Overview

This expedition was conceived by myself and Cornell University ecologist Alex Flecker after meeting for the first time at the 2003 Joint Meeting of Ichthyologists and Herpetologists in Manaus, Brazil. Alex and I quickly discovered our shared fascination with a bizarre group of Neotropical fishes that specialize on diets consisting almost entirely of dead wood. Two dozen of these species had been described within the family Loricariidae, which was the focus of my dissertation, and Alex was as curious as I was to understand how these fishes consume and subsist on a diet as presumably nutrient deficient as wood. 

        At the time, my research was entirely focused on the functional morphology and community ecology of loricariid catfishes, but to really answer the question that intrigued Alex and me, we needed to team up with a nutritional physiologist. In 2005 I began corresponding with Donovan German, who was then working on a PhD on the nutritional physiology of detritivorous fishes at the University of Florida. It turned out that Donovan was as interested in wood-eating catfishes as we were, and he needed to collect field data to complete his dissertation.

        By cobbling together support available to each of us, Alex, Donovan and I were able to fund an expedition to the Marañon River in northern Peru – the epicenter of wood-eating catfish diversity – in July and August 2006. Also joining us on this expedition were Alex's then new PhD student Krista Capps, fellow ichthyologists Donald Taphorn and David Werneke, and Peruvian scientists Hernán Ortega, Darwin Osorio and Blanca Rengifo. Together, we drove from Lima north along the coast to Chiclayo, then headed northeast over the Andes and into the Marañon River Valley. For about two weeks we sampled the Marañon River and its tributaries near the towns of Bagua and Santa Maria de Nieva. We also ventured into the Cenepa River, which is controlled by the Aguaruna indigenous peoples, and downstream into the Pongo de Manseriche, a very narrow gorge that constrains the Marañon and is the proposed location of a massive new hydroelectric project.

        Research conducted during this expedition and subsequently, based on specimens collected during it, has yielded a host of publications with 

many new insights into the nutritional physiology, community ecology, functional morphology, evolution and taxonomy of fishes. Included among these are descriptions of five new fish species discovered during our field-work: Gelanoglanis travieso Rengifo et al., 2008, Peckoltia pankimpuju (Lujan and Chamon, 2008), Peckoltia relictum (Lujan and Armbruster, 2011) and Chaetostoma trimaculineum (Lujan et al., 2015). Specimens and tissues collected on this trip are now cataloged at AUM, CU and MUSM (under field number prefix PER06), where they continue to benefit the research of myself and others. Published papers that have already benefitted from collections and observations made during this trip include the following:

Work

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1. Unloading our trucks to sample a tributary of the Marañon. 2. Getting strapped into the backpack electrofisher. 3. The PER06 team. 4. A morning snack before departing Santa Maria de Nieva for the Marañon in rainy weather. 5. Alex taking notes and collecting physicochemical data. 6. Tissueing specimens. 7. Donovan dissecting the intestines of a wood-eating loricariid. 8. Donovan and I taking tissues. 9. Donovan holding up a new species that would soon be named Panaque bathyphilus (Lujan and Chamon, 2008). 10. Don Taphorn taking photos. 11. Showing some local Aguaruna boys photos of fishes. 12. Electrofishing in the main channel of the Marañon. 13. Krista concentrating on her samples. 14. Electrofishing in the Marañon.

Fishes

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1. Peckoltia pankimpuju (Lujan and Chamon, 2008). 2. Chaetostoma sp. 3. Bujurquina sp. 4. Amaralia hypsiura. 5. Peckoltichthys bachi. 6. Lasiancistrus schomburgkii7. Batrachoglanis raninus. 8. Chaetostoma breve. 9. Rhinodoras boehlkei. 10. Dried Chaetostoma, Cetopsis, and Hemibrycon that are eaten by indigenous peoples in the area. 11. A large mound of mostly wood-eating loricariids collected from a single coarse woody debris dam in the Marañon River near Santa Maria de Nieva.

Sponsors

This fieldwork was sponsored by NSF grant DEB-0315963, the All Catfish Species Inventory, and by grants to Alex Flecker and Donovan German. 

2006 Expedition to the Middle Marañon, northern Peru