IPBio - Biodiversity Research Institute

IPBio - Biodiversity Research Institute


The Biodiversity Research Institute (IPBio) is a place where research meets conservation. IPBio is a non-governmental, non-profit organization that develops and supports projects in environmental education and scientific research on biodiversity, ecology as well as on the behavior of species of fauna and flora of Brazilian ecosystems. In addition, IPBio’s mission is to encourage conservation, management and sustainable use of natural resources; and promote the development of eco-tourism and cultural projects.

We are located in the Atlantic Forest. With only 7% of its original extent remaining, placing it on the top 5 most endangered forests list, we are rapidly losing one of the world’s top biodiversity hotspots. Conservation is critical.

The work done in the Betary Reserve has received international recognition. In 2009, the reserve received accreditation as an advanced outpost of The Atlantic Forest Biosphere Reserve by UNESCO.



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Yes, I recommend this program

After finishing my bachelor’s degree in protection and management of nature, I wanted to take a year to discover the world and gain work experience on the field before doing a master’s degree in Ecology. I wanted to go somewhere drastically different to what I’ve been used to and Brazil seemed like an interesting destination especially in the Atlantic forest! I also wanted to meet people who shared my passion for nature. I’m glad I chose IPBio, it almost felt like a big family. I am grateful to have been part of it for some time! They have some very interesting projects running and it enabled me to learn a lot about the Atlantic forest and the species who inhabit it.

I particularly enjoyed the bird inventories. During these, we saw beautiful landscapes as well as amazing birds! The night walks looking for bioluminescent mushrooms were also amazing! Sometimes, the whole floor would be glowing with the mycelium, it looked a bit like the movie Avatar!

I definitely recommend bringing a camera. It can be useful during work hours for some inventories but above all, there are loads of landscapes, birds, insects, reptiles and amphibians to take pictures of!

In our spare time, we could go and swim in the river just behind the volunteer house which I also recommend especially after work on a hot day! The walk in to town is also nice, I got to see some cool animals including monkeys and the scenery is beautiful on the way in to town. There are loads of cool activities to do on weekends such as visiting cool caves with rivers running through them, amazing hikes and Boia Cross! For the boia cross, you basically just float down the river on a tire… It sounds weird but it’s amazing! You get to go down some rapids and also calm areas. The view is incredible. It’s really fun and can also be relaxing depending on which part of the river you’re on.

One of the things that makes this experience so amazing is the people you meet there. This kind of experience attracts similar types of people. I have met incredible people there during my stay and have made really close friends with which I intend to stay in contact.

What was your funniest moment?
We went on a boia cross at night in the rapids with nothing but the moon light to see! It was extremely fun doing it with the other volunteers who were great people!
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Yes, I recommend this program

I first heard about IPBio through a professor at Universidade Estadual de Campinas (UNICAMP) whose lab I had interned in the year previous. After graduating in mid-2019, I wanted to spend some time in Brazil working on a project in my field, ecology and evolution. The professor I knew at UNICAMP suggested I could create a new volunteer project at IPBio relating to bird-mediated seed dispersal. I did not know what to expect from IPBio because, to be honest, I did not watch the YouTube videos (you should definitely watch their YouTube videos!!). As a result, I went in a little blind and was incredibly impressed with the staff, the projects, the facilities, and the volunteer program as a whole. I quickly fell in love with the reserve from the moment I stepped on the rope bridge and saw Rio Betary, the river that curves around the reserve. I highly recommend going during summer, which is the rainy/warm season so you can take full advantage of the fact that there is a swimming spot a short two-minute walk from the house where you stay. The volunteer house has everything you need with a fully equipped kitchen, washer and dryer, nice bathrooms, and potentially your own private room (depending on the number of volunteers when you go). I would recommend bringing or buying Tupperware (they sell Tupperware in town), but other than that, the kitchen has everything you want (even a pressure cooker to make beans!). My situation was a little different than most of the volunteers since I spent most of my time designing a new project. Seeing how a project is built from the ground up gave me a deep appreciation for all the effort that goes into the design and execution of the volunteer projects at IPBio. I was especially appreciative of all the support I receive from the staff as well as the work environment that exists at the reserve where there is a constant exchange and flow of ideas. Although I thoroughly enjoyed every workday, I especially enjoyed the weekends when fellow volunteers and I would do fun activities like floating down the river (boia cross) or exploring caves or have a barbeque or even just walk to town. I would highly recommend exploring the nearby town, Iporanga and spending time there. The walk to town is 6 km (about an hour) but is really enjoyable if you take your time and look for wildlife along the way. While walking to town I saw monkeys, toucans, and tons of other cool birds, not to mention that the views are amazing. Volunteering with IPBio were some of the best three months of my life and I think a big factor in programs like these are the people you do it with. These volunteer programs attract likeminded people and the fellow volunteers I met from around the world made my experience one I am sure to not forget and will always treasure. I honestly hope to return to Reserva Betary one day and work with IPBio again.

