Course Review and Wrap Up (Wait this is my last blog)

Rice University. Houston, Texas. USA. America.

 

I feel that the first thing I should preface this final blog post with is my profound appreciation and thanks for everyone who worked so hard to make this trip a possibility.. I had an absolutely incredible time exploring two incredible diverse ecosystems in Belize, and I want to send out a special thank you to both Professor Solomon and Professor Simoes-Correa for beautifully orchestrating a wonderful trip for 10 slightly rambunctious students..

 

I had an incredible time in both the rainforest and on the coral reef, and to academically summarize my experiences, I present to you a brief dichotomy between those two ecosystems.

 

First, corals and rain forests share numerous similarities that make them some of the most diverse ecosystems on our planet. And that starts from the bottom up.. Both of these ecosystems are particularly adapted to maximizing resource efficiency in environments where resources can be extremely scare. Coral reefs are able to absorb and utilize key nutrients very efficiently in order to control growth and other photosynthetic processes. Reefs also contain various forms of bacteria that serve various functions around the reefs that are key to reef growth, protection, and development.

Rainforests share similar characteristics, with micro bacteria and countless forms of decomposers who are vital to the processing of nutrients in these, sometimes nutrient poor, ecosystems. Rainforests are notorious for having incredibly high rates of decomposition, which also lead to numerous morbid jokes during the trip (mostly related to the reassurance that our bodies would, in fact, decompose rather quickly if we were to become some sort of rainforest statistic), a truly reassuring proposition.

 

My expectations for the course were fully met! I actually probably learned more than I had intended.. I certainly cemented the fact that I am a water person, much more so than a rainforest person (Sorry Scott!) I figured out that I love working in the water, as well as playing around, goofing off, and most notably taking pictures. I have not had much experience prior to the trip shooting underwater to a great extent, and I am incredibly thankful for the opportunity to explore a new adventure frontier!

 

If I were to list my favorite portions of the course, I would certainly sway towards our water-related activities.. I loved all of our snorkeling trips, especially the ones to deeper water environments because of the distinct challenges of diving down to get pictures as well as observe organisms in their natural environments. I believe our deepest dive site was at the fore-reef, where we saw the two sea turtles. That was an absolutely incredible experience I will never forget diving down for a closer look! (I should also mention I have my fins, mask, and snorkel sitting by my door in some sort of fruitless ploy to get myself back at a coral reef sooner). My other favorite experiences were the ATM Cave, because honestly what’s better than climbing over jagged rocks, and swimming, and retracing the same pathways that ancient mayas took hundreds if not thousands of years ago.. Absolutely incredible! Another favorite for me was swimming at the waterfalls along the Rio Bravo. Despite the fact that I lost my favorite pair of $30 sunglasses, I absolutely loved the adventure and natural waterslide fun that we had there! In memorial of my now deceased shades, they went out like a champ, underneath a waterfall that the ancient maya probably lost their sunglasses in as well (okay maybe not).

 

In terms of least favorite portions of the course.. I think Scott and Adrienne would be able to answer these for me! I’m not much of a fan of being inside, especially when the weather is absolutely beautiful, so our classroom lectures and activities weren’t quite as enjoyable as the actual physical process of doing field work, but they were still a fantastic learning experience and are certainly needed for our comprehension! Another not so favorite part for me (as reflected in my blogs) were the bugs at Las Cuevas. I maintain that I enjoy animals with 4 legs or less. So dogs, other mammals (excluding house cats), snakes, reptiles, amphibians, etc are right up my alley.. I’m working on my ant loving appreciation, which certainly grew throughout the trip, however I don’t see my next pet being a mound of leaf cutter ants adjacent to my television. Also hiking up hills, great for toning your legs and glutes, not so much for enjoyment, although cresting the hill is quite satisfying…

 

Three things that I learned in the course that I expect to remember when I’m old and decrepit..

1. Field work is a lot of work.. You have to be extremely dedicated (and hydrated) to perform your tasks in a efficient, and also accurate manner. I did not expect fieldwork to be as challenging, and in some cases as frustrating, as it was to complete.. Despite that I loved the process of setting up the experiments and actually performing them.. However I still need to work on my analytical skills, thats certainly an area of improvement for myself!

