Maharaj studied butterflies with Bourne in her home country, Guyana, before joining the biology associate professor’s UMSL lab in 2012. In that time she has made steady progress and is now a third-year doctoral candidate in biology.
This past summer she returned to Guyana for a two-month stint to continue her research on butterflies. Her trip and fieldwork were funded by a research grant from The Rufford Foundation, a charity based in London, which gives out small grants for nature conservation projects in the developing world. She received a little over $8,000.
“The grant is earmarked for conservation-based research in developing countries, so working in Guyana perfectly fits the bill,” she said.
During her field research this summer, Maharaj investigated the foraging habitats and flower preferences of three species of butterfly. She specifically focused her research around Lantana camara, a species of tropical flowering plant.
“The information gathered from this project will provide baseline information for habitat conservation and restoration efforts,” she said.
Bourne said based on Maharaj’s findings an experimental garden will be established.
“Based on the success of this demonstration garden Priya hopes that its replication on a larger scale in degraded forestlands will mitigate butterfly species erosion throughout the Neotropics,” Bourne said.
Maharaj conducted her fieldwork this summer at CEIBA Biological Center, located in a rainforest near Georgetown the capital of Guyana. That’s where she collaborated with Bourne on several projects, prior to her coming to UMSL. Bourne is the co-founder and executive director of the center, which is linked to UMSL through a formal memorandum of understanding with the Whitney R. Harris World Ecology Center.