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Deep in the Jungle
By Karen Fanning

Eve (right) and two rangers from a Brazilian reserve look out over a field attempting to spot sloths. They were looking for white tufts of hair sticking out like cotton, she said.

Photo Courtesy Eve Nilson

Last year, California teenager Eve Nilson spent her summer vacation as a field biologist—in one of the most threatened rain forests in the world. Eve studied the frogs of Brazil under the starry skies of the Mata Atlantica rain forest, while living in a small hut on the edge of the forest.

"I worked from 9 p.m. to midnight," says the 16-year-old from Carmel Valley. "I was scared the first couple of times I went into the forest alone because that's when the jaguars are out and hunting. You hear all these strange sounds, and it's completely dark. You can't shine your flashlight everywhere at once, so you don't know what's around you."

Next summer, Eve will return to Brazil for two months to study capuchin monkeys in Bahia, Brazil. Bahia is another region of the Mata Atlantica rain forest. She will be working with Dr. Cecilia Kierluff as part of a study conducted by Conservation International.

But before long, Eve grew fond of the jungle's nightly symphony. She never, however, shook her fear of the poachers, or hunters who illegally stalk and kill animals. Eve worried they might mistake her for a jaguar or a wild pig, but that didn't stop her from doing her job.

Because frogs are nocturnal, or mostly active at night, Eve would set out into the jungle shortly after nightfall. Armed with a flashlight, a camera, a net, a tape recorder, and a notebook, twice a week she hiked to two research sites: a pond in a meadow and a pond in the dark forest.

Eve Nilson holds a smooth-horned frog in her hand.

Photo Courtesy Eve Nilson

Once there, Eve flashed her light across water, searching for pairs of green frog eyes. When she shut her light off, the frogs would break into a chorus of low and high-pitched croaks. She listened carefully, jotting down notes about the different types of frog calls she heard. At times, she would catch frogs with her net and photograph them before releasing them back into the pond.

"I was trying to get a grasp of what species were there," says Eve, who avoided hungry mosquitoes and poisonous spiders by dressing in long-sleeved shirts and pants. "I would record the sounds for several minutes and write down how many I would guess to be in the pond."

In all, Eve counted a total of 23 individual frogs, which ranged in size from a quarter to a palm. She identified eight species, including the Porto Alegre Golden-Eyed Treefrog, the Gunther's Smooth-Horned Frog, and the Spix's Saddleback Toad. This summer, scientists will duplicate Eve's study and use her research results to determine whether the forest's frog population has increased or decreased.

Eve is hopeful her research will help the many scientists fighting to save the Mata Atlantica, which is home to 8,567 species of plants and animals. Deforestation, or the cutting down of trees, has destroyed more than 90 percent of the jungle's original 5.3 million square miles.

"It is my dream to dedicate my life to rain-forest conservation, and I hope in some way my research will contribute to the preservation of the Mata Atlantica," Eve told Scholastic News Zone.