After working extra-hard on both our final (accepted to be published!) versions of our first projects at Palo Verde – as well as submitting our first drafts of our Monteverde projects – we took a scientific break and headed to the Monteverde biological reserve to check out some cool organisms.. namely, hummingbirds!
It was a well-deserved break that allowed us to flex our bird identification muscles – can you name the species in these photos? (Write your answers in the comments!)
We also got to feel what it’s like to have a hummingbird land on your fingers. Here, Miranda and Jenny are having the Disney princess experience:
If asked to think of a rain forest, most people probably imagine a wall of green stuff dripping with rain water, and insects eating you up. In fact, the cloud forest is very different. The forest “floor” is pretty open, the canopy shades the ground, and we haven’t been bothered by biting insects at all. It’s still pretty wet, though.
Cool kids in the jungle cloud forest. The forest behind them is open enough to walk through.
The leaves of these trees make a pretty effective sun shade.
This branch broke and brought its share of the canopy down on the trail. Leaves are positioned to maximize sun exposure.
Looking out over an open area…
… that was created when this tree fell. All kinds of fast-growing plants are filling the gap.
When a tree falls, “succession” starts, and fast-growing but feeble grasses, brushes and trees race to the top. Soon, they will be replaced…
Your archetypical “rain forest” comes in many flavors, one of them being cloud forest. Monteverde, “green mountain,” is a cloud forest biological reserve near a small town in the mountains of Costa Rica. Although we are several thousand feet above sea level, and far inland, you can still see the Pacific, even on a cloudy day. General impression is that it doesn’t exactly rain all that much here (it is the middle of the dry season), but the clouds that roll over the mountain brings in a more-or-less constant drizzle over the dense canopy.
View from the window at Monteverde biological research station.
This cloud forest is anything but jungle, as “jungle” in the biological sense refers to the impenetrable brush that grows once you cut down the forest. The “wall” of stuff at the edge of the forest on the left in the picture above is pretty telling.
Miranda, Ann, Fredrik and I spent the past week in breathtaking Monteverde looking at a mini-ecosystem we never would’ve imagined would be so interesting: phytotelmata!
What are phytotelmata, do you ask? Well, they’re tiny pools of water located in plants, like bromeliads, for example.
The challenge with studying bromeliads is that they’re typically located high up on trees in the forest, making them largely unreachable to scientists. Luckily, we had a garden planted outside our research station that let us examine these organisms up close!
We also found some pretty cool stuff when we looked at what these “islands” of water contained: even some organisms that haven’t been seen in almost a hundred years.
That thought has been passing my mind on a daily basis since I arrived in Costa Rica to do biological research in the tropics as part of Dartmouth’s foreign study program. For six weeks, we’ll be going across the country, jumping from field station to field station as we conduct scientific research from the planning stage to the final paper. Having focused my research on the Arctic up until this point, I was both excited and curious to start my coursework.
The minute we got off the bus at our first station – the Palo Verde National Park – I immediately felt a wall of intense heat smack me in the face. This was an experience unnatural enough to be having in January, but do be doing research in anything but chill weather seemed alien to me.
As I continued with my week, I was struck at the similarities I felt between my work in Greenland and the Tropics. These regions might not be that different after all.Soil research is deeply relevant to understanding both ecosystems – yet soils aren’t usually the first parts of the landscape that come to mind when people think of either the Arctic or the rain forest. I definitely wasn’t expecting to be doing more soil research upon arriving in Costa Rica – just as I wouldn’t have expected to be doing soil research in the tundra as Julia’s field assistant – and yet that’s exactly what I found myself doing.Here are Julia and I collecting samples in July 2013:
And here I am in Costa Rica, measuring soil moisture in the same way I analyzed our Greenlandic samples back in Hanover!
Both the Arctic and the tropical rain forest are incredibly beautiful. Research is pretty distracting when faced with these views:This photo was taken in Kangerlussuaq, Greenland at 1AM:And these ones were taken at sunset at Palo Verde, Costa Rica:
The vegetation types, while on opposite extremes, are entirely different from what you’d see back home. While in the tundra you can see miles and miles into the distance – and the immense span is shocking…… here in the tropics, the trees are bigger than I’ve ever seen anywhere – especially in primary forests. And you can barely see 100 feet ahead of you when the forest is thick:
Both regions are significantly affected by climactic changes. Arctic and tropical ecosystems are some of the most vulnerable to tipping points and thresholds, wherein global warming may cause irreversible changes to our environment. Interestingly, though, I haven’t heard talk of either region among both communities of researchers.I still have so much to learn about these regions and others around the world, all of whom contribute to a better understanding of climate change. (Stay tuned for more reflections as the weeks pass by!)As a budding climate scientist, I recognize how important it is to acknowledge that our world is deeply interconnected – from the poles to the equator. And I’m incredibly grateful to have had the opportunity to conduct research in these places, hoping to gain the skills that will form my work as a scientist, understanding the world’s collective future.
And the circle of life goes round and round… get ready for some (sad? gory? awesome?) photos of a jaguar eating a – you guessed it – green sea turtle!
We were incredibly fortunate to have met Erik, who works for WIDECAST and helps monitor sea turtle breeding on the beach, while we were in Santa Rosa. The introduction wasn’t planned, but he was wonderful and responsible for many of the very very amazing turtle nestings and hatchlings we saw over the weekend. (He also let yours truly tag along at 5AM and dig baby green turtles out of the clutches of ghost crabs!)
Before we left, he shared some incredible game camera photos and videos with us, of a jaguar chomping on a yummy female adult green sea turtle who’d come to the beach with the hopes of laying her eggs. Little did she know that she’d become the breakfast, lunch, and dinner for one of the dozen-plus jaguars who call that same beach home…
Here, we see a turtle carcass to the right, and a black vulture striking a pose: (notice the time stamp)
Later that night (3:08AM, to be exact), a new friend stops by:
This jaguar, one of two females who are tracked and collared, is seen here munching on the dinner she’d caught the day before.
… and now she’s brought it back to a more remote location so that she could keep eating:
Quite an eventful night! Little did we know as we were walking along the beach and sleeping a few metres away…
We sadly didn’t see the jaguars, but they definitely saw us!
As Tom Jr. and the other baby sea turtles braved the breaking waves, we followed them into the water. With the sun shining, the waves breaking on the beach, and magnificent frigate birds soaring above, the idyll was complete as the baby turtles valiantly pushed on towards the open sea. Suddenly, disaster struck.
One after one, the frigate birds swooped down over the waves, picking up the baby sea turtles, and we saw Tom Jr. soar to the great beyond.
Tom (Sr.) and others cursing loudly at the frigate bird as Tom Jr. goes airborne. Photo by Amy Zhang.
At a loss. Photo by Amy Zhang.
As budding scientists, we of course took a neutral and objective view on the whole thing (okay, one or two of us may have cursed under our breaths and/or screamed at the birds for a few minutes), since this isn’t at all out of the ordinary. Almost all organisms produce many…