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Field work with Nature Live

2 Posts tagged with the herbarium tag
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Breakfast was sausages – yes! Salty and oily they took my good friends rice and beans to a whole new level.

 

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(Click the images to see them full size)

 

Today we set off from our hut, to the camp we are going to stay at for the next two days – N 09 08 09.4, W 082 57 38.4 are the co-ordinates: view on a map.

 

Our route took us along the river.

 

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We walked for a couple of hours before climbing up to a point called Jardin. This area is completely different from anything I have seen so far on the trip – it’s a peat bog and is dominated by tree ferns that have islands of mosses, lichens and sedges growing around them. It was a rare break in the forest canopy and there were some spectacular views.

 

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It was a really challenging crossing - impossible to know whether your next step was going to hold fast or leave you knee deep in the bog.

 

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We then dipped backed down through the forest – not so much a trail as a thrash through the bush!

 

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Once at the camp, I set up the equipment for sending you my post - solar charger and satellite phone - and made a little tour of the camp.

 

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On the way here I saw the first sign of a wild cat – this is Ocelot poo, apparently!

 

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Species of the day goes to Neil (though Alex is making a spurious claim!). It is in the genus Pilea (in the nettle family) and Alex thinks it may be a new species! He is a world expert in the nettle family and, in particular, this genus - although this looks similar to another species of Pilea it has a key difference in that the leaves are of equal size to each other as opposed to being different sizes.

 

If it is a new species Alex will be able to publish a description of it and give it a name, but he can only be sure that this is a new species once he has checked it against similar species housed in herbaria.

 

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This really highlights the importance of the trip and of collecting in general. In order to know exactly what is in the park and make as complete a check-list of the species as possible, we have to know what lives here. These specimens will be available for future generations, who may have other uses for the data they provide.

 

Of course, it is important not to collect too much, we rarely collect a whole plant and always make sure we don’t collect without the correct permits which are provided by the Costa Rican government.

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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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(Click the images to see them full size)

 

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.