The RAP team unloads a helicopter to their field site in Coppename, Suriname.
During RAP or another typical species survey, scientists spend three-to-four weeks deep in remote forests, river systems, coral reefs or other wild places, looking for species. The logistics required to plan such trips often takes as much planning and work as the expedition itself.
When possible, scientists enter the field using boats, jeeps, helicopters and small aircraft when available and affordable. Most often, access is gained only by hiking through dense vegetation and across roaring rivers. The RAP team surveying in the Foja Mountains of Papua, Indonesia (November 2008) faced constant torrential rains, repeatedly crossed streams at flood tide, and constantly worked in wet clothes. It’s tough work reaching the places where undescribed species are found, but well worth the effort to these scientists whose dream is to discover and document all life on Earth.
The majority of undescribed species likely are to be found among microscopic organisms such as bacteria and protozoa. However, there are still many millions of larger species yet to be described. CI’s work focuses on these larger groups and usually include surveys of plants (mostly vascular plants), mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians, and a variety of insect groups, including ants, orthoptera (grasshoppers, crickets and katydids), butterflies, dragonflies, termites, and dung beetles.
Among insects, there are many groups that will undoubtedly yield many species new to science, but there are few expert scientists who can identify them as such. Again, taxonomic expertise is vital to RAPs success.