Saturday, May 31, 2014

Our Day Off

We had our first day off at the end of last week!  We were so excited because we knew how rare an entire day off was here.  After hours of discussing what to do with our day, we decided to go downtown and experience the non-research side of Costa Rica for a few hours. We headed to a restaurant/pool called Ada Ambigua and spent the morning poolside- reading, relaxing, and swimming.  The UVs are so strong here that we literally all tanned in an hour (or in Shannon’s case, burned).

We grabbed lunch at the restaurant before heading back to the station for a relaxing afternoon
where Thomas, Lindsay and I (Shannon) relaxed and slept while Prov took one for the team and volunteered to go back to work.

 Left: lunch at Ada Ambigua.  The best part of this restaurant (In my opinion) is the seemingly inexhaustible drink menu!


 Reading and relaxing by the pool while getting our vitamin D!


Now on a different note.... fast forward to today. 
This morning, Sarah, a science writer who has joined us for the past 2 weeks to help us out and write about our project, left.  Last night, we decided to hang out all night on a porch we have and socialize.  Sitting together under the stars, surrounded by the beautiful sounds of the rain forest, and with people we have grown close to in the past few weeks was an amazing moment to share with one another.  She will surely be missed.
The porch we all enjoy socializing on (From left to right: Sarah, Cat, Prov, Thomas, and Lindsay)

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Taking the rainforest by storm, one night at a time...

You remember our friend Brian from a previous post, right? Brian’s a herpetologist that studies frog and snake populations. He has a ton of projects going on right now, as well as his dissertation project, and he’s doing all of these projects solo. So, we decided to tag along on one of his night hikes to lend him a hand, and to experience what it’s like to do research in the rainforest in the dark (something we don’t typically do when doing research in the canopy). So, we went out with him at the end of last week and hiked 30 minutes to a creek, which we surveyed for frogs and lizard presence. 

When we got to the creek, Brian casually mentioned to us that we might see a fer de lance snake (very poisonous, very common snake at La Selva, which we’re clearly terrified of, given our blog name), We probably walked by one, but didn’t see it… and no one got bitten… so we’re good!

The forest is completely dark at night, so we didn’t have any light except for our headlamps, which didn’t make for taking good pictures. But here’s a quick recap of what happened:
We found one frog (when we went on our hike, it hadn’t rained in 3 days and frogs typically only come out in large numbers after rain), and 3 Anol lizards (and Lindsay thought she killed one of them when she was holding it… she didn’t though!)

We also found 3 snakes; a brown vine snake, a cat-eyed snake, and a sock headed snake. We brought the sock headed snake back to the lab with us, because according to Brian, this snake is a really rare sighting. Go Shannon for spotting it!


 Left: Thomas and Shannon, sock-headed snake in hand. Right: Lindsay, the snake wrangler.

Long story short, the rainforest is drastically different at night than it is during the day. We had moments of fear, moments of falling (literally falling; Providence and Lindsay both fell into the creek...) and moments of triumphing over our fears.


Monday, May 26, 2014

so what's it like being in a tree?

By now, you've all probably picked up on the fact that the biggest aspect of our research this summer is tree climbing. BUT, you might be asking yourself "why exactly are they climbing trees again?" Well my friends, brace yourselves, because you're about to find out...

On the days that we climb, we get up at 5:30am. I (Providence) share a room with Lindsay and Shannon, and we live next door to Thomas. So, we get up, get out field clothes on, and head over to cafeteria for breakfast.

Killing the fashion game with our field clothes look? Snake boots, button ups and mosquito nets are so legit.

 We then head out to our trees for the day, and climb! It takes about 20-30 minutes to climb up a tree, and then we spend about 4 hours in the tree taking measurements, IDing plants and collecting samples.

The view from the canopy... not a bad place to work.

Cat, 100ft in the canopy.

Prov taking some data. Data collecting at it's finest, 100ft in the air.

Rigo Rigo Rigo! Rigo is a local field assistant who helps us rig every single tree. He makes sure we're safe during every climb, and without him, this project would be insanely more difficult.

Carrie and Sarah during Sarah's very first minutes in the tree!

The crew, pre-climb. 

