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Tropical botany researcher

23 Posts tagged with the botany tag
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One of the great things about doing fieldwork is that in addition to the focus of your visit you get to learn and see many new things. Currently I have been in Bolivia as part of a Darwin Initiative project to promote sustainable Inga based agroforest techniques with local farmers, so being in the Amazon forest, this is probably more so.

 

While introducing ourselves to one of collaborating community, Motucusal, in a cleared area of forest that serves as their meeting room we noticed a really strange phenomenon that none of us, including our hosts, had seen before. It was a small swarm of ants swirling around a small group of their own in a clockwise direction at speed (see the film below).

 

At first we thought that they could be protecting an entrance hole to their nest, or invading somebody else's nest, but on disturbing them there was no hole and they returned to what they were doing straight away. So, as far this botanist goes, it's still a complete mystery.

 

 

 

Swirling ants

 

Completely by chance the next day, visiting the community of Palacios we several swarms of tadpoles in a large lake by their village. Again it is not really clear what they are doing but it looked as if they were skimming the surface, maybe for food?

 

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A swarm of tadpoles in a lake at Palacios

 

And below is another phenomenon well known for the Amazon, white and black water rivers. Black water rivers are those where all of the water is derived from the Amazon basin itself, the water aquiring a dark tea-like colouration as a consequence of the tannins it absorbs as it filters through the leaf-litter. In a way the Amazon is a bit like am enormous tea-making facility! White water is rich in sediment derived from the weathering of the Andes and is an opaque white-coffee to orange-brown colour. This phenomenon means that wherever you are you can tell whether a river derives solely from the Amazon basin or whether it also includes water from the Andes, an incredibly powerful but simple tool for any biogeographer (which I am not). Below you can see what happens where the two mix, over several hundred metres to kilometres you get two parallel streams of dark and white water which mix very slowly. The slowness in mixing is in part because each water is at a different temperature: white water reflects more energy from the sun whilst black water absorbs it.

 

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Mixing of white and black water rivers at the head of the Orthon river

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When I joined Kew on secondment as a botanist last year I hadn't really expected to be negotiating the sourcing and planting of ca. 25,000 tree seedlings in the Bolivian Amazon. Many possibilities went through my mind, but not that one. That is what makes being a botanist so much fun! Contrary to the stereotype, you never know where your knowledge and contacts will lead you next.

 

Terry Pennington, Bente Klitgaard and myself are now in the Bolivian Amazon as part of a Kew Garden's Darwin Initiative project to reduce pressure on the incredibly biodiverse forests of the Bolivian Amazon, amongst the richest in Amazonia.

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The opening of new roads - an initiative by the Bolivian Government to give land to the landless rural poor of the Andes - and pressure on the land from Brazil are important threats to the future of much of the forest. Devising approaches to agriculture and forest use, and raising awareness of the economic and ecological value of these forests are tools that can reduce and mitigate some of these threats.

 

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View from the air of the Cobija area of the Bolivian Amazon.

 

As part of this aim we plan to introduce a very old but largely abandoned type of agroforest farming based on a group of trees in the bean family known as Inga. These trees grow very quickly (3m in the first year) and are able to tolerate very damaged and degraded soils such as those found in cattle farms or abandoned soya or pineapple plantations. These forms of farming are very profitable in the short-term but soon exhaust the ancient soils often found in the tropics and on which the tropical forest grows.

 

The result is that a farmer or agribusiness needs to clear forest on a regular basis to maintain an economic yield and leaves degraded pasture, a kind of grassy desert, in its wake. What we are aiming to do is provide a technique whereby farmers can restore this exhausted land to productivity, for growing food, fruit trees, cash crops, timber or even fodder and at the same time obtain a plentiful supply of fuelwood for cooking. This is known as Inga agroforest.

 

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Left: A two-year old Inga tree near Cobija. Right: Inga fruit with seeds below (click images to see them full size)
Inga has a pod within which are seeds (green) covered in a white, fluffy, very sweet and juicy flesh. The tree is commonly grown for its fruit but also has tremendous potential for the restoration of degraded land in Latin America, as it is very fast growing and tolerant of damaged soils.

 

The Inga agroforest approach involves planting dense alleys of Inga seedlings spaced several metres apart and letting them grow for 2 years, by which time they are about 6 metres tall (see photo above). Then all their branches are removed and a crop of beans, cassava, maize, Cacao or whatever is wanted is planted.