What is your advice to future travelers on this program?
Learn a bit of Portuguese! The staff are amazing and not all of them speak English so to fully take advantage of your time in Brazil you should learn some basic phrases and go from there.
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Yes, I recommend this program

One of the best choices I have ever made was choosing to apply for IPBio. I had just finished my bachelors degree weeks before I left to work for IPBio as a bioluminescent mushroom researcher. I was greeted all along the way with friendly and helpful staff. Every concern of any volunteer was taken seriously. The staff themselves went above and beyond all expectations and they all became friends of mine shortly after my arrival. The diversity of programs at IPBbio with the diversity of people really built for good conversations. Not only did I get to dive in deep with mycology, but I also got to play a part in all of the projects.

It was interesting to see how all of the different parts of IPBio operate. I was incredibly happy with my role as the mushroom researcher. I got to be a part of mushrooming hikes looking for new species as well as working in a lab trying to grow them. Having the creativity to invent new substrate experiments was something I am most grateful for. I would keep up to date with current mycological information and review what previous researches had tried at IPBio. I saw my role as a puzzle. Overlooking what other people have done and then creating a new plan. At one point, some of the Mycena lucentipes logs in the fruiting chamber fruited for me and that was very exciting.

Over my time there, I had visited many parks and explored all of the caves in the guidebook. Let me tell you, every single one is worth it make sure you see them all. Imran even helps set up the activities outside of work hours. He truly goes above and beyond and I’m so grateful to have met him. I worked under Grant who is a mycology wizard. His identification skills are out of this world. He was an excellent resource and friend during my time at IPBio. Nina and Peter were the volunteer coordinators. They are super intelligent, incredibly funny, and all-around awesome people. The volunteer house where we stayed was clean and honestly hotel-like.

There is beautiful scenery everywhere. This placed turned into a home for me in my three months there. The people really made this experience incredible and I will forever be grateful for the life long relationships I have made from my time at IPBio. I was very excited for my IPBio trip and everything in person was even better than how it was outlined online, I could not be more pleased. This operation as a whole honestly deserves more than just five stars.

What would you improve about this program?
This program really went above and beyond for every single thing. I did not see anything that needed improvement and I know if there is something that can be improved it is already being tended to. The staff is incredible.
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Yes, I recommend this program

I really enjoyed my time volunteering at IPBio and thought that it was incredibly well organised. I was nervous because it was my first time volunteering abroad, but I was given so much useful information before I arrived (including detailed instructions of how to get there, what to bring etc) which was reassuring. During my time there, communication from the volunteer coordinator was also great as we had a morning meeting every day and he kept us updated on any ongoing news about the area.

The accommodation at the reserve is surprisingly nice, considering you're living in the middle of a rainforest! There are proper beds, with sheets provided and aircon or fans in the bedrooms. I shared a room with one other girl which was a really nice experience but I know some of the longer term volunteers also got their own rooms, which is definitely a luxury for volunteering experiences! There is a fully-equipped kitchen with lots of crockery and cutlery and two big fridges so plenty of space for food. It is nice to still be able to have some of the basic comforts from home available when volunteering and this place definitely goes above and beyond. The only thing to get used to is the regular creepy crawly visitors in the house and making sure you shut windows etc - though I must mention that there are mosquito nets across all of the windows which means you don't really need a mosquito net for your bed.

