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29th March – Good bye to Freddy our car

Today we had to say goodbye to Freddy, our lovely and most faithful car. We are finally back in Lima!

 

The day passed sorting things out, and clearing and cleaning Freddy. Presses went back to the Museum’s store room, specimens into our preparation area, and so on. Most importantly, Paul re-united with his family – his 2 year old daughter Fabiana was full of smiles! In the evening we all went for a nice cake and ice cream to celebrate our safe homecoming.

 

 

30th March – Digitalising field notes

I have been typing our field notes bit by bit into our database. I started the job whilst we were in Arequipa. Yesterday I used the long drive to type some more in the car. Today I have spent all day doing this, and now as the typing has finished I am focusing on preparing herbarium labels. Our database software has a great interface for designing your labels – but you need to do some technical stuff to get the labels look perfect. It is pretty much like programming language, that is how it feels. Quite nice, very nice balance after all the field work.

 

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Once the label design is correct, the labels need to be proof read. It is good to make sure they look perfect – they will remain with the specimens for years to come!! Sandy sent us acid free paper from UK, so that we can print the labels properly. For long term storage, it is important to use acid free paper. These specimens are going to be five star top quality!

 

 

2nd April – Applying for an export permit

Our labels are ready now! We printed them out, and then cut them neatly.

 

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I sorted the labels into numeric order and then off we went to the herbarium to put them with the specimens! It felt great, we were very excited seeing the specimens all ready to be mounted and processed into the museum.

 

We had a small party to celebrate us finishing. Lemon pie and passion fruit limonade, yum yum! Here is the crew of the San Marcos herbarium, you can see the beautiful garden just outside:

 

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Celebrations were also due as we handed in our export permit application this morning. We had prepared all the documents, and the museum’s secretary at the San Marcos herbarium had helped us to prepare another document necessary for the application. All that hard work paid off, and now we are just waiting to hear back from the Environmental Ministry.

 

 

3rd-4th April – Back in the herbarium with plants

Time to catch up with herbarium work. With all our experience now from our field trip, it is great to be back in the herbarium identifying specimens, and studying the material with more time in our hands.

 

Lima has two other herbaria in the Universidad Nacional Agraria Lamolina (MOL). We visited one of these herbaria today, the Weberbauer herbarium. The collection is rich in types, as many taxonomists used Weberbauer’s high quality specimens to describe new species. Unfortunately, the top duplicates used for describing these species were deposited in Berlin. These duplicates were destroyed during the Second World War, and now the remaining duplicates, many of which are in the Weberbauer herbarium in Lima, are extremely important. If they exist, they can be used to lectotypify the names for which types have been destroyed.

 

I needed to search through the material to find if some duplicates of Solanum sandianum or Solanum planifurcum might exist. I managed to find three specimens which are types of Solanum names, but none of them were the ones I was after. Good job done though, now these specimens can be scanned and put online for other taxonomists to use.

 

Here we are in the midst of annotating and databasing the material, with Professora Vilcapoma in the background.

 

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5th April – Beautiful Lima

It is officially Semana Santa! The museum is closed today, and we are taking some time off to explore the city.

 

Lima is going through a heat wave. Generally in late March Lima is foggy. The fog enters from the Pacific, and takes over the city. With fog, there is less sun and the atmosphere in the city is cold, humid and dim. This year, however, the fog has not arrived yet despite it being April already. Instead, it is +35 degrees celcius every day, full sun shine.

 

We took a walk on the beach to touch the Pacific. Emilio Perales, a junior lecturer from the forestry department of the Universidad Nacional Agraria Lamolina, joined us on our walk – and got into a water war with Andrew!

 

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Emilio explained to us how the local public transport system works. Lima’s famous micros are mindboggling to most tourists. Busses do not have numbers or routes, but instead, they are colour coded. The bus system is not that official even – it seems bus lines are just born out of necessity, rather than planned by the council. Anybody can become a bus driver as well, there is no licence involved.

