Saturday, January 26, 2013

No more monkeying around

Sampling for arthropods near the outer wall of the ancient city of Gede

After a successful monkey-free sampling round in the forest on the far side of the Gede ruins, we decided to take a more practical approach at re-sampling the site where our traps were under siege a few days ago. After much discussion, our field assistant Simon volunteered to hang out at the site all day yesterday in order to deter any monkey mischief. Our primate friends were in full evidence as we arrived at the site in the morning to put up traps; we also saw a few duikers (who apparently have a strong affinity for soapy water - hence posing a continuing threat to our pan and pitfall traps) running about. We set up our traps to the sounds of Hadada Ibis and the near constant (and seemingly mocking) call of the  Trumpeter Hornbill (check out its mournful if somewhat annoying call here), and then Simon settled in for the day - with provisions for food & water, of course!

Simon preparing to hunker down for the day on monkey patrol!
At the end of the day, our scheme paid off - Simon did indeed have to chase off monkey troupes a few times - but our traps held fast and we got some great data this morning! We travelled to a nearby shamba (farmstead) and set up traps there - the first of three days of farm sampling to round out our comparisons (diversity in the regenerated forest vs. established forest vs. farmland). Back on track, we're busy sorting insects this afternoon - and hoping to take in some Saturday night rugby on tv at a local bar this evening!

Jake hoisting malaise with Stanley at the shamba

Meg helping with set-up at the shamba

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Monkey trouble

Malaise downed by monkeys!
Duiker prints by empty pitfall
Today marks the end of our first week of fieldwork this expedition - to commemorate this milestone, we arrived to the field site this morning to find that monkeys apparently enjoyed themselves last night deconstructing our experimental set up! Malaise traps were knocked over, and pitfall and yellow pan traps were flung about - basically undoing our last 24 hours of sampling work. This comes a day after we found some of our pitfalls and pan traps licked clean by what appeared to be a forest duiker (small antelope in the genus Cephalophus) with a taste for soapy water. This morning we collected what we could, and reset traps in a nearby forest site on the other side of the Gede Ruins archealogical site. We're hoping that this round will go smoothly - it's in the same reference forest, but far enough away that it is ruled by a different (and hopefully less mischievous) monkey troupe (which we saw moving through the trees upon our arrival). Tomorrow we'll know if this incident was a one-off - or if we need to get serious about guarding our experimental set-up from marauding monkeys 24/7!

Don't be misled by that innocent look!

(and they can also pretty hazardous to scientific research as well!)

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Setbacks in the field - get your Sisyphus on!

Apiary crops up in the forest
A house fit for the middle of regen plot!/!
Fully underway in the field at week's end - our second day in the regenerated forest we were surprised to see that an entire house was being constructed in one of our experimental plots!  Apparently this is to be an apiary to replace the managed honeybee colonies scattered about in the regen area - but in order to build it, some clearing of native trees planted 20+ years ago occurred. Luckily we were able to find a suitable replacement plot neraby for our diversity sampling - and fieldwork continues...
This sort of thing is unfortunately not too uncommon in conservation work - despite the best efforts of several local groups to establish and study plots such as the restoration area where we're working, there are constant tensions over land use. Furthermore, it seems that the group that decided to clear the area (without consultation of any of the team working on the restoration) could have easily set up the  apiary in a less sensitive area nearby - at best it seems poor communication and coordination were happening here. These types of miscommunications are happening in all conservation realms here on the coast - from the inland dry forest to the marine zone, where poaching continues unabated despite widespread education compaigns aimed at  highlighting the short-sightedness of overfishing/overharvesting for short-term gain in areas where many people's livelihoods depend on sustainable resources. Despite all, good work carries on - the spirit of Sisyphus (the Corinthian king from Greek mythology condemned to roll a boulder up a hill, only to have it roll back down - for eternity) is alive and well here on the coast - lots of people working together to tackle complex multi-faceted conservation issues!
Field crew in Gede, undeterred!

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Dry season in Gede!

Jake and Simon collecting leaf litter data in restored forest
Back in Gede (Coast Province, Kenya) doing fieldwork in the dry season...I'm here for the next three weeks sampling for arthropod diversity in the Gede Ruins National Monument - a continuation of work started back in May/June of last year, this is a collaborative effort with local ornithologists from the Mwamba Field Station and Bird Observatory and the National Museums of Kenya to assess the recovery of a plot of land (formerly farmland) that was planted with indigenous trees over twenty years ago. Working with me is Jake Asplund, a recent UWT grad (headed to graduate school in the fall) and Simon Mahaga, a student at Moi University in Nairobi. We're conducting fieldowrk by day and analyzing data from our last expedition in the evenings - a comparison of the diversity in the rainy and dry seasons will help us better understand the annual dynamics of arthropods and birds in these coastal forests as well as document the progress of this restoration project. Because forests represent critical wildlife habitat and supply important supplemental resources for many of the Giriama inhabitats of the 50+ villages in the Watamu area, we're keen to understand how quickly and to what extent the restored areas return to normal ecosystem functioning. We'll be spending the next several weeks setting up traps and rough sorting insects here at Mwamba before heading back to Nairobi and the U.S. - more updates to follow!
Syke's monkeys desperate for a drink at Mwamba in the hot dry season!
Sunrise at Mwamba