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Field work with Nature Live

2 Posts tagged with the tropical_botany_researcher tag
1

So today I have had the chance to spend a bit of time at the hut - I made a video to hopefully give you an idea of what it’s like! (Also I meant the water is clean enough to drink, not eat! Sorry it must be the altitude, which is 2,500 metres - you can see on Google Maps the exact location of where we are.)

 

 

For breakfast the ubiquitous rice and beans made a welcome appearance - last night was really cold (definitely in the lower single figures!) so some hot food and drink was more than welcome. By mid-day it had warmed up considerably and the sun was hot.

 

(I should make it clear that I am in no way complaining about rice and beans - I love them! Last night they were joined by a hot, steaming pot of chicken soup and dinner was great.)

 

The scientists went out collecting today (the first chance to have a proper explore since they arrived) and they found some great stuff! However, Neil has already suffered some really nasty sandfly bites.

 

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(Click the images to see them full-sized)


N.B. I've enhanced the colour of this photo a little so that you can see the bites more clearly.

 

Species of the day goes to Holger (although he found it yesterday). It’s on this stone, which he found in a nearby stream 30 cm below the water level. He had to chisel the lump off with both hands underwater and he described it as the single most difficult specimen he has ever collected.

 

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It’s a representative of the genus Hydropunctaria and this is the first time it has ever been recorded in tropical America - it is found widespread in more temperate areas and in cold mountain streams in SE Asia and South Africa.

 

It is one of the best indicators of a stable stream bed and only lives in constantly cold water. Therefore it is an important species to know about when considering climate change. Now that Holger has found this specimen future generations will know that it was living here in 2012.

 

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Now it may look like a dark patch on a dirty rock (Alex’s words not mine!) but Holger gave the following quote:

 

‘Perfect circular shape, a beautiful olive green hue and a texture of half solid jelly which is just amazing.’

 

Wow, I’m going to have a cold shower ... which is good news as we don’t have any hot water! I’m going to blog more about lichens next week.

 

With one new discovery under our belts, I hope the photos from my previous posts give you an indication of just how rich the plant life is here. Alex tells me that there are more than twice as many species of plant in this park alone than in the whole of the UK.

 

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He has written a really nice piece on his own blog about the forest here - do have a read.

 

Finally, if you want to experience a live video-link direct from our hut to London tomorrow (and also on the 16 and 18 Feb) please come to the Nature Live event in the Museum's Attenborough Studio to say hello! They'll be held at 12:30 and 14:30 and (barring any technical issues) we're going to be joining the event to answer questions from the Studio and to show you a few specimens.

 

Jo (Nature Live host) and Erica McAlister from the Department of Entomology will be in the Studio to talk about field work, why it’s so important, what it’s like and how you do it, etc., so please do pop down to South Kensington.

 

Also, I wanted to let you know that, unfortunately, due to my limited internet connection I can't see your comments until they are e-mailed to me, so my apologies if you have had any questions which remain unanswered – I’ll do my best to respond in the next few days.

2

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.