 

Here are examples of the bus lines: the blue white line:

 

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These busses go from Avenida Arequipa through the Ovalo in Miraflores to Chorrillos via Barranco. It’s a great bus as it takes the more scenic route through Larcomar along the coast.

 

Another one is the red white bus that comes to Chorillos too, but it takes a different route throught Avenida Tacna.

 

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Then there are the more complex bus lines, like the green bus with black roof, two green stripes, one white stripe, and red at the bottom. Who knows where it goes …

 

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The yellow white bus comes to Chorrillos through Abancay

 

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I wish there would be a guide to these busses, but there isn’t. You just have to learn them as you go. It is quite an anarchistic public transport system. The bus drivers are not licensed either. I suppose you wake up one morning, decide to become a bus driver, hackle for a bus, buy it cheap, and paint it (this is the important part!). The next most important thing you need to become a successful bus line is a fierce assistant. We call these assistants bus pimps. The assistant’s job is to shout the route aloud from the moving bus, by hanging from the open bus door and by making as much noice and hand waving as you possibly can. If you accidentally make an eye contact with the bus pimps, you will quickly find yourself inside a bus on a route to somewhere – they are very keen on getting more customers!

 

Once you’ve got your head around the general system, you are off. The busses drive extremely arrogantly, which means you get to your destination fast.

 

People don’t believe me about the colour code when I try to explain it to them, so I hope the blog will help to de-mystify the system to any confused tourists in Lima.

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I have just spent a week collecting samples of Brosimum alicastrum (Maya Nut) with colleague Tonya Lander in Panama. It was a bit scary at first as we were not sure that we would find it, or recognise it in the field. Although it is relatively common, tropical forests have a lot more different species of tree than you would find at home. It is not uncommon to find over 100 species of tree in a 100 m x 100 m patch of forest. Fortunately the leaves have quite distinctive venation (see below) and we were able to collect samples from most of the places that we went to.

 

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Tonya and I are documenting geographical patterns in the populations of this tree across Central and South America with the aim of making reforestation with this species sustainable. We were especially keen to collect samples from both the Caribbean and Pacific coasts as further north in Mexico there appear to be physical differences in the bark and branching between these coasts. This involved a lot of driving, over 1,500 km and at one site in the Pacific province of Los Santos, avoiding a large number of crocodiles that were basking on the river bank close to which our tree was growing. Although to be fair to them they seem a lot more scared of us than we were of them!

 

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The landscapes were just amazing in the Upper Wright Valley and sometimes we had time to just take some scenic images and close-ups of the rock formation.

 

 

Wind-eroded rocks and the Asgard Range in the background

 

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Part of this year's objectives was to sample cryoconite holes on the Upper Wright Glacier. They are vertical water-filled holes in the gaciers that are up to ca. 1 m in diameter and up to ca. 60 cm deep. At the bottom of these holes there is always a layer of sediment or small rocks, and many of these cryoconite holes have an ice lid. These cryoconite holes are formed by wind-blown dust and small rocks that melt into the ice. Some of our aims are to characterise the microorganisms living in these ice-entombed habitats and evaluate the relationships to microbial communities in other aquatic ecosystems in Antarctica.

 

 

Upper Wright Glacier and the large ice fall that is coming down from the polar plateau

 

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Stunning geological strata

 

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Hunting for croconite holes on Upper Wright Glacier

 

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Ian and Hannah are drilling into a cryoconite hole

 

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We arrived back at INBio and our dormitory last night, a little euphoric, very tired and having feasted at Taco Bell! Today we had a very interesting meeting with the Director of INBio, Carlos Hernández and later lunch with the vice rectors of the University of Costa Rica and the Universidad Estatal a Distancia (Costa Rica's and Latin Americas's biggest equivalent of the Open University) to talk about a training course Neil Brummit and I are giving tomorrow on Species Conservation Assessments.

