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Field work with Nature Live

3 Posts tagged with the sampling tag
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Kerry and I got up at 5am this morning in the hope of seeing gibbons! Brandishing torches, we stumbled out of our dormitory and into the darkness, heading towards the swing bridge that crosses the Maliau River.  We’d heard gibbons calling from this area before, and thought we might have a better chance of seeing them in the early morning, when it’s a little cooler and wildlife in general tends to be more active.

 

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The Maliau River.

 

No such luck.  We sat on the bridge for over an hour, with a no sign of the elusive gibbons.  But it did give us the opportunity to hear all the other animals waking up and producing their morning calls. 

 

After breakfast (a mixture of cereal, rice, chicken nuggets and small sausages) I followed Kerry as she sampled the dead wood along the transect line on today’s site/plot.  The transect line is laid out at each site and is 100 metres long.  It is along this line that the scientists sample the leaf litter and soil at set intervals, as well as studying any dead wood found between the start and end point.

 

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Kerry holds onto one end of the measuring tape as the team lay out their transect line.

 

Dan and his team also measure the temperature and water content of the soil (how much moisture is in it) and look carefully at what type of soil is found along the transect line. These are all important factors that will influence the type of plants and animals that are found in a given area.

 

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Keiron uses a thermometer and a soil moisture meter.

 

 

Dead wood provides an important shelter and food source for some species of invertebrate.

 

Amongst the numerous animals that Kerry found in her dead wood samples, there was a particularly bold soldier termite that tried to bite her finger! 

 

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Fortunately Kerry’s gloves gave her some protection against this feisty soldier termite.

 

Kerry also found a scorpion in a piece of dead wood further down the transect line.  Good reason for always being cautious when sampling!

 

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It’s not unusual to find scorpions sheltering in dead wood.


 

Also joining us in the field today were local collaborators from the University of Malaysia, Sabah (UMS). They are working closely with Pat and Holger to study the lichens here.  Professor Charles Vairappan is a Natural Product Chemist and interested in analysing the chemicals that different species of lichens produce. 

 

Research suggests that Lichens produce chemicals for various reasons.  Some chemicals help lichens avoid predation from animals (such as springtails, mites, snails, slugs and caterpillars), while other substances protect the lichens from UV light or excessive light intensities.  A unique property of some lichen chemicals is their water repellent function (like a biological Gortex) which helps to prevent them from ‘drowning’ (remember the film footage of the rain in my Day 5 blog?)!

 

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This is the lichen I mentioned yesterday, Herpothallon ‘woolly’, which contains interesting chemicals that are essential for identification.

 

But what’s particularly interesting is the diversity of these chemicals. Different lichens produce different chemicals, and this information could therefore be used to assist with the identification of lichens (alongside morphological descriptions (what a species of lichen looks like, both the outer and inner structure) and DNA analysis. 

 

By identifying the unique chemicals of the different lichens, Charles will contribute to the description and identification of tropical lichens that Pat and Holger are working on.

 

Charles is also interested in why some species of tree in the rainforest have very few lichens living on their bark, while other species are covered in lichens.  This may be due to chemicals that are produced in the bark of the tree, but no-one has studied what these chemicals are. 

 

 

Charles explains the two areas of lichen research that he is focusing on.

 

One of Charles’ students, Kishneth, is collecting sections of tree bark (from the same trees that Pat and Holger are sampling), so that they can be analysed in the laboratory.  Requiring a chisel and hammer and a good deal of strength, it’s hard work, but the results from the chemical analysis should be fascinating.

 

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Kishneth removes a small piece of bark from each tree for analysis.

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Another day, another site. We’re over half way through our time here, and Dan’s pretty happy with how things have been going.  The team have learnt how to position their pitfall traps so that they don’t fill up with rainwater and sediment in the extremely wet conditions of the rainforest (far less of a problem in the New Forest where they’ve been sampling for the past ten years and using the same trapping methods).

 

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Kieron reveals the contents of his Pitfall trap…including a cockroach.

 

At previous sample sites, the team have also had to contend with animals stealing their Pitfall traps (pigs are the main suspect).  There are some things you can’t always plan for when carrying out experiments!

