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Research in the Rainforest

Research in the Rainforest

Isadora Coelho, a graduate student in the Department of Biological Sciences, recently traveled to Brazil’s rainforest to research slime molds.

Isadora carried out a research project at the Recife Botanical Garden, located in the state of Pernambuco in northeastern Brazil. Her objective was to expand what is known about the taxonomy and ecology of slime molds in neotropical rainforests, particularly those located in the “Mata do Curado” Conservation Unit of the Atlantic Forest.

Isadora Coelho researches slime molds in northeastern Brazil. | Courtesy Isadora Coelho

Isadora Coelho finds slime molds in northeastern Brazil. | Courtesy Isadora Coelho

Isadora, a native of Brazil, has been working in the Amazon rainforest with a goal to identify specific associations between a group of slime molds known as myxomycetes and their preferred microhabitats, such as soil, leaf litter and tree bark.

Slime molds are not plants or animals but they share the characteristics of both. They feed on the microorganisms associated with dead plant material, especially bacteria and fungi, and they play an important role in vital ecosystem processes such as nutrient cycling.

“The Atlantic Forest is the most devastated Brazilian ecosystem, hence the importance of scientific research in those areas,” Isadora said. “To explore its diversity is undoubtedly the first step towards its management and conservation.”

Isadora’s field research was supported by a grant from the botanical garden. While she was there, she presented a public lecture, “The fascinating unseen world of slime molds,” to visitors, interns and staff at the botanical garden as well as a number of undergraduate and graduate biology students and university faculty members.

The lecture was part of a series titled “Environmental Talks.” These lectures represent an opportunity for guest speakers of the botanical garden to interact with the general public, discussing topics related to the environment, nature and biology.

Collecting slime molds from a dead tree. | Courtesy Isadora Coelho

Collecting slime molds from a dead tree. | Courtesy Isadora Coelho

Isadora is writing her dissertation under the direction of Steve Stephenson, a research professor in biological sciences at the U of A and one of the world’s leading experts in the field of slime mold research.

The U of A holds the largest collection of slime molds in the United States, with roughly 40,000 specimens kept in Stephenson’s lab.

About The Author

Chris Branam writes about research and economic development at the University of Arkansas. His beats include the Arkansas Research and Technology Park, the Department of Biological Sciences and the Department of History.

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