2. I learned that working with new people is an exciting, difficult, and rewarding experience. I only knew one other student at the genesis of this trip, and I made a point to try and work outside of my comfort zone with individuals I did not know well at the time to improve my group working skills. I treasure that experience now.

3. I was surprised at how physically draining, yet awesome, field work can be. We were swimming around coral reefs, diving down to take measurements, observing things underwater while breathing through a plastic tube.. It’s all pretty taxing on your body and I loved the challenge! The rain forest is an entirely different animal, in that several animals are trying to bite/suck your blood/eat you at any given moment. Our rainforest field work involved a ton of hiking, data collection, and physical exertion that I wasn’t totally expecting. Again, I love a challenge, so I can’t wait to keep exploring!

 

Final Segment of Today’s Revelations

1. Hot showers are totally awesome, as is sleeping in your own bed.

2. I’m growing nostalgic for white rice, chicken, and tortillas

3. Bug bites do not stop itching once you leave the rainforest, my legs look like a battleground

4. Potable water that comes out of taps is really convenient..

5. Unpacking is more annoying than packing in the first place, I’m considering living out of a suitcase

6. Snakes can be sassy when you haven’t fed them for 2 weeks

7. I miss the incredible people that I met in Belize (I’m looking at you Herbert, Jani, Pedro, and Dan the Man)

8. The friends I’ve made on this trip will continue to be some of my closest friends throughout my time at Rice

9. I’m counting down the days until my next adventure like this one can begin..

 

Thank you all for keeping up with my wavering grammar, occasional spelling lapses, and also my brief summaries of the overwhelming degree of awesome that was this trip. A special thank you to both Scott and Adrienne today for being incredibly informative, patient, and passionate guides as we traveled through a foreign location.

 

Until next time homies,

 

-Kevin-

Final blog

After making it back to San Diego I had time to enjoy my hot shower and change of food. :) I’m glad to be back and a little sad bout saying goodbye to an amazing place and to the new people I met on this trip.

The experience I had out there in Belize was amazing. I got to see two research stations, snorkel in clear blue ocean water, and hike through a rainforest. Not many people have the chance to do all of this and in two weeks. These two ecosystems are different but had many similarities between the two.

Even though these two ecosystem are different in location with one in open water and the other being land based they had similar biological diversity.  In both area they had a high number of diversity of species. The diversity in both the rainforest and in the coral reef can benefit us in medicines. You also see a lot of species in both ecosystem being cryptic in their environment. For example you have Fer De lance snakes in the rainforest that can camouflaged and in the corals the fish all have different color patterns and some show self mimicry.

Another similarity between the two ecosystems is that they have high turn over rates. This is because they need to since the nutrients their area is poor in nutrient the high turn over rate helps with productivity. In both ecosystems you see symbiosis and mutualism going on. In the rain forest you see this with ants and the Cercropia trees. In coral reef you have cleaner fish that are small fish that clean bigger fish because they get food.

This trip was amazing and I learned a lot of things. I learned more about the ants and how they start their colonies and the dynamic of these colonies I actually thought was really interesting. I did not realize there importance in a rainforest and it’s crazy to learn that there so small but play a big role in the rainforest. Other things were learning about the Mayan’s that lived in the area. Hearing about the different theories of the caves we saw and their purpose was something I really enjoyed. I learned how to place a qudrats and a transcect in the ocean. I learned more about glover reefs and the importance it is to save this reef and other like it.

My favorite parts were jumping into the ocean and seeing sea turtles, snorkeling at night and seeing the bioluminescent, the ATM cave, seeing our camera traps at the end and seeing the cats in our photos,the view from the bird tower and best of all meeting a great group. There is plenty more of great moments but I can’t list all of them. My expectation for there course was exceeded for sure and it was so much fun.

All in all I think this course will be forever a memory that I will tell people about all the time.  I have a better understanding of the world we live in. :) This was a great adventure and we’ll worth all the paper work and time I had to put in to get here. :)

Stephenie

Final Blog

So, I’ve just spent 24 hours back in Houston. I’m not gonna lie, it’s been nice to enjoy a warm shower, Game of Thrones, and my duvet. However, I’ve also spent much of this time reflecting on the past two weeks in Belize.