Lindsay, pulling down her line post-climb. We work hard, ladies and gents. 

Even when you're pushing papers, the view's pretty nice. 

Shannon during her ascent into the canopy.

So, WHY exactly are we doing this? We're student researchers, working on the 5th year of a 5 year long study that's being run by Cat and Carrie. Every week for the last 5 years, two field assistants from Costa Rica named Rigo and Ralph, climb our 9 trees and treat each of our branches with one of 5 different nutrient types (Nitrogen, Phosphorous, Nitrogen and Phosphorus, Water or no treatment [control]). We're looking to see how epiphytes will respond to the changes in nutrients that we're exposing them to. This is important because the changes in these nutrient levels is predicted by climate change, and epiphytes in the canopy will be among the first plant species to experience the effects of predicted climate change. This study will tell us a lot about the long term effects of climate change in the neotropics

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Hiking Through the Rainforest (Trail CCC to CCL)

Today Thomas and I (Lindsay) got booted from the climbing teams to work on the light response curves using the LiCor and the epiphytes growing in our shade house. Each plant takes about 35 minutes to process so we decided to write a blog post about the hike the four of us took the other day. We were also joined by Sarah, who has been climbing and working with us to write about our project.

Left: Sad, abandoned research assistants. 

Right: LiCor machine at work measuring a Guzmania monostachia's light response curve. 

Below: Shade house with Thomas looking busy.  

After finishing our daily activities early, we took a two hour hike into the rainforest to look for fallen epiphytes to collect. A couple of people at the station had told us about a Silky Anteater that was sleeping in a tree about four meters up right in the beginning of our hike. After 20 minutes of searching in the trees, we finally gave up and began our hike.
The beginning of this trail features a swamp and after a hard rain, one can hear the frogs singing at night. As you can see below, this area is not covered by the canopy and allows you to see how massive some of the trees are.

Along the way, we found the fruits of the Tetragastris altissima on the path. When the fruit is squeezed it releases a liquid substance that smells of kerosene....and burns like it too...

Can you tell Thomas was a little caught off guard with Prov's pop quiz in the middle of the rainforest?

We found some colorful and diverse fun guys (haha) along the trail.
Shelf fungi are pictured above. We know this fungi started growing after the host tree has fallen because they always grow parallel to the ground.

The trail took on many forms throughout our hike. In the beginning, the path was nicely paved. As we walked further into the rainforest, the trail became cement stepping stones or tree trunk stepping stones. At some points there were small bridges to cross over rivers or streams. And then just mud and slippery leaf litter. The roots of some of the trees along the path made it difficult to walk through.

 What every tree climber hates to see...


On the second half of our hike, we passed a beautiful river crossing

Snake boot star above the river crossing featuring Thomas, Providence, Lindsay, Shannon and Sarah's feet.

Necessary bridge selfie of the five of us on our hike.

Since we weren't very quiet on our hike, we did not see any large, cool mammals. But we did see, a three toed Lindsay (Yes, this is a textbook example of convergent evolution with the three toed sloth).

 Three-Toed Lindsay in her natural habitat.

Here's some actual wildlife we saw....

A blue jean poison dart frog protecting it's tadpoles in the tank of an epiphyte that had fallen from the tree.

On our way back to the station and with a little help from Cat, Carrie and some other researchers at La Selva, we finally got to see the Silky Anteater.

Tonight, Thomas and I are going on a night hike with Brian, the herpetologist who found the snake from our earlier blog post, and Shannon and Providence will be joining him on Saturday night. We are hoping to see glass frogs, which have transparent chest that allows you to see its heart beating!

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Extracting our fears

It's no surprise that so far in Costa Rica, we've done and seen a ton of things that we'd never be exposed to at Colgate. Huge bullet ants (that have one of the most painful stings in the world), venomous and non venomous snakes, howler monkeys, strange mosquitoes, and of course climbing 100ft into the rainforest canopy. These are all things that at least one of us is afraid of, and are all fears that we've had to face and conquer during our time here so far.

 The Extractor- extracting fears (and bug bite poison) since day one.

