Inselberg

Helicopter from Cayenne to the Inselberg site.

Nouragues 2011 Collection Sites and Cayenne

We had three three research foci on this trip. 

1) For groups of Lepidoptera with “mature” taxonomy, how many of the species present both in French Guiana (FG) and in the Area de Conservacion de Guanacaste (ACG) in Costa Rica are really shared (real conspecifics) or artificially “shared” because of incorrect taxonomy (cryptic diversity)? Our field work in the Nouragues station will provide the Amazonian material for species shared with the ACG fauna in several families of Lepidoptera. This material will be combined with ACG records in an integrative approach combining traditional taxonomy and DNA barcoding, possibly complemented by a nuclear marker. 

2) In groups with a strong taxonomic impediment (such as ants and parasitoid wasps), what does the barcoding approach reveals in term of shared diversity between the Meso-American and the Amazonian fauna? Two principal groups of insects already well documented in ACG will be targeted during our field work: parasitoid wasps and Formicidae (the ants). In the absence of species level identifications, we are interested to observe if operational units inferred from DNA barcode analysis are shared between FG and ACG, with particular attention to generalist parasitoid species found in ACG, as well as the most abundant species there. 

3) How effectively can we utilse our MAPL program (recently published in Molecular Ecology) to generate host DNA barcodes from the abdomens of adult parasitoid wasps.

For Rodolphe, this meant long nights of running a moth light on the Helipad at the Inselberg Camp, and then long days of photographing, cataloging and tissue sampling thousands of Lepidoptera. For Alex, this translated into alternating days of intense standardised ant sampling at various localities near the Inselberg Camp with days of sorting two Malaise traps for all parasitoid wasp specimens, tissue sampling, photographing and sorting into DNA plates that will be analysed at the Biodiversity Institute of Ontario. 

While collecting ants there is a standardised protocol that I complete at each locality. For instance, at each site I record the habitat using a GigaPan robot. I’ve been one of a group of scientists beta-testing the GigaPansince 2008, This remarkable piece of equipment consists of three technological developments: 1) A robotic camera mount for capturing very high-resolution (gigapixel and up) panoramic images using a standard digital camera; 2) Custom software for constructing very high-resolution gigapixel panoramas; and 3) A new type of website for exploring, sharing and commenting on gigapixel panoramas and the detail users will discover within them.

Hiking the ant barrel in Costa Rica

On this site I've embedded GigaPans from each locality.  Their names link to the full view of each panorama at the GigaPan website, and there are also links to the panorama displayed on a proper sphere using the GoogleEarth browser plug-in. 

Nouragues - searching for ants

I was also using a dynamic piece of equipment - a digital field microscope, the DinoLite AMK4012-C200 with which I can record images and video in the field.  I have been really pleased with how well this tool has worked in Costa Rica in 2010 and 2011.  As in Costa Rica, I have uploaded the as yet un-edited results to You-Tube. 

My field notes, thoughts, videos, GigaPans for each day's work are captured with entries on the Journal/Blog site.