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Tropical botany researcher

7 Posts tagged with the mosses tag
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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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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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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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Some familiar faces

Posted by Alex Monro Feb 10, 2012

It is 7 pm and I am in my sleeping bag as it is already really cold. Today we walked from our temporary camp where we spent last night up to our main camp in ‘El Valle de Silencio’ at 2,500 m. At this altitude we are in oak forest where the trees are up to 50 m in height, festooned with epiphytes, lichens and mosses and with a groundstory dominated by bamboo.

 

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Oak tree with Tom Simpson of Nature Live for scale

 

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View of oak forest interior

 

It occurred to me as we were walking through the forest that a surprising number of the trees we were seeing would be familiar in a forest back home: oak (Quercus), alder (Alnus), holly (Ilex), buckthorn (Rhamnus) and Cherry (Prunus), not the same species of course, but the same genera.

 

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Quercus costaricensis

 

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Rhamnus sp.

 

As I sit huddled in my sleeping bag I realise that there is a certain affinity with the climate back home too and also a physical one as many of these species, or at least their ancestors would have come from North America at a time when there was a land-bridge between our Continent and North America. So presumably these high elevation forests were colonised by trees coming from North America rather than South America, a phenomenon documented already by several authors.

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I have just finished doing a videoconference with a group of schools who will be following our field trip to the Talamanca Mountains in Costa Rica next week. It was really fun and as usual we had some very good (and difficult) questions.

 

The plan is that we will share our scientific field work, which to be honest is one of the must fun parts of our work at the Museum, with the public and a pre-arranged group of schools. We will be running Nature Live sessions from the forest using an Inmarsat video satellite link, which will let us talk to visitors in the Museum's Attenborough Studio.

 

As well as blogging about the trip we'll also be answering the questions of teachers and school children who have been invited to sign-up for our schools link. If you know any teachers who might want to get involved and get access then please get them to contact Grace from the Museum's Learning Programme by email (videoconferencing@nhm.ac.uk).

 

So, we leave here Monday morning and by Wednesday we should be collecting our first moss, lichen, algae and plant specimens!

 

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On February 6 a team of us, four botanists and a host of the Museum's Nature Live programme are heading off to Costa Rica to explore the flanks a remote area of tropical forest known as 'El Valle de Silencio' (The Valley of Silence). This area forms part of the La Amistad Binational Park that is shared between Costa Rica and Panama and within which the Natural History Museum has been working for almost 10 years! We will be spending about two weeks camping and making collections of flowering plants, ferns, mosses, lichens and algae in an area of unspoilt forest at an altitude of between 1800 and 3400 m. So far we have obtained our collection permit, permission to film in the Park, plane tickets and located a team of porters to help us get our food and equipment into place and we are getting very excited! Below is a picture of the forest taken on a visit last year.DSC_9387.JPG