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:D

 

I just had the experience of a lifetime. I got to spend a week on a private research island, snorkeling in open water, and another week at a rainforest research station, exploring the jungle. These two ecosystems are like none other I’ve experienced. They are filled with an incredible diversity of plants, animals, and lifestyles.

 

Yes, coral reef ecosystems are marine and rainforests are terrestrial, but they are surprisingly alike in terms of biological diversity. On the reef, I observed the abundance of cryptic lifestyles, such as sea urchins hiding under substrate and eels lurking within crevices. Similarly, in the rainforest I observed animals like the Fer-de-Lance, living camouflaged with its surroundings, waiting to attack.

 

Furthermore, the competition for habitat, the pressures of predation, and the abundance of mutualistic lifestyles are evident in both ecosystems. In the coral reef, the competition of space is vicious. Corals exhibit lines of death, marking evidence of nighttime mesenterial gut attacks. Algae overgrows corals and substrate. Sponges and bivavles encrust and burrow into coral. In the rainforest, we viewed vines, fungi, and epiphytes covering the trunks and branches of trees. Howler monkeys vocalize their territorial claims with echoing roars.

 

Predation is fierce in both of these ecosystems. On the reef, organisms exhibit dramatic defenses. Lionfish are covered in protruding, venomous spines; corals are equipped with stinging nematocysts; fire coral stands bright, ready to inflict searing pain on victims brushing by. In the rainforest, organisms employ tactics such as aposemetism, like the coral snake; caterpillars warn predators with perilous fuzzy spines; the Fer-de-Lance sits quietly, ready for ambush; Atta cephaloides develop a complex social structure involving workers and soldiers, prepared to deal with invaders.

 

Mutualistic relationships are found everywhere in each ecosystem. On the coral reef, cleaning wrasse use larger fish for protection and in return keep them clean; Symbiodinium live within the coral polyp, supplying it with photosynthetic products; damselfish aggressively guard patches of algae, enjoying a protected food source, while the algae benefits from protection from other predators. In the rainforest, I observed countless examples of ant mutualism, with ants living in the Cecropia trees (Azteca ants) and within the Acacia trees (ants = Pseudomyrmex ferruginea). These ants protect the tree from herbivores and also gain a safe home and a source of food. Furthermore, the fungus harvested by Atta cephaloides depends on the ants for survival (they provide the fungi with food), and the ants depend on the fungi for food.

 

My favorite parts of the course were by far the forereef, the view from the bird tower, and swimming in the streams. My least favorite parts mainly centered around being eaten by bugs. However, five years from now I will always remember seeing the sea turtles, braving the wound from Atta cephaloides, exploring human remains in the ATM cave, and getting to know an amazing and diverse group of people. This course was so much more than expected. The most surprising thing I learned centered around ants–who knew there could be such diversity and complexity.  It’s amazing what an impact they have on the rainforest ecosystem as a whole.  I figured I’d get a good travel experience and a course credit, but I honestly had the experience of a lifetime. It was a true adventure in every sense.

Last blog of the course

Last blog of the course. I’m back at home, melded with the couch, my parrot on my shoulder and Buffy the Vampire Slayer on the screen. It’s good to be home, but it’s strange to sleep in and veg. I’ve spent the day culling and editing images and uploading them to my previous blog posts. Others’ images have also been delightful. On Saturday I go to Manhattan for the summer – I couldn’t have two summer experiences more different! Granted, both are research and biology oriented and both take place in jungles – one organic, one steel. Both hot.
I have been to Belize before, and I have done field work before, but this tropical ecology field course was quite different from both in many respects. EBIO 319 was a survey of tropical ecology field work, not just in its marine and rainforest binary, but also within those categories. We examined flora and fauna in both biomes, quantified diversity and abundance, analyzed behavior as a proxy, formed questions, made predictions, and plotted correlations, discussing the relationships and their meanings. And it was ecology field work which has much in common with what I’ve done but is still quite different.
My favorite part of the course is hard to pick, but I very much enjoyed identifying fish species. I wish I had been able to do the same with arthropods in the rainforest. Granted, the diversity and abundance of the latter far overwhelms the former, but I could have made a dent. I look forward to learning more in Insect Biology next semester.
I came into this course somewhat dreading the marine bit because I dislike being cold and I dislike being wet and I don’t like getting in water or getting out of water. But it turns out that the Caribbean is indeed warm and the ecosystem and activities more than made up for any inconvenience.
All in all, this course was fantastic, easily one of the best I’ve taken at Rice. Of course, it has a bit of an edge over classroom-style courses, but still. The fauna were glorious, the flora lovely, and the humans very amusing.

