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Field work with Nature Live

5 Posts tagged with the el_valle_de_silencio tag
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The weather today was glorious…

 

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(Click images to see them full size)

 

… and I followed the vascular plant (flowering plants and ferns) team of Neil, Daniel and Alex to a site about an hour and a half away from the hut. I decided to record each of the species they found and turn it into a film to give you an idea of the variety that we’ve been able to collect.

 

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In the film below, I’ve listed the family, genus and species (where possible). This highlights why it is so important to collect samples of the plants - without taking them to a herbarium and comparing them with other specimens it can be difficult to identify exactly what is there.

 

The top line is the family and the bottom is the genus and species (if we knew it straight away, of course!) Please note, I made this video so if anything is wrong it is my fault not Alex’s!

 

 

Just my luck - this site only provided 44 species which was quite a poor haul compared to the others we have had. Our best day has had over a hundred different species of vascular plant and that’s not counting the lichens and bryophytes Holger and Jo are also collecting.

 

On days where more species are collected, we sometimes have to do the pressing back at the hut and the dinner table is transformed into a mass of newspaper and plants

 

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But today we got home early so Alex made us a pasta dinner.

 

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Species of the day – take your pick from any of the ones in the film above!

 

Tomorrow we are walking back down the mountain to the first hut we stayed in before heading back to the entrance to the park and the drive back to INBIO.

 

I feel quite sad to be leaving our hut in the Valley of Silence as my time here in Costa Rica nears its end. It has been an amazing place to be based and I feel very attached to the forest and our place in it.

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Continuing my food theme... Today we had pancakes for breakfast (not rice and beans) and they were about an inch thick and flavoured with vanilla. I had mine with maple syrup and am feeling very happy with myself!

 

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(Click the images to see them full size)

 

After a few days of staying around the hut, today I got the chance to go out with the botanists into the field and experience collecting. We went to a place called Laguna.

 

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There are several specific sights of interest that the botanists target each day – we had a live-link back to the Museum to do in the morning so chose a site nearby (see the map below - we are staying at Albergue Valle del Silencio and Laguna is due East-South-East from there).

 

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I am going to blog about the specifics of collecting tomorrow but today wanted to focus on the trails cut for us in order to reach the collection sites. Some trails are clear, well worn by the porters ferrying supplies and specimens to and from the camp, others are cut specifically for us and are much less easy to follow.

 

The forest is so dense it is easy to lose ones bearings. Today I tried to keep my orientation between a river and mountain but soon the dense foliage span me around and I felt completely at the mercy of the forest. It is a wonderful feeling to be lost - as long as you’re with someone who isn’t!

 

Because the forest is so dense sound doesn’t travel too far so Alex and Daniel Santa Maria (a botanist from INBIO - The National Institute for Biodiversity in Costa Rica) use calls to locate each other.

 

 

 

Daniel has an amazing knowledge of the local plants and is invaluable to the trip. Here he is having a rest after lunch in the field.

 

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Species of the day today is Conopholis alipna and was collected by Daniel and the flowering plant team (Alex and Neil). It is a parasite that targets the roots of oak trees which are the predominately tree in the surrounding forests.

 

It gets all of it’s nutrients from it’s host and is found at altitudes of between 2,000 and 2,700 metres. It's my species of the day because I think it looks really cool:

 

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Until tomorrow!

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Today we rose early! By 7.00 we had left base camp and were beginning the 6-8 hour trek [I sit here smug, we did it in just over 6] to the hut that is to be our home for the next week and a bit. Breakfast was rice and beans (a theme is emerging!).

 

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(Click the images to see them full size)

 

The first half of the trek was uphill (i.e. absolutely knackering) but the views from the occasional break in the canopy were breathtaking and kept us pushing on.

 

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We are working alongside Costa Rican botanists, one of whom is Daniel. He has an incredible knowledge of the local environment and found this plant, Satyria warszewiczii on our trek.

 

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The flower’s corolla (a corolla is when all of the flower’s petals have fused into a tube) is edible and tastes a little bit like bitter lemon or blueberries (or vinegar depending on who you ask!):

 

 

After 4 hours we reached the continental divide, the point at which Costa Rica splits between Atlantic and Pacific forest. Water that falls either side of this divide ends up in either the Pacific or Atlantic ocean. Alex had a unique way of explaining this:

 

 

The forest changed dramatically once we were on the Atlantic side - on the Pacific side our path had been dry and dusty but once we crossed over, the forest was damper, darker, cooler and wetter. This is because the prevailing wind blows from the West.

