Having survived the public transport ride up to the village of Canta and joined the rest of the team, we set off bright and early to look for more Solanaceae and their critters. Since Mindy, Dan, Erica and Paul had gone down the valley the day before, we decided to go up to the town of Obrajillo – worth a teensy mention in Dan’s guidebook as “oozing with colonial charm”.
Definitely a colonial village, but pretty run down at the heels – this Merc was up on posts and had bags of grain in the front seat. There must be action here though during the foggy, cold season in Lima (September-October time) – hip hop is being advertised in the door behind the car!
We drove up beyond the town on a small dirt track that suddenly became a non-road – no harm done, but a bit of pushing was involved! The sun was shining and the insects were out – perfect conditions. Also perfect for sunburn… the sun at 2,900 metres elevation is pretty intense, and without sunscreen we pallid Europeans burn fast!
Mindy and Paul looking for plants behind a somewhat random-seeming monument to the battle fought on the 2nd of May… Not in Obrajillo of course, but somewhere far away (in Callao on the coast near Lima in 1866 to be exact).
Since it had rained early in the afternoon the day before we decided to walk up spotting targets, then come back down collecting. The entomologists got to try out all their methods…
Erica sweeping with wild abandon in a patch of potato wild relatives…
Dan and Erica peering into their nets to see what they caught on the Solanum basendopogon that was creeping through the shrub on the right of the path…
Erica sussing out just where to start suctioning up insects from a Jaltomata species growing against some rocks by the trail – the aspirator is basically a small, gentle hoover that sucks up anything on the leaves into a cup with a filter of gauze in the bottom, pop the top on and then sort it out in the evening!
One of the species we found here was Solanum habrochaites – a wild tomato relative – that the team had also collected from last year. This will be great for looking at the geographical distribution of insect communities on the same species – will the locality or the host species be the most important determinant of the insect communities association with the plants? Only by collecting from the same species in different localities (ideally at the same time of year) will we be able to start teasing apart these patterns.
Solanum habrochaites occurs from Ecuador to central Peru and is quite variable in elevation and habit. It is an important wild tomato relative and has been used in the past to introduce new variation in the cultivated tomato for fruit sugar content. The sticky hairs all over the plant have a distinctive smell and could also be useful for plant breeders for insect resistance (the white dot on the flower is a white fly!).
About lunchtime a group of local people assembled in the valley below for a barbeque and dance/sing-along – Andean flute music and dancing. It was pretty atmospheric…
The men on the rock in brightly colored ponchos did a sort of hand-waving dance – it looked good fun!
Well – it began to rain… earlier than the day before – so we headed back. Insect collecting with wet nets is just not possible. I begged though, and we went back to a spot we had seen a tomato relative not yet collected in the morning – it wasn’t actually raining (my logic ran…).
Mindy showing just how big some of these tomato wild relatives can get – this one is Solanum corneliomulleri, a species that occurs in central Peru at higher elevations that we had not yet sampled from – so I was glad we had tried! We had collected this species in 2012, but no insects were collected on that trip…
Paul and Mindy pressed these last specimens and then we headed back to the hotel to sort the day’s catch, write up the notes, check our localities on Google Earth and otherwise get the plants onto the drier.
Paul and Mindy emerging from the mist with the press full of solanums.
The kind people in the hotel let us use the restaurant to sort out insects – amazingly even while other guests were ordering dinner… we definitely recommend the Hostal Santa Catarina in Canta for biological field work!
We set up our trusty gas plant drier (repaired by Tiina and Maria after our slight fire incident last year) in an unused communal bathroom… it works just a well as ever!
Tomorrow it is up to the puna – to find the high elevation potato wild relatives, and for me, to see if I can find some more interesting Solanum endemics… We will have to start out early to avoid the rain… can’t wait!