Friday, August 19, 2011

Back in Mastatal after a week on the coast!

Hola! We are back in the farming village of Mastatal, Costa Rica after a whirlwind visit to the Pacific coast. We spent some days at Hacienda Baru, a private nature reserve near Dominical, where the class explored the mangroves and other coastal habitats with staff naturalists. We also spent time with naturalists in Manuel Antonio Natural Park as well as some mangrove islands further north - all teeming with monkeys, sloths, and other wildlife. Finally, we had the opportunity to participate in night beach patrols, looking for nesting sea turtles - several groups had the good fortune of witnessing the ancient ritual of Olive Ridleys crawling up onto the beach in the dead of night and laying their eggs!

Students are busy wrapping up their research projects - they'll be giving final presentations tomorrow afternoon in the outdoor classroom here at Rancho Mastatal - then it will be back to the San Jose area to return home and/or continue travels elsewhere!

Friday, August 5, 2011

Greetings from Mastatal!

Hello from Costa Rica! Erica Cline and I are in a rural farming village in Costa Rica with 13 students on a UW Tacoma study-abroad course. We left the San Jose area a few days ago, and all are now immersed in life in a remote village, with students fully engaged in their independent research projects, which form the core of this study abroad experience. Projects span a range of mostly ecological studies, including exploring the effects of roads and landscape use on stream macroinvertebrate biodiversity and sediments, poison dart frog behavior, hummingbird foraging, butterfly diversity, fungal pathogen dynamics in cacao plantations, and the antibiotic properties of medicinal plants found here in the rainforest. The group will be here for another week or so before heading to the coast to explore mangrove and other habitats there, before returning back to the village. More posts and updates to come!

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Back in Watamu

Greetings from the Kenyan coast – I’m here for a few weeks at the Mwamba Field Study Centre (A Rocha Kenya) working with colleagues on several different conservation projects. I’m continuing work on a collaborative project with Colin Jackson, an ornithologist at A Rocha Kenya, and his field crew on conservation of several endangered bird species that inhabit the nearby Arabuko-Sokoke Forest (ASF). ASF is the largest last remnant forest along the East African coast, and is home to six birds on the International Union for Conservation of Nature (or the IUCN as it’s known) “red list” of endangered/threatened species. Last year we published the results of a study we conducted (with UW Tacoma undergraduates) exploring the interaction of bird and arthropod populations with elephant disturbance; this month we have just submitted another paper (again with the help of UW Tacoma undergraduates who accompanied me here last autumn to do more fieldwork) detailing the preference of one of the red-listed birds (the East Coast Akalat – Sheppardia gunning) for a particular habitat in the forest (Cynometra forest & thicket). We’re in the process of writing up another paper this week that attempts to more closely analyze data linking the relationship between elephant disturbance and other vegetation characteristics and bird diversity in the forest reserve. Plans to conduct an exhaustive elephant count, in conjunction with the Kenya Wildlife Service, have been delayed for a few weeks – we’re hopeful that this will get done within the month so that we’ll have updated information about the elephant densities in ASF, which will help us all to better understand the rich ecological network involving these megaherbivores and the rest of the forest denizens (and consequently the implications of different management strategies).
On the marine side, I’ve been continuing my collaboration with Watamu Turtle Watch, finishing up analysis of data linking beach habitat condition and Chelonia mydas (green sea turtle) nesting along Watamu Beach. We should have a preliminary paper submitted on this work in the next two months – more info to follow!

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Earthwatch Team Two 2011 wraps up

We wrapped up another week of fieldwork in TarrazĂș with the second Earthwatch team of the season. With the usual flurry of activities, the small (only four!) team was invaluable in helping set up traps, collecting insects from the field, and sorting specimens in the lab. Last week we took some time to move our entire operation to a new (but nearby) site - we're now fully installed in a new laboratory facility - an old house that we're leasing from the coffee cooperative. All are very happy to be away from the car emissions testing facility that had been located just outside the doors/windows of our old lab facilities!

This morning we found ourselves in the middle of the San Isidro Blessing of the Animals (& crops) in Santa Maria - droves of people came down from the surrounding hills with their dogs, cows, horses, ducks, etc. in tow for the festivities - a great way to finish off the week!

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Fieldwork in TarrazĂș

I'm spending a few weeks in the central highlands of Costa Rica, conducting research in an ongoing project I'm conducting with Earthwatch Institute and a local coffee farmers cooperative (CoopeTarrazu). The focus this year is on pollinators, and especially on the importance of nearby forest fragments on coffee yields and the abundance and diversity of bees visiting coffee. Fieldwork activities include sampling bee/wasp diversity and abundance in and around coffee fields, and manipulating pollinator access to flowers in order to compare the effects of wind vs. insect pollination on yields. This week, I've got a group of volunteers from the global firm Ernst & Yield helping out in the field- we're spending the mornings putting up insect traps in coffee fields and nearby forests, and the afternoons in the lab sorting the insects captured from the previous days' traps. The volunteers (ten of them) are also working with the local coffee cooperative in an effort to help them develop their social corporate responsibility protocols. The group will be here a total of eight days; another group of volunteers arrives this weekend, and we'll continue collecting data on more farms throughout next week.