Today ACA’s Villa Carmen Biological Station & Reserve celebrates its third birthday! In 2012 alone, Villa Carmen welcomed over 800 researchers, students, government officials, conservationists, volunteers, and birders, while steadily enhancing facilities to include a new lab and dorm space, an extensive trail network, organic gardens, and more.
Villa Carmen rounds out ACA’s network of three biological stations, which are strategically positioned to span the vast array of unique ecosystems from the high Andean cloud forest to the lowland Amazon basin.
In just three years, Villa Carmen has established itself as a bustling hub for scientists and conservationists. Over 150 researchers have visited the station from institutions around the world, cataloguing more than 590 species of plants and animals, and leading 38 research projects to date, studying everything from native fish and ants, to woolly monkeys and spectacled bears. Villa Carmen has also hosted numerous field courses on biodiversity, climate change, conservation, and culture, such as this group from the University of Minnesota (right).
Villa Carmen is also a living laboratory for best practices in sustainable agriculture, and shares lessons learned with residents from surrounding communities. Villa Carmen grows its own local organic crops, while researchers study ways to enhance soil fertility using biochar. Last year, Villa Carmen hosted an international workshop on sustainable agriculture where world experts and local Amazonian farmers shared techniques and experiences.
Motion-Sensing Cameras Capture Elusive Wildlife
Villa Carmen’s camera traps photograph a diverse array of wildlife, allowing researchers to catch a glimpse of many rare and endangered species in their natural habitat, including:
- 10 individual jaguars, including 2 pregnant females
- A female giant armadillo with her pup
- Lowland species including tapirs, giant anteaters, short-eared dogs, and curassows
- Rare birds like the white-cheeked tody tyrant, rufous-vented ground cuckoo, and grey-bellied hawk
- 28 different species in total so far!
Innovations in Biochar
Research at Villa Carmen has focused on biochar, a form of charcoal made by cooking plant biomass under reduced oxygen levels, producing a porous surface ideal for the growth of beneficial soil fungi and bacteria. When introduced to tropical soils, biochar not only sequesters carbon, it also boosts plant yields by as much as 40%, which reduces deforestation and carbon emissions, all while making use of the abundant but underutilized resource of fast growing bamboo.