 

This is Neil's main area of work and my role will be mainly to translate from English into Spanish. There has been a lot of interest and we will be working with participants from Costa Rica's Conservation Areas Network (including National Parks), INBio, the University of Costa Rica and the Universidad Estatal a Distancia.

 

We were finally able to make it back to the herbarium to try and identify some of the 'mystery' plants we had collected. Top of the list for being striking was the dark flowered epiphyte in the potatoe family:

 

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We were pretty sure it was in the genus Schultesianthus but could not remember ever having seen such a dark flowered species. Well, five minutes in the herbarium and we had located it! It is Schultesianthus crosbyanus, first collected in Panama in 1966, described in 1973 as in the genus Markea and moved to the genus Schultesianthus in 1995. Strangely, the only known locality for this species in Costa Rica was where we have just been collecting.

 

 

 

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Our last day in the mountains. Mixed emotions really. We have made some great collections, enjoyed each other’s company (I hope), learnt a lot, had great support from our porters and field team and have been very lucky with the weather. We are a bit tired though and beginning to lose some of our enthusiasm. I even caught myself not being amazed at seeing a Quetzal so it is probably time for us to head home.

 

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Oak forest at 8 in the morning, light streaming through the foliage

 

For me the highlight of the fieldtrip has been camping on top of one of the Cerros Tararias, almost certainly the first Europeans to have made it to the top of one of these 200 m high blocks of gneiss rock each with its mini paramó atop. Not only did we get the first plant collections from here but we also enjoyed spectacular views between Cerros Kamuk and Fábrega and down the valley of the Río Jet. A completely unexplored part of the Park and the focus of another trip should we get the funds.

 

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View of one of the Cerros Tararias and out across to the Río Jet valley

 

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Carlos ‘Leña’ and his son Josué. Carlos has been our guide and lead porter for much of our work in La Amistad Binational Park and has been a key player in our exploration of the Park.

 

It has also been a real privilege to be able to share some of what we have done and seen with visitors to the Museum as part of the Nature Live programme. For that a big thank you should go to Stephen Roberts and Jo Kessler from the Museum’s Nature Live team, Lee, Adam, Alex, Eddie, Ken and Tony from our Special Effects Department and Erica McAllister and Gavin Broad from our Entomology Department.

 

Also to Tom Simpson, who although was of course very lucky to come with us and whose feet in no way smell (no really they don’t), was incredibly professional and did everything possible to make sure that the live video links went well and answered as many of the questions on the schools blog as possible. Last but not least Jon from our Interactive Media team who has been assembling and editing this blog and to Grace from our Learning Programme who set up the events for schools.

 

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Tom uploading his blog from the base of the Cerros Tararias

 

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Our camp at the base of the Cerros Tararias

 

The plan today was to walk from our main camp at the Albuerge (see the map on Tom's blog) at 2,500 m to a smaller one, Casa Coca, at 1900 m so that tomorrow morning we can get back to the park entrance in good time for the eight hour drive back to San José. It was a beautiful sunny morning, the light streaming through the trees as we set off.

 

The plan was to interrupt our walk and sneak in a sample point half way, in the Pacific drainage. It was really amazing how dramatically the forest changed once we had crossed the main pide between the Caribbean and the much drier Pacific, the understory becoming more open and the canopy lower, possibly because of less rain and more wind?

 

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Holger at the Continental pide collecting a sneaky lichen from the back of the Park sign

 

Scientifically the trip has been a great success, Jo Wilbraham made about 340 moss collections, Holger Thues about 500 lichen collections and Daniel Santamaría (from Costa Rica), Neil Brummit and myself about 640 vascular plants collections.

 

I think that Holger has certainly been the most enthusiastic about his finds with new records not just for Costa Rica but the whole of Tropical America. We are quietly confident of having collected some new species but will need to wait until we get back to a herbarium to be sure. This highlights the importance of global reference collections, such as our own, to identifying new species.

 

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Jo with the bulk of our collections, bagged up and ready to be transported
to the INBio herbarium for drying, sorting and identification