 

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Pat and Holger take a closer look at the lichens on the tree.

 

The lichenologists, Pat and Holger, were hard at work today.  As with every day, they came out to the sample site with us and were studying the lichens on the trees.  At each site, they choose twelve trees to study and sample from.  These are a mixture of small and large trees and are a variety of different species, all factors that can influence the species of lichen living on the bark.

 

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Local botanist Mr Kho Ju Ming helps Pat and Holger identify the different species of trees.  He has to use binoculars to see the leaves clearly (which will help him identify the tree) because they are so high up!

 

Lichens are fascinating. They are composite systems (comparable to corals), meaning they are a combination of a fungus and an algae living side by side in a symbiotic relationship (they both benefit from one another).  Lichens occur almost everywhere, surviving in some of the most extreme environments in the world. They are abundant and diverse in rainforests, and there are many to be found here in Maliau. 

 

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Pat ties a piece of string around a tree that is to be sampled.

 

Once Pat and Holger have selected the trees they are going to study, they set up a ladder quadrat on the trunk and begin to identify the lichens.  If they find a lichen they need to check in the laboratory, they write a brief description of it and give it a field nickname.  For example, Pat and Holger have given one of the lichens the nickname Herpothallon ‘woolly’.

 

 

Pat and Holger explain how they study and sample the lichens on trees.

 

There are many animals that have evolved similar colours and patterning to lichens, helping them to avoid predators.  This moth we found, although large, can easily go unnoticed resting against the lichen.

 

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A night-time visitor to the Studies Centre.

 

It can be hard to get a good view of the rainforest when you’re walking along the ground, the tree canopy is very far above.   To get a slightly better view, Tony and I went up onto the ‘Sky Bridge’, near the edge of the forest.  It requires a good head for heights, in places reaching 21 metres above the ground. But this is still only a fraction of the height of many of the trees here in Maliau, some of which reach up to 70 metres.

 

 

The Sky Bridge allows you to get closer to the forest canopy, although still not that close!

 

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Tony and I had a bird’s eye view of Dan, Kerry and Kieron from the canopy walk.

 

Finally, remember the massive ant in one of yesterday’s videos?  Well, today we found something even bigger – possibly a Queen ant of the same species (Camponotus gigas) but a lot bigger than the workers we usually see around the forest floor.  Huge!

 

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Possibly a Queen Ant of the species Camponotus gigas.

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Welcome to...

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(Click images to see them full size)

 

We are all waking up really early - around 6am when the sun comes up. After breakfast we loaded up the golf carts with spades, sieves and sampling jars and we were ready to go panning for worms. We ventured out to the mangroves on the other side of the island, where we were relieved to find that the wind was much less intense.

 

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Above: Helena is ready to find some worms in the Bahamian sand

 

Once we reached the marina we had to get out to the sampling site and what better way than to kayak. Then we had to do some serious digging, put the muddy sand into a bucket and kayak the samples back to the shore. To be fair, Nick did a lot of the hard work!

 

It was then up to Diva and Helena to sieve through all the mud, this may sound easy but when you’re looking for tiny creatures you have to be very precise and it can take quite a while.

 

 

We found a few large creatures, such as sea cucumbers and a giant anemone, but the really exciting stuff is only visible under the microscope. Helena was really excited as she thinks she has found a new species of the marine worm Ophryotrocha under the microscope! Obviously we can't tell for sure until we get back to the Museum but it's great to think that it might be so.

 

 

Above: Could this be a new species of the marine worm Ophryotrocha?

 

One of the other highlights of the day was that Gill got to see Cassiopeia jellyfish for the first time in the wild!

 

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Above: Cassiopeia made Gill’s day!

 

After lunch (which was rice and beans!) we spent a good part of the day testing REX before we send him into the deep later in the week. Adrian and Leigh set up a mission control in a repurposed bathroom on the beach and we sat and watched REX manoeuvre through the shallow sea grass beds.

 

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Above: Yes, Adrian is sitting on a toilet!

 

Here is when REX met a lionfish…

 

 

On Thu 8 Mar (which is tomorrow for me as I write this) we'll be linking live to the Attenborough Studio so do join us if you can!