Post-trip post!

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6/2/14

 

I just had an amazing experience in the tropics. We went to the rainforest and reef.  I’m really sad it’s over, but happy to be home. I got to sample a variety of field methods and experience what it was like to actually do field research. For sure, this trip is one I won’t forget.

These two ecosystems, rainforest and reef, are critical for humanity in many ways. A few are that there is a great abundance of diversity which can provide us medical compounds. Reefs also serve as protection for coastlines. They are key fisheries and vital for tourism in many countries. Rainforests serve as key hunting grounds and also supports the timber industry. Both of these places have very high turnover rates, meaning a lot of organic matter is cycled in and out of the systems at high rates. This makes the soil and water of the rainforests and reefs nutrient poor. Both are highly diverse, which creates a vast system of very specialized niches. This means a disturbance in a small area, or in a specific population can have devastating effects for the ecosystem as a whole because of the complex web of dependent relationships. Both ecosystems have complex webs of relationships.

The course was amazing. I would definitely recommend this course to anyone interested, as it really opened my eyes to what field research really is all about. My favorite parts were the free snorkeling times on the reef and going up on the birdtower. Also, the ATM cave was amazing, apart from the cold. Additionally, meeting amazing people and sharing this experience with them was priceless. My least favorite parts, were the hike in the rain and the backreef mosquitoes.

I learned a lot about the struggles and importance of field research. I learned that insect repellant doesn’t deter insects. I learned the importance of these ecosystems and gained an appreciation of their worth. I’ll never forget what a tick looks like (ugh). I’ll also never forget the wonderful scenery of the rainforest and reef. I will probably never again get the opportunity to see such amazing ecosystems in such depth, so I’ll be sure to burn their images into my mind.

Last Blog:(

Houston – To start, I am very sad that this will be my last blog post from this course. This was an incredible experience, one that at first I was anxious about and now I definitely wish had not ended so soon.

The rainforest and coral reefs turned out to be significantly more similar to each other than I thought at all, considering they are two very very different ecosystems. To start, the rainforest has soil that is not nutritious at all, where as the coral reefs are surrounded by tons of water that lacks in nutrients as well. Yet, both contain some of the highest levels of biodiversity on the planet, and are definitely hugely significant to the recycling of nutrients and leading primary producers due to their high turnover rates.

So as far as the similarities and differences I would just like to point out that one is in the water and one is terrestrial, shocker, I know. Anyways, my favorite similarity is definitely that there is something bioluminescent in both ecosystems (dinoflagellates and fireflies!!!), which made me SO happy. The species in both ecosystems adapted to their environments, with larger animals like sea turtles and birds developing salt glands for secreting salt. Both the reefs and rainforest had animals exhibiting aposematic coloration (warning colors), as well as cryptic coloration. When we were in the mangroves I found the coloring of the juveniles to be exceptionally neat, and differing far from their adult forms.

This course far exceeded my expectations by any standard. I thought going into it that I would feel isolated, and while enjoying myself, wish that I had sooome access to the world. However, when I was there I was indescribably grateful for the opportunity to just unplug and get away from the world for a while, to not worry about having to email or contact anyone and just be grateful for the environment I was in and everything that I could see – I was very happy. I didn’t want to leave at all,  if that tells you anything.

