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Field work with Nature Live

9 Posts tagged with the inbio tag
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As you read this I will be flying back to London and I will have filled up on greasy food in Newark airport on the way… I have had a wonderful time; an experience that I will never forget and I hope you have enjoyed the blog so thank you for reading it!

 

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It's Oscars time so please forgive me but it has to be done... the trip would not have been possible without the following people at the Museum:

 

The Learning Department and specifically Honor, Abigail, Martin and Stephen for letting me leave the office for a couple of weeks. Thanks!

 

The Nature Live team, particularly Jo Kessler for hosting the live-video-link events so expertly, and Ivvet Modinou, Natalie Mills and Ana Rita Claro Rodrigues for your support and good ideas. Also, thanks to Museum scientists Erica McAlister and Gavin Broad for being in the Studio to help prepare the ground with the audience for the live-video-links.

 

Tony and Adam in Special Effects for training me to use the satellite phone and other kit, coming to the realisation that I was likely to break it yet still letting me take it into a remote area of tropical forest in a completely different country (I hope you now feel it has been tested properly!).

 

To Jonathan for posting my blogs every day (even at the weekend) and for providing a forum for the live-chats we’ve held with UK school children as part of Nature Live in the Field - and also thanks to them and their teachers for some great questions and comments!

 

To Grace for developing the schools side of the project and for keeping me busy

 

In Costa Rica, a huge thank you to:

 

Our porters and guides in the La Amistad National Park, and Frank Gonzales at INBIO for sorting out the logistics of the trip and for providing me with a filming permit.

 

The rest of the botany team: Holger Thues, Jo Wilbraham and Neil Brummit - I hope I have been at least a little bit useful and that I have not wound you up too much with endless questions?

 

Daniel Santa Maria for my new nick name!

 

Finally, to Alex Monro for organising the trip and my part in it. I have had a wonderful time and I am so thankful to you for giving me this opportunity to follow science as it happens in the field. Thank you!

 

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I asked the scientists what they thought….

 

 

P.S. This is not the end for Field work with Nature Live as, starting from the 7 March my Nature Live colleague Ivvet Modinou will arrive in the Bahamas with a team of scientists to report on a field trip exploring the life in our oceans. It should have some great footage as they'll be using a mini-submersible in their research!

 

Keep in touch with the Field work with Nature Live community and subscribe to the RSS feed for this blog and you will receive updates whenever a new post appears.

 

And remember, you can meet more Museum scientists every day at Nature Live events held in the Museum’s Attenborough studio at 14:30 (and also 12:30 every weekend and throughout the holidays).

 

I hope to see you at a Nature Live event soon!

 

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Tom Simpson, Costa Rica, 2012.

 

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Note: Tom is currently on his way back to the UK, so I am posting his final blogs from Costa Rica on his behalf.
Jonathan - NaturePlus host

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Today I had a meeting with the INBIO education department - they are doing some amazing things over here and I’m really looking forward to working with them in the future!

 

INBIO parque is a great place to visit - a botanical garden designed to reflect the whole (enormous) biodiversity of Costa Rica.

 

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They also have some really cool animals living in the parque – I saw this iguana crossing the car park!

 

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Over the past few weeks we have received some great questions from schools all over the UK, which hopefully we have answered! We received the following early on:

 

Hello everyone,

 

We are from a School in Camden, London. We have been working with Holger Thüs on an exciting project on air quality and lichen distribution in our local area. With help from Holger and Pat Wolseley from the Natural History Museum, we surveyed lichens growing on trees in the school grounds and adjacent Hampstead Heath.

 

We wanted to investigate the relationship between differences in air quality, particularly the levels of NO2 and the lichen species found. We monitored NO2 over 5 months with diffusion tubes placed along a transect either side of Highgate Road, which is a busy road and likely to be a major source of nitrogen pollution, and included locations in the school grounds and on Hampstead Heath.

 

We identified the lichens on trees within the vicinity of the school and on the adjacent Hampstead Heath. We tested and found evidence for our hypothesis that there was a correlation between the levels of nitrogen dioxide in the diffusion tubes and biological data from the lichens distribution.

 

Although, we managed to find and identify Nitrogen loving and intermediate lichen but we didn’t find any Nitrogen sensitive lichens. We are really excited about Holger being in Costa Rica and want to know if Holger has found Nitrogen sensitive lichens there. Are there many fructose lichens? Did you find any new species of lichens? Are the lichens really colourful and exotic?

 

We initially thought the NHM team was going to be somewhere really lovely and hot but Holger told us that although it would be lovely it would be very cold because they would be up in the mountains. The air must be very clean. We really want to know about the lichens there.

 

Good Luck with the rest of the trip.

 

LSU

 

 

And today we had a chance to answer in detail…

 

 

Back at INBIO I have been flicking through the photos I (and the others) took while in the park. It seems a common theme amongst my photos is food. Pictures of all of the meals I ate in the field - I can practically hear myself salivating over the camera. I’ve put them together in a film. Bon appetite!

 

 

 

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Note: Tom is currently on his way back to the UK, so I am posting his final blogs from Costa Rica on his behalf.
Jonathan - NaturePlus host

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We rose early and packed up all of our stuff for the short walk to the entrance of the park. It was a last chance to enjoy trekking in the forest and we had glorious sun and spectacular views all the way down.

 

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In dribs and drabs we arrived at the entrance to the park.

 

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It took a few hours to get everything sorted, we loaded up our truck and after a spot of lunch hit the road for the 5 hour drive back to Santa Domingo and INBIO.

 

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Soon we hit the pineapple plantations that border the park, and the road is dusty and dry.

 

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We are much lower down now and the air is hotter and it is difficult not to miss the cool of the forest.