 

The Inga branches grow back very quickly and need to be cut every 6 months, providing a valuable source of fuel wood for cooking. The key to this system is that once the Inga trees are about 6 metres tall their side branches meet and so completely cover the alley, thereby suppressing weeds. And, just as importantly, they generate a rich leaf-litter that forms the basis of a nutritious soil for whatever crop is to be planted subsequently.

 

So far we have identified a number of trees that could act as sources of seed from three or four species, including one community that could probably provide all of the seed that we need, a good sign for our first day out in the field!

 

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Inga fruit with its seeds exposed to show their covering of edible white flesh.

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Terry Pennington, world expert on Inga trees, and I arrived in Cobija in the Bolivian Amazon after almost two days travelling from London. We seem to have tracked down the English summer that never was and are rapidly getting used to the warm temperatures and high humidity. Cobija is a small town on the Brazilian border with a population of ca. 55,000.

 

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The town of Cobija in the Bolivian Amazon

 

It lives mainly from cross-border trade in Brazil nuts. It is the capital of the Departamento de Pando region of Bolivia and I was last here in 1988 when I participated in an undergraduate expedition organized by Terry’s son. It was quite emotional to be back after so long and I was really surprised at how little it has changed since then.

 

We have come here to meet our main partners - the local communities of Palacios, San José and Motacusal and Herencia - to revise and fine-tune our proposal so as to ensure that it remains viable and succeeds. No mean feat when you think that we are planning to plant 25,000 trees over the next two years and that we have yet to source seed.

 

Juan-Fernando Reyes of Herencia will be our main partner on the agroforest side of the project and has been working in the Pando for 16 years. The communities we are working with are mainly Brazil nut harvesters and the one that we are thinking of working with comprises migrants from the Andes.

 

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Juan Fernando Reyes and Toby Pennington in the Herencia Offices

 

One of the reasons for this project is the very recent and rapid colonisation of the Bolivian Amazon by landless Andean farmers. As you can imagine, a farmer who is used to farming at 3,000 m elevation in the grassland dominated Andes will struggle when faced with a 50 m high tropical forest close to sea-level. Finding farming techniques that are not too destructive and relatively simple will help support their successful integration.

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Since September 2012 Anaité López (Instituto Nacional de Bosques, Guatemala), Tim Marks (Millennium Seed Bank) and Wolfgang Stuppy (Millennium Seed Bank, do visit his amazing blog) have been working at the Millennium Seed Bank to develop a long-term storage protocol for the seed of the Maya Nut tree (Brosimum alicastrum).

 

This is important because Maya Nut is a significant famine food for the rural poor in northern Central America and is being actively used in reforestation projects as it is fast growing and relatively tolerant of disturbance.  At the moment, however, it is not possible to store the seed for more than a couple of weeks making it very difficult to deploy seed as and when it is needed outside of the fruiting season.

 

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Left: Maya Nut (Brosimum alicastrum) fruit - Fruit as it is when still on the tree

 

Right: Maya Nut (Brosimum alicastrum) seed - Seed once stripped of the fleshy outer layer by bats or birds (left), with both papery coverings removed (centre), with only the outer of the two papery covering removed (right)

 

The work involved collecting about 5,000 seeds from Maya Nut forests in the Peten of north eastern Guatemala. The seed was then shipped to the Millennium Seed Bank by courier where it was unpacked and studied by Anaité who had flown over from Guatemala for six weeks to undertake the work under the supervision of Tim Marks and Hugh Pritchard, specialists in seed research and storage. This was an opportunity for her to take back the skills and knowledge that she had learnt to Guatemala. The work has been funded by Defra through the Darwin Initiative (project 18-010) and is taking place incollaboration with the Maya Nut Institute.

 

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A batch of Maya Nut seeds being germinated following controlled storage. Image courtesy of Anaité López.

 

Our plan was to devise a regime of cooling and drying the seed that would enable it to be cryogenically stored (frozen) and so stored for many years. To do this we needed to identify the best rate at which to drop the temperature and humidity whilst keeping the seed viable. This involved storing the seed at different temperatures and humidities and taking a batch out and germinating it every month.

 

Given that this seed does not survive for long in the wild and that it is protected by two very thin, papery coverings (see above) we expected it to be very prone to dessication and so sensitive to low humidity. In fact we found quite the reverse. Six months later we are still germinating seed that has retained most of its moisture after having being stored in a dessicant for all this time!

 

In order to understand how this could happen we contacted seed morphologist Wolfgang Stuppy, world expert on seed morphology. He made the following images of sections through the seed which show a thin but dense layer of cells that control waterloss from the seed:

 

 

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Section through Maya Nut seed showing the dark outer layer that might reduce water loss. Image courtesy of Wolfgang Stuppy.

