This is my before-last day in Panama. It was the second time I was here for collecting purposes, and I had yet another blast. When I came to Panama last year, it was just me and Sarah, my wife with a Master of Science in biology degree and a great field assistant. Literally less then a week prior to our initial flight, I decided to change plans and visit a group of researchers at the Universidad Autónoma de Chiriquí in Davíd. This last-minute decision was probably the best decision of that trip. The collaboration has grown into something larger and I was able to visit them again this month and both Sarah and I will go back for collecting and a seminar in July.
What did we do? Well. A lot of collecting beetles and bugs, basically. Oh, and spending all evenings at the stereomicroscopes, screening our collections for Laboulbeniales ectoparasitic fungi (see here and here for some info). Since I am interested in Hesperomyces virescens, a member of the Laboulbeniales that focuses on parasitizing lady beetles, we went the first few days on orange plantations. But different from our experience in the summer when we found lots of Azya and Epilachna lady beetles, we only found a handful of our dotted friends every day. Quite not worth spending most of the day on a sun-drenched orange plantation, where – on average – it was about 35 ºC hot. So we decided to shift focus and went collecting in La Reserve Forestal de Fortuna and the Parque Internacional La Amistad. In La Fortuna, we were fortunate with (1) many specimens and (2) many infections! In La Amistad we were less lucky, although it depends on what you categorize as being lucky. We only found a single Galerita specimen, which however was infected.
In the end we ended up increasing the number of Laboulbeniales known to Panama from fifty to eighty. Not bad. A follow-up paper of Villarreal et al. (2010) with these new reports and probably some descriptions of new species is in the making. And even for my PhD thesis this was a good trip, because I got to know the different collecting localities better. I will be better prepared now for the summer. (And I consolidated the “Laboulbeniales on bat flies” project by setting up a collaboration with Rachel Page, whom we will see again in the summer, as well. Hopefully this project will prelude another chapter for my PhD thesis.)