 

The wind picks up moisture from the Atlantic Ocean and Caribbean Sea and carries it to the western Atlantic slopes of the forest before dumping it there. Therefore, because less water reaches the Pacific side, it’s much drier.

 

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The rain increased as we got closer to our hut. We arrived damp and tired but very excited about the days ahead.

 

The camp is made from naturally fallen trees from the forest and the roof is corrugated iron - the sound of the rain drumming above me as I sit inside with a coffee is wonderful!

 

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I’ll post some more pictures of the camp tomorrow - the battery in my camera has run out of juice and our generator is not yet up and running.

However, we found some really nice things on the way, this is a beetle grub:

 

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And this beautiful moth:

 

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I'll have to see if the Museum's enotmologists know what species they are...

 

Tomorrow we start collecting and the hard work begins but Holger has already had success after popping down to a nearby stream and finding two species of lichen never recorded in Costa Rica before.

 

Tonight, more beans and rice and early to bed.

 

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Remember we'll be live-linking from Costa Rica to the Museum's Attenborough Studio at 12:30 and 14:30 on Saturday 11, Sunday 16 and Saturday 18 February so, if you are in London, come along to see how we are getting on!


The Attenborough Studio is located in the Darwin Centre in the Museum's Orange Zone.

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The trip to Costa Rica is led by Dr. Alex Monro who has his own blog where you can learn about his interests and research. But here is some information about the other scientists, and their expectations for the trip:

 

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Dr. Neil Brummit is Researcher in Botanical Diversity

 

Area of Botany you’re most interested in

My main botanical interest has always been in biogeography - working out why some distant areas of the world have the same plants, while other areas close to each other have different plants. Also, I study why some areas of the world have so many more plant species than other areas do, and try to identify these areas and the threatened species they contain accurately enough to help with plans for their conservation.

 

Best thing about being a Botanist

When you can see that your work has been useful to someone else, especially someone outside of botany, it gives you a sense that your efforts have been worthwhile. For example, a big project that I have been involved in for several years has estimated how many plant species worldwide are threatened with extinction, and when we announced results from this project in 2010, it was covered in hundreds of media outlets around the world and we also travelled to the Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity meeting in Nagoya, Japan, to make a presentation there. At the end of the meeting there was a renewed determination by the world's governments to take positive conservation actions in the next few years, and I did feel that, in our own small way, we were a part of the scientific response to the loss of global biodiversity that had helped to galvanise the political will to make that happen.

 

Previous field work

A little bit of everywhere; I´ve done fieldwork on each continent, but I´m always keen to visit new places. For me there is always something special about being in Africa, perhaps because that was my first experience in the tropics. I think once you´ve been collecting in the tropics, everywhere else seems a bit boring by comparison. I was still at school when I first went on a proper field trip, to Malawi with my father (who is also a botanist); I loved it, and remember thinking that he was paid to do this!

 

Favourite thing about working in the field

Seeing new plants, and thinking to myself "Wow, what on earth is that?". If I can attempt an identification that is somewhere close to what it is, even better.

 

Least favourite thing about working in the field

Leeches and mosquitos; Listening to rats running around you in the dark when you are trying to sleep at night; Never being clean; Missing being at home with my wife;

 

What are your hopes for this trip?

Hopefully I will have the opportunity for more fieldwork in Costa Rica, so for me this is a chance to experience the country but, perhaps more importantly, get to know the people working there and start to build relationships with them. I´m grateful to be going with someone like Alex who has already had a lot of experience there, and I´m looking forward to working in the field with him.

 

What one piece of advice would you give someone going on field work for the first time?

It´s hard work! Don´t expect too much, as all the best laid plans can go out of the window very quickly; be prepared to adapt.

 

 

Jo Wilbraham.jpgJo Wilbraham is Senior Curator, Algae

 

Area of Botany you’re most interested in

Non-flowering / cryptogamic plants, particularly bryophytes

 

Best thing about being a Botanist / Curator

Being able to spend time obsessing about your favourite plant group as part of your ‘proper job’ and being able to work with the wonderful collections here at the Natural History Museum.

