History of the Khao Chong Insect Laboratory

In 2000 the Royal Forest Department and the Center for Tropical Forest Science-Arnold Arboretum (CTFS-AA, now ForestGEO) started a 16-ha (later 24-ha) plot in Khao Chong. Local support, access, and facilities all made it a wonderful place to work in this seasonally dry evergreen forests of Peninsular Thailand. At that time, Stuart Davies, CTFS-ForestGEO Director, was collaborating with Naomi E. Pierce from Harvard University and proposed Khao Chong as a place for science and training. A Harvard undergraduate, Alex Waters, worked on phenology at Khao Chong from about 2001. David J. Lohman, a graduate student in the Pierce lab at that time, was very keen to be involved, given his work in other parts of Thailand. In 2004, David received a CTFS-AA grant for insect work in Khao Chong. David, with Naomi and Stuart, applied successfully for a Harvard University Center for the Environment grant. CTFS-AA continued support for some work at the lab after this. In 2005, David participated to the CTFS-AA field training course (led by Rhett Harrison) in Khao Chong. David got his first research permit to work in Khao Chong in 2004-2005 and officially started the Khao Chong Insect Laboratory in 2005. Naomi also got a small grant from the Museum of Comparative Zoology at Harvard University to support some initial insect sampling at Khao Chong, involving Rod Eastwood in the project.  

David moved to Khao Chong late 2005 and stayed until the following July. When a postdoc at the National University of Singapore (2006-2009), he returned to Khao Chong almost every month. Sarayudh Bunyavejchewin (Principal Investigator of the Khao Chong Forest Dynamics Plot), Chaweewan Hutatcharern, and Watana Sakchoowong were instrumental in getting all of the needed permissions for the Insect Laboratory to start at Khao Chong. After the initial funding for the lab ran out, Stuart Davies supported the lab and paid the staff salaries with CTFS funds. David Lohman first employed Pitoon Kongnoo, then Pornpot Onkong and Jackawarn Arporn at the Khao Chong laboratory. Jennifer Imamura was also a Fulbright Scholar that first year. Mike Sharkey set up some Malaise traps at Khao Chong that David routinely emptied for him. Mike later named a species of braconid wasp from Khao Chong after David, Chimaeragathis lohmani

In 2009, David took the position of Assistant Professor at the City College of New York. Prior to this, a meeting was organized at Khao Chong to reorganize the lab, with Stuart Davis, David Lohman, Naomi Pierce, Sarayudh Bunyavejchewin, Rod Eastwood, and Yves Basset. It was decided that the Insect Laboratory would continue its butterfly monitoring and light trapping activities and expand them to other taxa, in line with the newly created ForestGEO Arthropod Initiative (named CTFS Arthropod Initiative at the time) in Panama, led by Yves Basset and supported by ForestGEO funds. Rod Eastwood, supported by CTFS, organized the lab from 2008 to 2012, shaping the insect collection, training the assistants, and coordinating insect protocols. Rod helped producing research posters. Yves then took over, with short annual visits to the Khao Chong Insect lab. 

During this reorganization period, Rod and Yves were critically helped by the Thai counterparts of the project, Sarayudh Bunyavejchewin, Somboon Kiratiprayoon, and Watana Sakchoowong, who also trained the asssistants, especially in Pselaphinae taxaonomy. Nantachai Pongpattananurak eventually joined as the Thai PI of the project. Pitoon Kongnoo continued as head of the laboratory until his departure in 2016 at the Xishuangbanna Botanical Gardens in China, to enroll for MSc and PhD programs. He was succeeded by Montarika Promchaisri, who is currently leading the lab. Early assistants at the Insect lab were Thana Thongrod and Manus Launkaew, soon to be joined by Wannapa Somboonsang, Thasanai Thongrod, Sutipun Putnaul, Sontaya Promchaisri, Kanyakarn Sripila, Somkiat Rattanasin, Werachai Pankchal, Hassanai Kaewyod, Phiengruthai Suwanbandit, and more recently Jirasak Jaroenwong and Nantakan Duangwang (for current lab staff see the tab team). 

In 2010, the location of the laboratory itself moved from deep into the Khao Chong Botanical Gardens to a larger space in the “Green House”, closer to the Gardens’ main entrance. The original lab was later destroyed when a tree fell on it. Over the years Janya Jarernrattawong and Preecha Puttarak (Khao Chong Botanical Gardens) have helped a lot the Insect Laboratory at Khao Chong, which is supervised day by day by Sarayudh Bunyavejchewin. A number of volunteers have helped the Insect Lab since its inception and are thanked here: 

Elizabeth Raine, Greg Watson, Rachel Wagley, Thomas Dawes, Magnus Rowbotham, Tim Treuer, Benita Laird-Hopkins, Sol Milne, Nicholas Tew, Douglas Yanega, Sun Yi, Chris Dahl. 

Many of the specimens from the early years of the Insect Lab have been deposited in the Forest Insects Museum at the Department of National Parks, Wildlife and Plant Conservation in Bangkok. 

Publications related to the early years of the Khao Chong Insect Laboratory

Eastwood, R., P. Kongnoo, and M. Reinkaw. 2010. Collecting and eating Liphyra brassolis (Lepidoptera: Lycaenidae) in southern Thailand. Journal of Research on the Lepidoptera, 43,19-22.