All of the other volunteers were really welcoming and friendly, despite the fact I arrived when they had all been volunteering together for a month or two. I felt like I was able to fit into the group after a couple of days quite easily and all of the staff helped to make you feel welcome and at home too. There is some really awesome research going on at IPBio and they have a wide variety of resources available and also seem keen to welcome volunteers' ideas regarding projects, which is really refreshing!

An obvious thing about staying at IPBio is how beautiful the setting is and how much cool wildlife you will see whilst you're there. I was super excited to see a number of different hummingbirds visiting the feeding stations at the reserve every day. There are always vultures flying around high above the reserve and mountains too, which is a great sight. I was a tad disappointed that I didn't see any monkeys but I was only there for 2 weeks in the end and the capuchin monkeys are pretty elusive and uncommon. I know some of the other volunteers had caught a glimpse though!

If you're happy to get hot, sweaty and a bit muddy whilst carrying out a variety of different surveys in the beautiful rainforest, and don't mind the occasional (or frequent!) mosquito bite, then I would highly recommend you volunteer here. It's has a great community spirit and allows you to learn a lot about the local area and wildlife. I think it also encourages you to come out of your shell and comfort zone, which gives you a great sense of achievement!

If you did this all over again, what's one thing you would change?
I would stay for much longer because I had to come home early due to COVID-19!
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Yes, I recommend this program

I loved my time in Brazil with IPBio, their volunteer program is very well-run and is located in a beautiful location. The reserve is absolutely gorgeous, with hummingbirds flying around at all times and a nice place to swim in the river right behind our house. The volunteer house has a fully equipped kitchen and even has air conditioning in each bedroom! I loved the work we did and thought it was awesome we got to help on every project they had going. Doing something different each day of the week kept it interesting and fun. There were also plenty of options for weekend activities, and the volunteer coordinator made it super easy to set up these adventures. We just had to let him know the week before and he would arrange the transportation and guides! I definitely recommend this program and suggest to anyone going to the Reserve to take full advantage of all the area has to offer and participate in the weekend outings!

What was the most surprising thing you saw or did?
We went into some awesome caves while we were there, but one of the craziest was an underwater cave where you had to hold onto a rope above your head (or swim!) just to stay above the water. The region also has a lot of opportunities for boia cross-floating down the river on tubes!-and I got to do it at night, guided by moonlight down the river in the middle of a tropical rainforest! Certainly some things I didn't expect to be able to do while I was there, but they were amazing!


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Alumni Interviews

These are in-depth Q&A sessions with verified alumni.

Why did you choose this program?

I chose this program for several key reasons. The projects seemed to be very varied and would allow me to experience collecting field data ranging from Bird Inventory to Mushroom Research. The location looked amazing as I would be living and working in the Mata Atlântica in Brazil which has been heavily deforested and is still under threat. There are hundreds of species of animals, plants, and mushrooms that are endemic to the forest only being found in this specific region. I also wanted to gain more experience working with international scientists on globally important research.

What did your program provider assist you with, and what did you have to organize on your own?

IPBio helped me with organizing my travel from my home country to the reserve as it is not the most straightforward of places to get to given its more remote location. They also advised me on where to stay in São Paulo and what to bring with me.

The volunteer coordinators at the reserve were incredibly supportive both before arrival and whilst we were staying. They also helped us organize our weekend trips and involved us in local community activities. Aside from this, my university helped me plan my trip financially. Everything else such as getting the right vaccinations, I organized alone which was pretty simple.

What is one piece of advice you'd give to someone going on your program?

I would say to make the most of your time away! Plan and budget for your evenings and weekend trips – Brazil is a huge country with so much to offer so you should explore as much as possible. I wish I had visited so many more places in Brazil and added a couple of weeks to my trip at the end (but that just means I will organize a future trip back there!). You need to be aware that it takes a lot of time to travel between destinations in the country given such large distances.

What does an average day/week look like as a participant of this program?

