Brandon Li ’19 has published a field guide to fresh water fishes of Amazonian Ecuador through the Chicago Field Museum. In Fishes of the Nangaritza River: Cordillera del Cóndor, Ecuador
, Li provides scientific identifications for nine species of fish that make their homes the Nangaritza River. This section of the river, which forms part of the border between Ecuador and Peru, was a war zone and understudied by scientists.
According to Science Master John Clark, there are only three such field guides currently available for Amazonia Ecuador. “Brandon’s contribution will play an important role in ongoing research for current and future generations of ichthyologists,” Clark explained.
The Fifth Former did his research while on Lawrenceville biodiversity research expedition, led Clark, last spring. The purpose of the trip was to explore plant diversity, but Li studied the fish as well. It was his second time accompanying Clark on a Lawrenceville biodiversity trip to this area.
“Brandon expressed an interest in developing a research project during the 2018 Lawrenceville in Ecuador Program that would combine his passion for ichthyology, BioBlitz, and biodiversity,” said Clark. “We came up with the idea to develop a photographic field guide of fishes of the Rio Nangaritza.”
Li’s goal was simple: catch, photograph, and release as many species of fish as possible. “I didn’t have a clear idea of exactly of what I might catch. I didn’t know what to expect,” he said. Li used different lures and varied his fishing locations and times of day in an effort to diversify his catch.
He took between 300-400 photos of his captures “fins, scales, all of the necessary things needed to identify a fish. It was a long process going through the images to figure out what it was that I caught and why it might be significant,” he explained.
Some of the answers came during a summer internship at the Academy of Natural Sciences
at Drexel University (Philadelphia) last summer, working in the museum’s Ichthyology Department
. There he helped curate the collection, digitally dissecting specimens using CT scans and software. “It was a great experience to be immersed in stuff that I’m so passionate about,” he noted. He consulted with different scientists – some of whom had differing opinions on exactly what Li might have found. The Fifth Former also looked for answers in scientific literature, checking out old museum collections and specimens.
It took roughly four months from submission to publication for the guide. “I was relieved when I found out it was published,” Li admitted. “A lot of the identifications were stressful and this was now one thing less I had to worry about. But, overall, it was a lot of fun.”
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