Researching the effectiveness of herpetological survey techniques

When: July – August 2015

Where: Manu Learning Centre, Peru

What: A student led expedition which set out to determine the difference in effectiveness between herpetological survey techniques in regenerating rainforest.

Who: Students from the University of Exeter and Falmouth University.

Status: Completed (Download Expedition Report)


We set out to investigate the effectiveness of a variety of herpetological survey techniques in measuring species abundance and richness, within an area of regenerating partially cleared rainforest surrounding the Manu Learning Centre (MLC). The MLC is a research station based in a section of regenerating forest within the buffer zone of Manu Biosphere Reserve in the Peruvian Amazon. The rainforest surrounding the centre has been recovering from agricultural use for 50 years in some areas and appears to have recovered well, with over 100 species of reptiles and amphibians recorded, compared to the 287 species of reptiles and amphibians recorded in Manu itself.

Four different survey techniques were used, Visual Encounter Surveys (VES), Off transect VES (OVES), Pitfall Traps (PT) and Leaf Litter Plots (LLP). To assess the effectiveness of rapid assessment surveys in relation to long-term survey systems, we compared the recorded species and abundance between rapid assessment techniques (OVES and LLP), and long-term systems, (VES and PT). During our time at the MLC, we carried out over 500 surveys, both nocturnal and diurnal, which we used to assess the effectiveness of rapid assessment techniques.


Globally, amphibian and reptile, or herptile, populations are in severe decline as a result of numerous pressures, including climate change, habitat loss and disease [1]. Additionally, many threatened habitats that represent potential hotspots for herptile biodiversity remain unexplored by scientists [2]. Thus, a key challenge for conservation is to develop survey techniques to rapidly assess herptile diversity, and so identify priority habitats for protection. Despite pressing need, there is limited data to determine the effectiveness of rapid herptile surveying methods [3]. We carried out this expedition to determine which herpetological survey methods are most effective at sampling biodiversity during short term censuses.


Manu Learning Centre, Peru

13° 18′ S, 71° 35’W,


  • To see if different methods are more effective at collecting data for the abundance of different herptiles.
  • To see if different methods are more effective at collecting data for biodiversity of a given area.
  • To develop a continuous project that can be established after this expedition with CREES and FXpeditions
  • To increase public understanding of reptile and amphibians and their importance

Mission Manu 2015


There is currently very limited research into the effectiveness of rapid assessment techniques for measuring herptile abundance and biodiversity.

We found no significant difference in the effectiveness of rapid assessment surveys in partially cleared regenerating forest, when compared to established survey efforts. There was no significant difference in the number of individuals found for on and off transect VES, which suggests that the disruptive and time consuming method clearing transects for surveying herptile abundance is unnecessary, and that the quicker, less disruptive alternative of off transect VES is sufficient.

Similarly, VES using a quadrat for rapid assessment (via leaf litter sampling) produced similar biodiversity results to pre-constructed pitfall traps. Unsurprisingly, due to the nocturnal nature of the herptiles being studied, we found transect VES samples at night produced significantly more samples than during the day.

Overall, we found that rapid assessment surveys could be used in lieu of long term techniques. This could provide rainforest researchers much greater scope in where they can survey and how much area they can cover. This in turn will allow more data to be gathered on herptiles, and thus improve current data sets and knowledge. With 41% of all known amphibian species being classified as endangered, with many more being data deficient, the need for additional is essential for effective future conservation. The use of rapid biodiversity surveys is paramount in enabling the development of knowledge for such species.

Download the full Expedition Report here

Mission Manu 2015



Meet the Expedition Team

Lucy Twitcher: Team Leader (Zoology BSc)

Owen Greenwood: Scienific Director (Climate Change MRes)

Becca Turley: Logistics Manager (Animal Behaviour BSc)

Maria Watson: Fundraising Officer (Zoology Bsc)

Georgia Bardua: Kit Manager (Zoology BSc)

Dan Cottey-Hill: Health & Safety Officer (Geography Bsc)

Tom Clazie Flynn: Social Media Manager (Marine & Natural History Photography BA)

Lewis Gillingham: Director of Media (Marine & Natural History Photography BA)

Ana Lucia Castillo: Research Assistant

Daniel Tasayco: Research Assistant


Fxpeditions Society


Manu Learning Centre

Manu Learning Centre - Mission Manu 2015 - Lewis Gillingham

Manu Learning Centre (by Lewis Gillingham)


Total costs: £17,313.11

Included training, travel, accommodation, equipment and insurance

Total Income: £17,313.11

£6750 from grants
£900 from sponsors
£1663.11 from fundraising
£8000 from personal contributions of team members


University of Exeter Scientific Expedition and Les Halpin Expedition Fund,
Royal Geographical Society
Gilchrist Trust
Anglo Peruvian Society


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