 

Previous field work

My more recent fieldwork has been around the beautiful British coastline looking at seaweeds.  I’ve also been on fieldwork trips to Reunion Island, Ecuador, Belize and Sulawesi, so Central America is new territory for me.

 

Favourite thing about working in the field

Exciting times looking for plants (and no access to work email).

 

Least favourite thing about working in the field

Sharing a camping hut with vampire bats wasn’t very nice, but mostly I’d say missing the folks back home.

 

What are your hopes for this trip?

My underlying goal is to contribute more data to the question ‘what grows where’, hopefully increasing knowledge of rare / poorly understood species and the habitats they live in.  I will be collecting specimens for long term preservation in the NHM herbarium where they will be available to researchers around the world who are studying these groups – both now and in the future!

 

What one piece of advice would you give someone going on field work for the first time?

Remember to pack your sense of humour… and a hand lens!

 

Holger_LymeRegis.jpgDr. Holger Thues is Curator – Lichens

 

Area of Botany you’re most interested in

All the oddities traditionally studied by botanists but which are in fact not related to plants (eg. fungi, slime-molds etc.). Within “Green Botany” my current main interest is in lichenised algae (photosynthetic symbiotic partners in lichens) and particularly their compatibility with various lichens in different habitats.

 

Best thing about being a Botanist

I regard myself as a biologist. In my current role as curator at the NHM my focus is on lichenised fungi and their associated algae – this makes me a part mycologist / part botanist. Before I came to the NHM I was working partly as a researcher and partly as an environmental consultant. This included work with lichens, mosses and seed plants but also with various animal groups: from aquatic invertebrates, leafhoppers to hamsters and salmon. I like the constant change of the profession “biologist”  - although the fundamental questions have remained surprisingly similar over thousands of years: from the stone age to the time of worldwide industrialisation: biologists always look for answers to the questions: what to eat (and what not?)  what is harmful?  what is beneficial? And what does it all mean in a wider context? I can hardly imagine a more interesting profession!

 

Previous field work

Mostly all over Europe (particularly “rocky” habitats from coastal cliffs to alpine peaks – you can easily locate me in the field by the sound of my chisel). In the tropics so far two field trips to the Venezuelan part of the Andes (focussed on freshwater habitats in open areas with Paramo-vegetation).

 

Favourite thing about working in the field

Asking questions directly to the living organism in its environment, physical activity, absence of paperwork

 

Least favourite thing about working in the field

Travelling to the study sites, paperwork in advance of a field trip

 

What are your hopes for this trip?

As a curator my main hope is to collect a rich selection of fresh lichen material from little studied habitats and poorly known taxonomic groups which will become a relevant resource for further studies by researchers in Costa Rica, at our museum and for other collaborators across the world.

 

One personal research focus for me will be a comparison of the freshwater lichens in the Talamanca Mountains with those in streams of other tropical and temperate areas. For temperate areas lichens were shown to be valuable indicators of water level fluctuations and stream bed stability, but we still know to little on the species diversity and the distribution patterns of freshwater lichens in the tropics to make them useful tools for the assessment of streams in these areas as well.

 

A second area of interest is an assessment of the lichen diversity on rock outcrops and the light rich and open Paramo-vegetation at the highest elevations of the Talamanca Mountains. These habitat types cover huge areas in the South American Andes but occur in relative isolation and at a much smaller scale in Costa Rica, separated by large densely forested areas. Together with my research colleague Cecile Gueidan we want to find out how this isolation affects the diversity of lichens. This habitat type is also likely to be among the first to be affected by climate change.

 

What one piece of advice would you give someone going on field work for the first time?

Try to get in contact with local people, appreciate and follow their advice.

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20120131-Costa-Rica-Valley-of-Silence-copyright-Natural-History-Museum.jpgIn February 2012 a team of 4 Natural History Museum botanists will be travelling to a remote area of tropical forest known as 'El Valle de Silencio' (The Valley of Silence) in Costa Rica. The team will be camping and collecting flowering plants, ferns, mosses, lichens and algae.

 

As part of the Museum’s Nature Live programme, I’m lucky enough be joining the trip and I’ll be sending back daily reports from Costa Rica in the form of blog posts, pictures and video.  If you'd like to get in touch with the field trip you can use the comments sections at the end of each blog.

 

For a chance to experience the trip come to the Attenborough Studio in the Museum on 11, 16 and 18 February for 12:30 or 14:30 to see a live video link to Costa Rica.