An average day is usually split between a morning and afternoon activity. We have a meeting every morning at 9 AM to go through the plan for the day and discuss any questions/issues people have. Then we would all participate in a project such as tree inventory, bird inventory, mushroom inventory, habitat monitoring, camera trap footage reviewing (OBBIO), or another assigned project.

Some people had roles that were more lab focused such as working with frogs or working with mushrooms. We would have usually around an hour for lunch which was pretty flexible, and then typically a different afternoon activity. The evenings and weekends are free so we would have dinners planned, movie nights, trips to town, cave visits, boia cross, and lots of other activities!

Going into your experience abroad, what was your biggest fear, and how did you overcome it? How did your views on the issue change?

My biggest fear was that I would struggle with the language and that it would negatively affect my experience. I found that people were very willing to try to talk to me and encouraged me even though I struggled speaking Portuguese. People would go out of their way to communicate with me, and I made some great friends with the other volunteers (from a range of countries), the staff and the local people, which helped me to feel like an extended part of the community.

Should you go to the reserve?

YES! 100%. You shouldn't be scared of travelling alone to a country where you might not speak the language. I didn't have any experience that made me uncomfortable or regret my decision to come to Brazil. My stay in São Paulo was great, the intra-country travel was a lot easier than I expected, the project work was varied and interesting, and the people were so welcoming! I would highly recommend this project to anyone! I had an amazing time and enjoyed every minute of my experience at IPBio.

Staff Interviews

These are in-depth Q&A sessions with program leaders.

Ana Glaucia Martins

Job Title
Manager of IPBio
Ana Glaucia gained a undergraduate degree in Biology in 2006 and post-graduate specialization in Conservation and Management of Fauna in 2011. She began to work at IPBio in 2007 as a research assistant and as of 2014 she became the manager.

What is your favorite travel memory?

I am privileged to have been born in Iporanga, where IPBio is located, as it is situated in an area with such wonderful places to visit. Iporanga is known as the Cave Capital of Brazil and is located in the most preserved area of Atlantic Forest. There are various hikes to do, waterfalls to see and wildlife to watch but my favorite travel memory is from a cave called “Casa da Pedra”. This is located 30 minutes from Iporangas town center and is the largest cave opening in the world stretching approximately 215 meters. I remember visiting it when I was just child and being so impressed by its size. I have visited the cave many times since then but it always seems to amaze me.

How have you changed/grown since working for your current company?

I believe I have grown a lot since joining IPBio in 2007. I initially worked as a research assistant, then became the head biologist and now manage the Institute. Since then I have not only gained experience in my own field but developed other skills in management, finance, project development and various other areas. IPBio gave me the space and opportunity to discover new talents and find new interests in areas outside of biology which I am grateful for.

If you could go on any program that your company offers, which one would you choose and why?

Personally I would choose the “Research Assistant” role. I believe that this role is the most interesting as it is designed so that people with or without scientific degrees can participate in research. Many people, not only biologists, are interested in biology and it is important for the lay public to understand how conservation works on the ground. Additionally, this program is varied as you assist all ongoing research so the volunteer becomes familiar with wide range of activities such as: setting up camera traps to photograph mammals; visiting pitfalls to monitor frogs; working in the lab to study mushrooms; conducting inventories of tree species on the reserve etc.

Going into your experience abroad, what was your biggest fear, and how did you overcome it? How did your views on the issue change?

I believe what makes IPBio unique is the fact that the founder decided to only hire local biologists. This was a conscious decision in order to develop the talents and harness the interest and knowledge of people who live on the front lines of the forest. This gave opportunities to local biologists who would have to relocate to urban areas to follow their passion of working for a reputable research center. Moreover, as the biologists are locals it has connected the research centers aims to the community and rose awareness about environmental concerns and the importance of conservation.

What do you believe to be the biggest factor in being a successful company?

IPBio's success can be attributed to its diversification. IPBio has managed to combine research, tourism and education in a self-reinforcing manner. Although research is our focus, realizing that people are fascinated by nature, IPBio developed educational tours through public visitation to our reserve as well as receiving school trips. IPBio understood that people are not only interested by nature but also by the scientific method which is key developing future generations who understand and care about the environment.