I will start with my top two least favorite parts: anything in the back reef (basically mosquito Armageddon), and the hills at Las Cuevas. Oh, also getting stung by fire coral. That kind of sucked. Now, for my three favorite parts!! The ATM cave and Las Cuevas cave were incredible because I loved that I was finally rocking at something (eh? pun?) and all the super cool formations, not to mention the river running through the ATM cave and the ancient, ancient pottery and skeletons. Second favorite was definitely any deep sea diving we did on the reefs, especially at the drop off part where we saw all kinds of coral formations and sea turtles. Third favorite was the hike out to and the stream at the end of the Monkeytail Trail, where I got to swim in a chilly river and drink water vines on the trail!

Finally, the top three most valuable experiences I took away from the course. Ahem. 1) scott is #sassyScott 2)Adrienne is the world’s worst earworm 3) I absolutely suck at using headlamps. And now time for the real ones… 1) It is pretty wonderful to unplug for a while, and only concentrate on the place you are at, the experiences you can have, and all the wonderful things you can see when you say “yes” to everything (ultimately resulting in no sleep, but getting to see cool things like on the night snorkel. however, just say no to fire coral). 2) Getting up early even when you want to sleep in for about 5000 years is worth it 100% of the time, at least if you’re in Belize for only 2 weeks. Especially when the howler monkeys kind of force you to get up… but seriously, I was really glad I woke up really early (at least on all the days I didn’t oversleep) to see the birds and watch the sun come up. 3) The things that seem to suck the most generally make for some of the greatest stories. For instance, the time that we ran through mosquito hell, the time when the skies opened for 40 days and 40 nights (or 3 hours) on us while we hiked, the time(s) my headlamp went out and I had no other alternatives but to run blindly into walls, the time we did transects, the time we did any type of data analysis, the times when #sassyScott forgot to mention that there were hills the size of a mountain, and the many times I took freezing showers with a variety of bugs. At the time, I was pretty much cursing the world, but looking back, I would not have traded a single experience. Except for maybe getting stuck by fire coral, but that was pretty cool in retrospect as well. I’m going to add a bonus just for fun: I learned that anything and everything relates back to ants, including human evolution.

I wish 500% that I was back in Belize, and going to get up in the morning and go out on the boat or go for a hike (however, I only mildly miss the jokes that if I were to go for a hike by myself with my horrid direction I would probably end up in Guatemala). This trip was such a wonderful, amazing, eye opening trip. It really helped me realize that while I have traveled a lot, it is still not even close to being enough. Hopefully in the coming months and years I will have more opportunities to go abroad, because hey, now I have a valid passport! Thank you Scott and Adrienne for offering such an incredible class, thank you to my mom for reminding me to by fins the day before I left, thank you to everyone who made this such a wonderful experience!:)

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- Chrystine “it’s over… let’s do it again!! can i TA??” Gallegos

Day 13: Hiking in the Rain and the Las Cuevas Challenge!

5/31389 377/14 Day 13

Today was extremely rewarding. As it was the last day before leaving, we had to recover all of our experiments that we had left in the field, like the camera traps and snakes. The camera traps on the monkey trail were fairly easy to get, as the trail was relatively flat and very wide. Once we came upon the 50 hectare plot however, things took a turn for the worse. It started absolutely pouring rain. If you remember my previous post about the 50 hectare plot, there are 2 large and steep mountains. This was a struggle before, but trekking through the mountains in a torrential down pour that lasted for an hour was quite miserable. The hillsides were steep and slick due to the rock formations and mud. People were soaked to the point of pouring water out of their boots every 5 minutes. Trees had fallen in our path and the thunder lasted for 20 seconds each (no joke, like 20 Mississippi seconds). Needless to say, we were all pretty miserable at the time and pretty much dying. Luckily for me, I had brought an umbrella, so I stayed relatively dry. Still soaked, but my boots didn’t have any puddles of water. Afterwards however, I look back and realize that I would probably never again get the chance to hike through an actual rainforest with rain, doing real fieldwork wile clambering over Mayan pyramids. When you think of it that way, it was pretty worth it. Also, I should mention that at one point I heard a bird, mimicked its call and got a response 3 times in a row!