 

So we now have a partial explanation as to how the seeds can show such remarkable tolerance to drying out. It does, however beg two questions:

 

  1. Why do seeds not survive under the conditions of the forest floor?
  2. Why would a tropical tree that grows in the humid tropics develop such a remarkable resistance to drying out?

 

To be continued maybe...

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It has been a while since my last post, but here's some news I'd like to announce:

 

Darwin Initiative project 20-021 - Forest Futures: Livelihoods and sustainable forest management in Bolivian Amazon

 

Who we are

We are a team of scientists, development workers and businesses in Bolivia and the UK lead by The Royal Botanic Gardens Kew and comprising the Bolivian NGO, Herencia, the Noel Kempf Mercado Natural History Museum in Santa Cruz, Bolivia and the Edinburgh based company Freeworld Trading, together with a number of subsidiary partners who include brazil nut harvesters, rural communities and regional universities.

 

Where we are working

We are working in the Pando Department of the Bolivian Amazon an area of tropical rain forest that is rich in biodiversity and an important source of brazil nuts:

 

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Project area and communities currently engaged in our project (click images to see the full size version)

 

Why we are working there?

Poverty drives the unsustainable use of forested landscapes as it is difficult and impractical for people to sacrifice their immediate and basic needs for the long-term benefits of sustainable agriculture. 69% of the forest-dependent population of the Pando are unable to satisfy these basic needs and 34% of them live in extreme poverty.

 

This combined with immigration to Amazonia, driven by economic, political and environmental factors, has placed increasing pressure on the tropical forests there. The Pando forests are important as they support a large forest-dependent population, are a significant source of biodiversity and ecosystem services and constitute important buffers for the eastern Andean catchments from predicted impacts of climate-change.

 

Losing these forest will not only lead to a loss of biodiversity and ecosystem services, it will also reduce Bolivia’s ability to meet its Millennium Development Goals and increase vulnerability to climate change among the rural poor. This work is funded by the Darwin Initiative (Award 20-021).

 

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Slash and burn agriculture in the Bolivia Amazon. Image: Bente Klitgaard, 2010

What we plan to do

By September 2016 we plan to mitigate the threats to the tropical forest of the Pando by supporting the development of sustainable practices that reduce forest conversion, coupled with increasing the awareness of how forests reduce poverty and provide ecosystem services amongst the population and government of the Pando.

 

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Ingaagroforest: we are planning to establish similar agricultural systems on abandoned or exhausted pasture in Bolivia. Image from Honduras, courtesy of the Inga foundation.

 

Specifically, we aim to establish Inga tree-based agriculture on degraded cattle pasture, diversify the number of non-timber forest products that can be sustainably extracted from the Pando’s forests and exported, and raise awareness amongst local rural and urban communities and government as to the economic value of their forests and the role that they do and can play in reducing poverty and providing ecosystem services.

 

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Tonya Lander (Life Sciences, The Natural History Museum) has just completed her analyses of the population structure of the Maya Nut tree (Brosimum alicastrum). The results are based on the use of genetic markers and are really interesting. They tell us something about not only the history of this species but how best the species can be managed. This is important because Maya Nut is a significant famine food for the rural poor in northern Central America and is being actively used in reforestation projects as it is fast growing and relatively tolerant of disturbance. The work has been funded by Defra through the Darwin Initiative (project 18-010).

 

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Brosimum alicastrum forest in Mexico

 

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Female flower of Brosimum alicastrum

 

The tree is relatively common throught Central America and South America north of the Amazon. The markers that we have used are from the chlroroplast and nuclear ribosome genomes of the plant and were collected from 34 populations across Central and South America. Many of the samples were collected by the women who harvest the Maya Nut. which provided us with the opportunity to connect rural communities with scientists the other side of the World.

 

Tonya's results provide evidence for distinct northern and southern genetic types (Figure 1), and possibly for Atlantic and Pacific genetic types (Figure 2). These results still need to be tested for statistical significance but will help to clarify whether B. alicastrum fits into the broadly recognized historical pattern of retreat into the Amazon basin during the last glacial maximum followed by post-glacial expansion north into Central America. Each grouping represents a potential land race or ecotype and if confirmed will represent the framework within which seeds can deployed for reforestation.Figure 1.jpg

Figure 1. Five distinct sub-groups of Brosimum alicastrum:  (1) Peru (dark pink), (2)Panama (bright pink), (3) ‘Southern’: Brazil,  Columbia, Panama, Nicaragua, Honduras, El Salvador, Belize, Cuba, Mexico  (light blue), (4) Costa Rica (dark blue), and (5) ‘Northern’: El  Salvador, Guatemala, Belize, Mexico (pale pink)


