Fascinated by the Amazon rainforest since as early as he can remember, FPI’s entomology instructor, Geoff Gallice, began his career as a tropical biologist over ten years ago in the tiny Central American country of Costa Rica. There, during a month-long trip spent volunteering on an organic farm and visiting some of the country’s most important protected areas, he was captivated by the stunning variety of tropical plants and animals found there, as well as the diversity of Costa Rica’s natural and cultural landscapes. After receiving his Bachelor degree in biology from the University of Maryland in 2006, Geoff returned to work as a resident naturalist at the University of Georgia’s campus in San Luis, situated in the lush cloud forest of Monteverde.
While in Monteverde Geoff collected butterflies and moths for several months, contributing to a monograph of the Lepidoptera of the San Luis valley. “The diversity of these insects in the Central American rainforest was astounding. Every day, and around every corner, there was something new to discover.” He was hooked.
In 2009 he visited the Amazon rainforest for the first time, to collect butterflies for the University of Florida’s collections and to explore a small part of that vast ecosystem for the first time. Geoff returned to Florida with several thousand specimens, some new to science, and a bubbling cloud of ideas for his graduate research. Five years later, he received his Ph.D.; the title of his thesis was “The macroecology of Neotropical clearwing butterflies,” which he completed based on a data collected during a year spent at the Los Amigos Biological Station, in Peru’s Madre de Dios region.
In addition to exploring some “big picture” questions in the ecology of Amazonian butterflies—why, for instance, some species are common, whereas many others are very rare—Geoff’s experience in Madre de Dios fundamentally changed the way he saw the Amazonian ecosystem.
“The Amazon is one of the most biologically thrilling places on Earth. The bewildering variety of lifeforms, as well as the myriad ways in which they interact with one another and with their environment, is extremely impressive. There’s enough there to keep a biologist busy for a hundred lifetimes. However, an unexpected discovery I made at Los Amigos was the acute threat this amazing biodiversity faces.” In Madre de Dios, logging, hunting, agricultural conversion, and rampant gold mining are ever-encroaching upon the region’s vast, pristine rainforests.
Today, while he maintains a keen interest in Amazonian insects and has several ongoing entomological research projects in Madre de Dios, Geoff’s research also focuses on applied conservation in the Peruvian Amazon. In particular, he is working with several researchers and students at the Pontifical Catholic University in Lima to evaluate the potential impacts of new road construction in Manu National Park, perhaps the most biodiverse national park in the world, that is threatened by the expansion of infrastructure and associated colonization and extractive activities.
Geoff’s most recent project is a 135 acre property that he has recently purchased just north of Madre de Dios’s regional capital, Puerto Maldonado, where he hopes to bring together his diverse interests in tropical biology, entomology, and conservation. Among other things, he hopes to explore ways of improving agricultural efficiency, a topic that he explored during his first visit to the Neotropics, over a decade ago; several entomological projects are also in the works.
“Insects are a vital component of ecosystems in the Amazon, both natural and human-dominated—they pollinate, eat, and decompose plants, and serve as the foundation of complex animal and human food webs,” says Geoff. “Their herbivorous habits are also the driving force behind the evolution of a wide variety of useful plant compounds, and even serve as a food source for traditional Amazonian societies.” As an instructor for FPI, Geoff hopes to advance knowledge of one of the most important yet understudied groups of Neotropical organisms, by inspiring the next generation of tropical entomologists.
All photos (c) Geoff Gallice, used by permission. All rights reserved.