Things are beginning to move along quickly. We’ve fallen into somewhat of a schedule for our days here:
6:15am- Crew wakes up
6:30am- Breakfast until 7:30
7:15am- I actually get out of bed and stumble to the dining hall
7:20am- Ryan’s wit makes easy fodder of my poor delirious mind at breakfast
8:00am to 11:00am- Group hike/work on projects
11:00am to noon- Input collected data from project work
noon-1:00pm- Lunch; think of new methods of getting Izzy to eat her beans
1:30pm to 6:00pm- Afternoon hike/project work/individual brainstorming, etc.
5:00pm- around now is when Ryan has probably broken out the guitar and is looking too picturesque playing it on the padio
6:45pm- Robbie and I at some point squeeze in 20 minutes of tossing
7:00pm-9:00pm- Evening lectures, student paper presentations
9:00pm to 10:30 pm- free time, work on projects, research, get devoured by mosquitos while we look for cool stuff in the dark
Run-ins with amazing wildlife have almost become casual at this point. We’ll still point out to each other the scorpion poised in the sidewalk, or the troop of capuchins curiously peering down at us from above, but seeing these things is just part of our day.
Having the whole Calsbeek clan here has been a blast. Ryan and Brittany make such a great tag team, and Izzy (4 and a haff she’d say), and Eva (only sixteen months) are the cutest things. Having the kids definitely helps keep the tone of things a little more lax, even if they might stir up some trouble every now and then.
We received our first projects on Thursday! Each was faculty-initiated, as in Ryan and the two TA’s (Beth and Christine) brainstormed each one respectively. All three are focused upon the mutualistic relationships between acacia trees and Pseudomyrmex ants that inhabit them, and defend the plant vigorously from herbivores and competing plants. In return, the plant supplies the ant with hollow thorns (called domatia) to live in, and sources that supply proteins and sugars called “beltian bodies” and nectaries, respectively.
I’ve been working with Jalen, David, and Perri on Beth’s idea: whether ants adjust their defensive vigor according to the time of day. Specifically: how active are ants during times of high mammalian, and high invertebrate, herbivory on the acacia plant?
Field work on the project has been engaging, because although on this first project most of the methods have been laid out for us already, there’s still definitely some problem-solving required on out part. It’s also led us to be out among the forest edge during all hours of the day; we’ve sampled practically every hour of the day, morning, and evening, even before dawn.
But it hasn’t been all fun — anytime before noon or after 6pm, you can’t step foot outside without an unpleasant cloud forming around you. The ‘squitos are a real pain in the ass; the back of my field notebook is already racking up piles of their squished bodies, while my neck and hands just won’t stop itching from bites.
Although practically the whole day is spent practicing ecology, there’ve been a few stand-out moments that are a step away from the constant science.
I lost a hard-fought race for the title of triathlete lunch-eater against Izzy, a real heartbreaker 😦
The night before our pre-dawn sampling, the five of us (David, Perri, Beth, Jalen, and myself) spent the night out on the docks stretching into the marsh, looking up at one of the most beautiful starry skies you could gaze to no end to.
Ryan, Beth and I are set upon catching a ctenosaur. They’re damn fast — the fastest lizard known to man, in fact, thus only raising the stakes of the challenge. And they can pack a punch — a bite from a ctenosaur could lose you a fingernail or more, as Ryan knows all too well.
Thinking up research questions for projects hasn’t been coming too easily for us. With all the amazing organisms, and interactions between them, around us, it’s difficult to zero in upon one component of this ecosystem. The complexity of it all is intimidating. But I’ve got a few ideas churning, just you wait.
Big surprise from tonight — as Beth, Robbie, David, Christine and I were heading down to the marsh to check the turtle traps we set, I noticed a black streak out of the corner of my eye, somewhere in the dark. I turned my headlamp, and yup, our first snake! Quick capture and ID revealed it was a burrowing python — a real beaut. Ryan’s 2nd rule of FSP was “no touchy,” but c’mon sometimes you can’t resist — even when at first you’re not 100% certain whether it’s venomous.
Currently we’re putting the final touches on the presentation on ant-acacia tomorrow. And in the morning, we decide upon our first student-led project!! Man, I can’t wait.