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Figure 2. Three distinct sub-groups of Brosimum alicastrum : (1) ‘Pacific’, from Peru to Cuba (dark pink), (2) Panama and Costa Rica (light blue), and (3) ‘Atlantic’, from Brazil to Mexico (dark blue)
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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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100 Year old taxi driver

Posted by Alex Monro Feb 27, 2012

Arrived in Panama to collect populations of a widespread tropical tree known locally as Casique or Berba and scientifically as Brosimum alicastrum. The taxi driver to my hotel was quite old, his eyes well cataraxed and very grumpy. A little surprised but realising that taxi permits are probably applied as loosely as they are with respect to Mini Cabs in London I got in. Polite conversation resulted in me asking him how long he had been a taxi driver, "eighty years" he replied sullenly. "No I meant how long have you been driving a cab? Not how old you are" I replied. "I am 100 years old and have been driving a cab for 80". So there you have it, albeit self certified, I could have ridden with the oldest cab driver in the World!

 

Onto business today. We had to withdraw our collection permit and apply for an export permit. A bureacratic feast that took all day. It entailed visiting four offices, paying two fees, one at one office and one at an office the other side of town follwoing after an hours queue. Despite the need to fill out many forms and procedures, everybody I met was very polite, friendly and helpful. At the National Authority for the Environment office I was even given a desk and computer to write out some of the forms I had forgotten or didn't realise I needed. I would be very surprised if any Government Office in the UK would do the same for a visiting researcher. So a big thank you to Alexander Montero, Dario Luque and Israel Tejada of the ANAM Office!

 

As a consequence I made it to the National Herbarium quite late but with enough time to chat with Mireya Correa, legend in her own right with the Panamanian scientific and Neotropical botanical communities. She very kindly invited me to give a talk this Thursday but also mentioned that one of my collections from Panama in 2006 looks like it is a new species of Verbesina (Sun-flower family, Asteraceae). Below is a picture I took of it at the time of collection. I remember it quite well as I was surprised to see this genus including trees (below):

 

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Below, a ship passing through the Panama Canal close to a potential collecting site for our project:

 

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Back at INBio Herbarium

Posted by Alex Monro Feb 22, 2012

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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On our way out

Posted by Alex Monro Feb 22, 2012

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

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One hundred and three species

Posted by Alex Monro Feb 17, 2012

As I write this it is 16 February and we collected 103 species of vascular plants and we are exhausted, actually we were pretty tired to start with.

 

There is something a little annoying about waking up and getting dressed in 4°C when you are only 9° north of the equator. In fact our coordinates for today were 09°07’56.4”N, 082°57’30.4”W , not sure what that gives on Google Earth but here it is on Google Maps.

 

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Some of the more unusual plants were from the potatoe family, Solanaceae. Firstly we had a Schultesianthus, apparently bat-pollinated, with very dark purple flowers

 

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Next we collected a really interesting Cestrum, the leaves of which looked like a very common species whereas the flowers were quite distinct

 

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And then a really unusual looking but not uncommon species, Larnax sylvarum, again with dark purple flowers and orange Physalis-like fruits

 

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We got back to the hut just before dark; I hadn’t had a shower for a few days as the water is freezing but decided to make the effort for the sake of everyone else! I think I have just about recovered two hours later...

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Well no valentine’s day cards…sniff. Tom from Nature Live has been showing off his card for the last week and I was tempted to write one for myself. Today was another beautiful day though; bright blue skies and a light breeze.

 

After having separated into two groups for the past three days it felt good for us all to be working together again. We walked along the river on a very accident-inducing, slippery trail, with stunning views every few minutes.

 

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(Click images to see them full size)

 

Our site for the day was an area of ‘turbera’ or peat bog - an open expanse of lichen dominated ground with scattered tree ferns (Blechnum buchtienii) around whose base are even more lichens, epiphytes and shrubs.

 

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Overlooking the bog was a loan, probably a dead oak tree, which despite having died is home to a mini forest of it’s own on each branch. I spent more time than I should have trying to work out how many species were in the tree and the logistics of climbing up to collect them.

 

 

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It was hard work pressing in the bright sun but we collected 58 species of vascular plants and Holger and Jo made some more fantastic aquatic lichen and moss discoveries.

 

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It makes a real difference having the perspective of a different group of organisms. Holger was able to identify substantial amounts of basalt rock in the river bed which helps keep the pH close to neutral and so favour a rich and perse lichen community. This also gives us some clues to the history of these mountains.

