SJC Long Island senior biology major Brooke Shellman spent two months in Peru this summer studying the life cycle of butterflies as an intern with the Alliance for a Sustainable Amazon (ASA) — a nonprofit working to preserve biodiversity in the Amazon rainforest.
“I traveled to Costa Rica with SJC on a faculty-led trip and fell in love with the rainforest,” said Shellman, who has also visited Alaska, Nevada, Canada, Mexico and several places in the Caribbean with her family. “To gain global research experience and to fulfill my goals of traveling, I began to search the internet for internships abroad. I found a program located in the Peruvian Amazon and thought back to how much I loved my time in Costa Rica.”
Through her internship, Shellman, 21, of Medford worked on the Lepidoptera (butterflies and moths) Project, raising caterpillars in the lab while studying and feeding them, taking and coding photos for data references, and searching for new eggs and caterpillars.
“The ultimate goal of the Lepidoptera Project is to document the complete life cycles and host plant interactions of all butterfly species at the Finca Las Piedras (FLP) field station — estimated to be approximately 2,500 species,” said Shellman, who hopes to one day share her passion for education and the environment as a professor.
“Given the widespread scale of this study, I wanted to help advance research by assisting with the project while having the opportunity to gain more knowledge during my time in Peru,” added Shellman, who also helped co-author a paper about the life cycles and host plant associations of three butterfly species.
Research in the Peruvian Amazon
Although she spent most of her time conducting research at the field station and assisting with the Lepidoptera Project, Shellman also got to work on a variety of ongoing projects with ASA.
“We completed night hikes every Monday and Thursday evening to observe the presence of amphibians and reptiles, went birding early Wednesday mornings to survey the diversity of bird species, and worked hard during ‘Reforestation Fridays’ to plant Brazil nut saplings to donate to harvesters in the local community,” Shellman said.
While most of her former research involved studying water quality, she enjoyed the opportunity to branch out into other fields through this internship. And as a senior now conducting her thesis project, she’s grateful for what the research experience abroad taught her.
“Research is not as simple as it seems,” said Shellman, who plans to pursue a master’s degree in either ecology or environmental science. “When conducting ecological research, many obstacles are thrown your way, and it can be difficult to navigate through it all. Whether the issue is the results you find are not what you expected, resources are limited, or the focus of your topic shifts, you have to be ready to be smart and adapt.”
Appreciating the Whole Experience
Overall, Shellman, president and founder of SJC Long Island’s Green Team — a student-run organization committed to establishing a more sustainable campus — appreciated all that the internship experience offered her.
“My favorite part of this experience was the people,” said Shellman, who is also a member of SJC’s Sustainability Committee, Biology Club and Women’s Empowerment Club. “It was wonderful being surrounded by so many like-minded people at the field station. I left for Peru not knowing anyone and came back home having new friends from all across the U.S., Canada, the U.K., and Peru.
During the weekends, Shellman traveled with the other interns to the city of Puerto Maldonado, about an hour away from their field station, to experience the culture. She also had the opportunity to spend four days in Cusco with the other interns, where they visited one of the seven Modern Wonders of the World, Machu Picchu.
“Other aspects I loved include the simplistic lifestyle we lived at the field station, finding bioluminescent (or glow-in-the-dark) fungus during one of the night hikes, and, of course, visiting Machu Picchu,” she added.