 

Driving up to reach Santa Domingo we had to cross Cerro de la Muerte and we drove up through the clouds.

 

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Tomorrow, I am going to try and explore the herbarium at INBIO but, mainly, I am going to wash and sleep! Back in civilization I look a complete state…

 

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Note: Tom is currently on his way back to the UK, so I am posting his final blogs from Costa Rica on his behalf.
Jonathan - NaturePlus host

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Today we trekked back down the mountain to the first hut we stayed in on our trip, Casa Coca. It was a stunning walk, the weather changing all the time.

 

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And we stopped off half way to collect. We were told to be careful of a snake that had been seen on the route the day before. I didn’t see it but I did spot this strange mammal up a tree.

 

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We are now only a short walk from the entrance to the park and our lift back to INBIO. We are sleeping on mats on the floor surrounded by beastly horse flies.

 

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And amazing fireflies.

 

 

As a last supper (for this trip, rather than in the biblical sense) we have had some chicken so spirits are high! Equally, Casa Coca provided a new forum for moth spotting - our favorite evening past-time. They really are amazing!

 

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Tomorrow we leave the forest and drive back to INBIO. I wonder what it will be like back in the normal world?!

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The weather today was glorious…

 

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… 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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Food update! We have been brought a butchered pig to add to the holy duo of rice and beans – this is a gruesome picture of the skin but the meat was delicious! I have also spied some sausages amongst the supplies and wait eagerly for their appearance at the dinner table!

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The main aim of our trip is to document the biodiversity of the area and collect different species of plants. We take five copies of each species – one goes to INBIO, one to the Missouri Botanical Garden, one each to the National Herbarium of Panama and the National Museum of Costa Rica and one to the Natural History Museum.

 

Collecting is a meditative process and it is wonderful to be in the field as a team, finding out what the environment holds. Amongst the flowering plant team (Daniel, Alex and Neil) the duties of collecting are split: today, Daniel searched out the different species in the area and collected them, Neil and Alex set up a small processing area - one photographing and taking DNA samples of each species and the other pressing the five copies of each species between sheets of newspaper.

 

I had a go at pressing but my main duty was the honourable task of pressing down on the pile of specimens, a job that you may think could be done by a rock or gravity but Neil described my contribution as very useful, so here I am hard at work:

 

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These specimens are bagged up and brought back to the hut at the end of the day where they are placed in sealed bags full of 70% alcohol, which stops them rotting. These specimens will be carried down the mountain and dried on heaters before being sent to the various institutes to be mounted and added to their collections (a collection of pressed plants is called a herbarium).

 

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Neil explained the process to me in the field:

 

 

The DNA is stored in silica gel which keeps the samples dry by absorbing the moisture in the atmosphere. I have lots of the stuff (which I keep in tied-up tights) to try and keep all my equipment - kindly lent to me by the museum - free from moisture.

 

I made what could be the 'driest' video of all time about how you dehydrate the silica once it has done it’s job and is saturated with liquid - dry-fried next to the omnipresent beans, so worth watching for that scene if nothing else. My silica is dark blue when saturated with moisture and orange when dehydrated:

 

 

Species of the day – Vaccinium bocatorense (collected by the flowering plants team) is very closely related to the blueberry and grows between 1.5 to 2 metres tall. It’s endemic to the national park so is not found anywhere else in the world and it’s a beauty!

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Tomorrow we set off to spend a couple of nights camping at a location a few hours walk form our hut - I will try and blog from there but if things go quiet due to lack of internet access, I’ll be back on Wednesday.

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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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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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After our first night in Costa Rica, it was a breakfast of pastries (spicy cheese – delicious!) before we packed up and headed off from INBIO.

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The drive was 6 hours and was spectacular from start to finish. We drove higher and higher along the ridge that cuts down Costa Rica until we reached Everest - not the mountain (wrong continent!) but the name of a rest stop - for a mid-morning snack. Fried cheese and tortilla (equally delicious).

 

We then enjoyed and took full advantage of the greatest view from a urinal probably anywhere in the world.

 

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I took some footage of the drive - please excuse the jumpiness as it was very bouncy and I had to edit the film in the back of the jeep! Better will follow, I promise.

 

 

Soon the road turned to dirt track and we entered the Amistad National park.

 

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We stopped at Asoprola for a beautiful lunch of beans, fried chicken, plantain, rice and salad. Asoprola is a wonderful hostel run by a co-op and was decked out in a wonderful mosaic.

 

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I also saw a really cool lizard that put on a nice little show!

 

 

After lunch and a short drive we reached the end of our journey by jeep and the beginning of our first trek.

 

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Two hours later and I am writing from a hut as dusk falls on a very cloudy evening.

 

The trek was amazing the air and forest is thick and everything buzzes with life. Tomorrow we will trek for another 8 hours to reach our second (and final camp) so I’ll be able to post more then.

 

It’s dark now and we only have a few petrol lamps and some fireflies for light. Amazing!

 

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We have arrived in Costa Rica!

 

From a snowy North London...

 

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Via some beautiful skies over America…

 

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... to spending the night at INBIO (Instituto Nacional de Biodiversidad) - the Costa Rican National Institute for Biodiversity.

 

And already my botanical education has got underway - this is Holger outside Newark airport...

 

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This is what he is looking at...

 

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... which is a moss (the green bits, that is). Holger says you can tell this is a new pavement and not just a very clean one because there are mosses but no lichens. Lichens are slow to grow, apparently! Here’s hoping for some more spectacular specimens in the tropics.

 

I'm off to bed as it's very late here in Costa Rica but tomorrow we will drive for most of the day to reach Altamira. If we get there early enough, we will climb to our first camp, otherwise we will have to wait until the next morning for our first hike.

 

See you again tomorrow.