After recovering shortly with lunch, we were back out in the field to collect the snakes. This was much easier as the path was flat and there was no rain. After this, we analyzed the data. We found that mimics and coral snakes were attacked at about the same rate. The cryptic fer-de-lance was not attacked at all, and the pink and blue snake was only attacked once. This shows that mimics and their models were equally likely to be attacked and that cryptic snakes may have avoided detection by predators. The bright colorations of the control may have been too foreign for native animals to consider attacking it.

After this, we witnessed our professors, a student and some others compete in the Las Cuevas Challenge! They climbed the 50 hectare plot and the bird tower, completing the second part while holding a cup of water which must stay at least halfway filled. Long Legs finished first which the students were ecstatic about and Adrienne came in close second! Then Scott took third. We celebrated and did lectures. Afterwards, we looked at the photos on the camera traps. We saw a jaguar, ocelot, and puma! Also, we saw a few birds.

Until Next time,

Minh

Day 12: Herbivory, Caves and Spectacular Views

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5/31/14

In the morning, we decided to carry out another experiment. We wanted to test herbivory defense mechanisms that a plant may use. To do this we chose the species cecropia. This tree regularly employs ants to defend itself. It provides a home for the ants and food as well. In return, the ants defend their home against herbivores like caterpillars and crickets. However, this only applies to mature trees that have reached a certain size. Smaller trees do not have ant colonies and so must employ other mechanisms of defense. We hypothesized that the younger cecropias must compensate for lack of ants by using mechanisms that could be chemical or mechanical based. This could include extra toughening of the leaves and chemical signals to repel insects.

To carry out the experiment, we collected leaves from young trees and old trees (with and without ants) and measured their leaf toughness using a puncturometer. This measured the amount of force needed to puncture the leaves. Then, we collected the leaves for an herbivory experiment. We found 3 species of herbivores and used 5 of each for our experiments. For diversity, we chose a caterpillar, cricket and grub. These organisms were diversified to increase the chances that herbivory would take place. Some organisms prefer one type of plant over the other, and if we had used only one herbivore, it may not eat either type of leaf. So in each of the 5 Tupperware containers, we had one cricket, one caterpillar, one grub and 2 leaves (one from the tree with ants and one without).

Later, we went into the cave! Las Cuevas gets its namesake from the number of caves nearby, so we went to the closest one to explore. The cave mouth was very wide and we walked in to a Mayan religious area. The caves were thought to be places where the Maya would pay respects to the underworld. It was also a place where they drew water from, evidenced by the artifacts of pottery thought to carry water. We walked down deeper into the cave across a narrow and slippery edge. The cave was separated into 7 caverns by the Mayans to symbolize the 7 levels of the underworld. The entryways into each section were extremely small and hard to get through. One of the chambers was very low in oxygen and was hard to breathe in. I saw many bats and some millipedes. We also saw the remains of a fire, something we thought may be due to a xatero. Of course I can’t forget the guano, or bat poop that covered the floor. It was a rich source of nutrients for the many detritovors in the cave. We emerged in the 7th cavern that had a balcony overlooking the first cavern. It’s thought that the king, or spiritual leader would emerge from this balcony and speak to the common populace.

After we left the cave, we went on a hike to the bird tower to get a spectacular view of the sunset. The climb was very difficult as the hill the tower was on was very steep. The view was worth it though, as we got to see the changing colors of the mountains and the sky. We also took a lot of photos before heading back down. The paths looked very different in the dark and it was hard to recognize landmarks that I had previously embedded into my mind in case I got lost. In the evening, I had another lecture.