 

He also very conveniently measures the temperature of the river (12°C) which encouraged me to have a quick dip before we headed back to camp.

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Nature Live - from the field

Posted by Alex Monro Feb 14, 2012

On (our) Sunday morning we did the first Field work with Nature Live events, featuring live-video-links direct to the Museum from Costa Rica. In fact it was the first ever live-link at the Museum using a satellite phone from the field.

 

Tom, the Nature Live host who is accompanying us on our trip (see his own blog), was really nervous despite having spent the last three days getting every last detail right. He had woken up during the night worrying about it, although you wouldn’t have known once everything got going.

 

It was early for us, 6.30 am and bitterly cold (4°C according to the slightly dodgy looking thermometer in the hut) but the shows went well; it was really strange hearing the familiar voices of our colleagues Lee, Jo and Erica back in London in the Museum’s Attenborough Studio whilst we were huddled with a cup of coffee on the veranda of a hut in Costa Rica and desperately trying to keep warm.

 

I’m not sure what the audience made of us: by chance we had the Costa Rican park ranger responsible for this part of the park, Fabricio Carbonal, staying and it meant that he was able to make a surprise appearance.

 

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Tom positioning the satellite phone for our video-link on a boulder in the river to
test the location for our next Nature Live event on Thursday 16 February.

 

After the two Field work with Nature Live events, we sneaked an extra cup of coffee and went to the day's collecting site, a recently discovered ‘lake.’ Well, more of a large pond in the middle of the forest.

 

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The ‘Laguna’

 

To be honest, in terms of vascular plants it was a bit boring. We collected only 43 species, but for mosses and lichens it was much more rewarding with lichenologist Holger Thues getting very excited by a myxomycetes (or true slime mould) which he discovered forming fruiting bodies on a liverwort.

 

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The myxomycete that so excited Holger

 

 

 

Come and see Tom and me at the next Field work with Nature Live events held at 12.30 and 14.30 at the Museum on Thursday 16 February or Saturday 18 February.

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An amazing day’s collecting on the 10 February! It took us over two and a half hours to walk less than 2 km to that day's site. The trail wound its way through swamps, around and under fallen trees and through dense thickets of bamboo.

 

We also lost the trail a couple of times but finally we stepped out into a small patch of open vegetation on the top of a rock outcrop and were stunned by a clear blue sky and an amazing panorama looking out over a large chunk of unexplored park.

 

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View from Cerro Asidbeta looking across to Cerro Kamuk

 

It was really worth the walk, one of our first collections was the beautiful and rarely collected shrub Vaccinium bocatorense (in the Blueberry group of the heather family), a species endemic to La Amistad Binational Park.

 

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Flower of Vaccinium bocatorense, a species endemic to the Park

 

Surprisingly, compared to the other sites we have collected, there were many species of orchid in flower, including a couple of what we believe to be Epidendrum (we don’t know much about orchids though).

 

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A likely Epidendrum sp. whose tiny beautiful white flowers sport three purple dots

 

By 3.30 pm, the clouds had rolled in and it started to rain so we headed back, all of us very happy with the day’s collecting and our three bags of pressed plants.

 

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Neil Brummit and Daniel Santamaria pressing plants

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Our first day's collecting

Posted by Alex Monro Feb 13, 2012

We left camp at 7.30 am on 9 February to go and collect at a point we had identified the day before, a large open flat area of inundated soils and swamp with very few - but very large - oak trees festooned with mosses, orchids, bromeliads and even small trees.

 

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‘El Plano’ our first field site

 

Each day we collect for the same number of hours within a radius of 100 m from a specific point. Most of the points have been located through a combination of satellite images and a ground survey undertaken three weeks ago.

 

This should enable us to compare the species composition of each of our sample points and maybe to identify some of the factors that determine the species persity in the Talamanca Mountains. Over the past nine years we have surveyed over 150 such points and so today’s point can be compared to these.

 

The species we found today were pretty much as expected so nothing very exciting. We did, however, collect a beautiful pink-flowered tree called Styrax warscewiczii, a species found from Mexico to Bolivia above 1,800 m altitude.

 

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Styrax warscewiczii

 

When we got back to camp two snail and slug specialists from a local Costa Rican university, who are staying with us, had been sampling leaf litter all day and had found some very small but beautiful snails and slugs, many of which they had never seen before! It seems that this area is very important for snails and slug persity.

 

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Slug from the Arionidae / Limacidae group:
possibly a new record for Costa Rica, maybe even a new species

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