UC Centers and Field Stations: The gateway for international postgraduate research
The French entomologist Paul Amouroux has traveled around Chile for two years. He is developing his Fondecyt postdoctoral project on unknown Chilean species of armored scale insects, agricultural pests, and biological control challenges. He comments on the valuable contribution of working on two of the UC Field Stations: Atacama UC Field Station in Alto Patache and Patagonia Interdisciplinary Research Station.
"The UC Field Stations are open-air laboratories, and we conduct continuous research on biodiversity and insects," says Paul Amouroux. He is a French entomologist with agronomist training, specializing in biological control and integrative taxonomy.
In 2018, Amouroux was awarded a Fondecyt postdoc project titled "Cryptic and Unknown Species of Armored Scale (Hemiptera: Diaspididae) in Chile: a challenge for the agriculture and the biological control."
He has traveled the country from north to south for three years, collecting scales on cultivated plants and native-endemic plants —especially those with a mainly unknown entomofauna (the insects of an environment or region).
At the beginning of his investigation, the entomologist got in touch with the Atacama UC Station director, Pablo Osses, and the coordinator Constanza Vargas to organize a 3-day visit.
"It is an astonishing environment, obviously desert, but paying attention, you discover a biodiversity particularly adapted to that relative drought (fog), both flora and insects (birds and reptiles were also observed)," comments Amouroux.
Although one of the species that caught his attention was the mimic sand grasshopper, he could not find scales during his station tour.
"However, it was a relevant experience to have a new look at this desert area in northern Chile and sharpen my eyes to detect vegetation and insects," emphasizes the expert.
A different experience would his visit to the Patagonia Interdisciplinary Research Station be, where the opportunity presented to develop a new project on arthropods of the Exploradores Valley.
It was funded for two years and entitled "Arthropods of Bahía Exploradores (Chile: Aysén): bioindicators of past human activities and future changes sentinels. First step: Biodiversity inventory".
It generated a robust network of interdisciplinary work with entomologists from the National Museum of Natural History and the Entomology Institute of the Metropolitan University of Education Sciences.
The aim is to identify the biodiversity of the different habitats from Valle Exploradores, focusing on Lepidoptera (butterflies and moths), Coleoptera (beetles among others), Arachnida- Opiliones (harvesters or daddy-longlegs), and Terrestrial Crustacea (woodlice).
"This January will be the third expedition of this project, and we collect samples at the station in the company of Jorge Pérez-Schultheiss, curator of the Invertebrate area of the National Museum of Natural History. During this year, we hope to make a first publication on the progress of this research", anticipates the French expert.
Pablo Osses, President of the Atacama UC Field Station, considers that both doctoral and postdoctoral students are key research pieces.
"They are fundamental because of the level of knowledge they have, the long period handling their research, and because they can approach it with higher levels of complexity. This background allows us to achieve important findings and produce more factual knowledge," he says.
"When more postdocs are working, it is because an international network was previously built. A new postdoc finds research and worksite, but without a doubt, a good postdoc with the results associated with their disseminated work, can be a powerful promotional channel based on the value of the work of the stations", adds Osses.
The President of the Patagonia Station, Alejandro Salazar, agrees. Having foreign postdoctoral candidates contributes to national networks' formation, particularly on topics developed in related areas.
"What we are trying at the stations is to generate more interdisciplinary networks," he says.
"Postdoctoral students help at the station, developing and deepening particular topics. That is their main contribution. Through their independent research, they can investigate particular aspects, which they can deepen within their research projects and which are often related to other topics," Salazar adds.
Autonomous and innovative
The UC Office for Research Director, María Elena Boisier, comments that postdoctoral students "are a world of updated knowledge that comes from universities, not only from Chile but from different parts of the world."
"This new learning is accompanied by a great motivation to apply knowledge in the field and to discover new environments and contexts. It is there, where the Network of UC Regional Centers and Stations is an interesting platform for both Chileans and foreigners to adapt their knowledge to the diversity present in Chile, which is also representative of the world's natural and social ecosystems".
The Atacama UC Station President emphasizes the large presence of doctoral students, researchers from other universities, and postdocs who seek to work on specific subjects at the station.
"It has happened to us with lichens, and it is happening in this case with Paul. Given the ecosystem and exclusive value of Patache as a work area, significant findings are produced. Given the potential of the territory and the researcher capacity, they manage to consolidate results and the introduction into the scientific community of that result," says Osses.
"The value of Paul is that he was able to deepen his research, open new lines that were not present at the station in the past months nor in its origins. He has been able to develop and invite other researchers from Chile to participate in his research. He has used the opportunities that the field station has; and to generate and expand its research networks, with the support of the Patagonia Station," concludes Alejandro Salazar.
*This article first appeared on the UC Office of Research site.