Lindsay and Providence? Well, let's just say that spiders and snakes, respectively, aren't our best friends. We were terrified of seeing them when we got here, so we were constantly on high alert, searching for them to make sure they stayed as far away from us as possible. But low and behold, the fears have been conquered! All of our conversations with Cat and Carrie combined with our instances of facing our fears have taught all four of us that it's insanely important to have each others backs, and push one another to break boundaries and step outside of our comfort zones.



Seems excited while handling that cloudy slugeater snake? See the video for proof that Providence was a little scared when the snake was handed to her...

 Lindsay got up close and personal with this spider so she could take this picture. It's blurry because she's shaking with fear

 Best way to conquer your fear of the bullet ant? Get stung by one of its sister species.


Shannon and Cat climbing 100ft into the canopy, no big deal... conquering those fears like a champ.

Monday, May 19, 2014

Costa Rica 2014... we made it!

Started from the bottom, now we're here! We arrived in Costa Rica on May 14th to work on a 5 year ecology study at the La Selva Biological Station. We were all ridiculously excited as soon as we stepped out of our planes. La Selva is full of really cool undergraduates, graduate students, Ph.D candidates and Doctors and Professors doing a ton of amazing biological research. We've also met a lot of Costa Rican locals, who are often referred to as Ticos and Ticas.

One of the coolest things about Costa Rica is the huge diversity of fruit that they have here. One of the very first things we did when we left the airport was drive through the mountains of Costa Rica and stopped at an open fruit stand.
This was our very first first interaction with Tico culture and we wanted to eat it all. Carrie suggested that we try the young coconut. The woman working there poked a hole in a coconut for each of us. We chugged it and had her chop it open so we could eat the inside of the coconut. The inside was really sweet, but strangely gelatinous, which is really different compared to coconut that we typically have access to in central NY.  Another really fun fruit to eat was Spanish guava. It looks like a huge pea pod with fuzzy succulent seeds inside (somewhat reminiscent of the baby bats we saw later).

Spanish Guava, which we enjoyed after a long day of climbing in the rainforest.

After one of our climbs, we walked down the STR trail at La Selva and found a palm sliced along the vein, that created a shaded enclosure that housed seven baby bats.

At La Selva, there's a huge bridge that goes over a river, that connects the entrance of the research station to the field station and cabinas. People always find a lot of really interesting wildlife along this bridge. We've seen a Cayman, a sloth, a cloudy slug eater snake and tons of leaf cutter ants.

 The Bridge at La Selva. The bridge was built in the early 90's. Before the bridge, researchers had to take boats across the river to access the research station. The four of us have grown to love the bridge, especially at night, when we can stand in the middle of the bridge, shut our head lamps off, and see hundreds of stars in the sky. When we get really lucky, we see a lot of shooting stars.

 The Cayman alligator is a huge frequenter of the river at La Selva. The water looked really enticing until we spotted this guy on the bank. When we returned from dinner the night that we saw this cayman, his red eye-shine stared back at us during our entire walk across the bridge.

We found the cloudy slug eating snake when we were walking across the bridge at night with our new friend Brian (he's a grad student at Auburn who studies reptiles and amphibians). This is a non venomous snake species that is pretty common at La Selva.


 This three-toed sloth was up in a tree next the the bridge at La Selva. The fur on its head has green coloring because of a symbiotic relationship it has with green algae that lives in its fur.

The reason for our trip to Costa Rica is the field research that we're doing in the rainforest canopy with Cat and Carrie. We're researching the effect of nutrient deposition (as predicted by climate change) on epiphytic plants in the rainforest canopy. Epiphytes are plants that are not rooted on the ground, so they have to collect nutrients using other methods. When the weather is good, we strap into harnesses and climb 100ft into the rainforest canopy on a free line rope system to sample our epiphytes, which are found in 9 experimental trees.

It's also been really cool to experience Tico life in Costa Rica. A few days after we arrived, all of us went into the town outside of La Selva. We got to experience a Costa Rican grocery market,and even though the market is 4,012 miles away, we can't seem to escape the Colgate bubble (see Colgate toothpaste display below!)! The snake boots in the picture are a necessary fashion statement in La Selva (they also protect us from the snakes that Lindsay and Providence are terrified of).