 

Until next time,

Minh

Course Review and Wrap-Up

 

In bed, Mission, TX – I’ll start by stating the obvious, both rain forests and coral reefs are the most diverse places on earth. The great diversity can be attributed to the ecosystems having high net primary productivity. It seems impossible to be true since both coral reefs and rain forests are in nutrient poor areas (water is nutrient poor for reefs and soil is for rainforest), but both have ways of keeping themselves maintained. As for rain forests, the decomposition of everything from organisms to leaves brings about more nutrients that are almost immediately used up again for growth of the forest. On the other hand, coral reefs make up for a lack of nutrients by housing organisms (symbiodinium is the key example) inside them that produce nutrients for the coral through photosynthesis. Another key thing that ties in with the high biodiversity in each ecosystem is that because there are so many organisms present they can’t all be generalists to co-survive so instead organisms are highly specialized. It is because of this that any little changes in their environment can cause massive destruction of the diversity in each of these ecosystems. Here, both rain forests and coral reefs have a similar problem that is caused by different things. In rain forests, there are lists of things causing its destruction that include logging, extracting, and poaching for valuable materials (among many more), while in coral reefs there are methods of fishing and slight changes in anything like temperature and salinity that destroy its beauty and diversity. These are also a few things that I heard about and observed while in Belize (observed high turnover in rain forests while heard about all the anthropogenic issues). All this becomes an issue and very controversial when referring to conservation efforts of both systems.

Coming into the course I expected to learn some research methods that are used out on the field by biologists. I can definitely say I learned various methods to do a variety of things with transect tape and a quadrat in the ocean and several ways to analyze data out in the rainforest that include using camera traps and things like pitfalls and other sources. As for worries about coral reefs, it turns out that while there is a lot of death occurring, there is also some coral thriving at Glover’s, which I was happy to see. At this point we just have to make sure it stays this way and doesn’t get worse due to human impact. My initial expectations for housing were also a lot worse than they were (this includes the food), I was not expecting staying at nice places like we did. Talking more specifically about the food, Scott and Adrienne told us repeatedly that the food is way better than what a field biologist gets so I feel spoiled, but it was wonderful so I don’t mind.

Out of all the amazing things we did, the most memorable activity included taking part in the Las Cuevas Challenge (although it wasn’t really part of the course). It was something that I was not sure I could finish, but something I knew I would never have a chance to do again. Because of this I joined, and I definitely don’t regret it. It was one of the more challenging athletic feats I’ve taken a part in, and arriving to the finish line was amazing. Another one of my favorites was going to the fore reef where we were able to see sea turtles and other incredible organisms in their natural habitat with the drop off in the background (an amazing sight). Furthermore, the ATM cave was a great experience. It may have been a little chilly, and the guide a little questionable, but overall going through all of it knowing that it was a ceremonious place for the ancient Mayans (with their sacrifices and such) was incredible. Lastly, who knew that digging an ant hole would be so satisfying. Finding the fungal garden for the Leaf Cutter Ant nest after digging for who knows how long is an experience that I won’t forget anytime soon. Concerning my least favorite parts of the trip, having the crazy mosquito infested island at Glover’s wasn’t so great, but that’s part of doing field work in such an incredible place so the price had to be paid. Otherwise that, I didn’t really have anything I disliked, I just have a concern I’d like to voice. At this point in time it is too late to do much about, but for the sake of making the course better next year I think the presentation section of the course should be more detailed as to what is required. There were a couple of students who asked specific questions about what to do and got their answer and did fine, but the rubric that most of the students followed was extremely vague and didn’t mention key points like the fact that the lecture should be around 30 minutes long, which ended up being an issue for many.

The most important thing I think I learned on this trip (although it was more of a reinforcement and not so much learned) is that there are various things tearing apart the already few natural areas on earth, and without them there will be huge implications. This can vary from loss of medicinal properties that can save lives to increasing the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere that will ultimately lead to unpredictable consequences. These are things we could stop, and this trip has pushed the fact that we should do all that we can do to remedy it. Another important thing I learned definitely includes what field work is really like as a biologist. I may be set on being a doctor, but I feel all the methods were good to have experienced and to know about, and the whole experience has even made me think about an Ebio major. Lastly, although not a big topic over the trip, I learned that even today there are huge political issues that countries have to deal with. Particularly I mean the fact that Belize is currently having to fight for its border and basically its ability to stay a country since a huge chunk of it all would go to Guatemala and Mexico if Belize loses in their fight.

P.s. I also learned that professors can be pretty cool too (yes, I’m referring to both of you Scott and Adrienne-thank you for everything, but like seriously).

Photo on 6-3-14 at 9.37 PM