Jun 01

To the Jungle We Go

http://www.owlplayground.com/2012EBio319/2013/06/01/to-the-jungle-we-go/,To the Jungle We Go

Day 1 at Las Cuevas

After the early morning wake up and limited birding, I thoroughly enjoyed breakfast, assuming that it would be that last good meal I’ll eat for about a week.  And it was damn good.  I always forget how much I appreciate eating while traveling; being able to eat different flavors is always a treat.  Before we left for the field station, we were able to take a longer look at the hotel and the local wildlife, including a male and female basilisk lizard and a variety of other tropical birds.  Oh, and grackels.  I travel to the tropics and I still can’t get away from those damn birds.

The drive wasn’t as bad as expected.  It’s still the dry season, so I guess the roads were much more manageable than last year.  On the way, we made a stop to take a small hike to see a teaser of what we’ll be able to see in Las Cuevas.  This tiny excursion was exciting, because it only introduced the greater adventures that I anticipate.

The station itself is much more luxurious than I expected.  I guess I had an even more basic image of field stations, and I was surprised to find how comfortable this seemed.  Part of that may also be that the station itself went through a lot of renovation over the past year or so.  The food that we’ve had is fantastic (I feel bad that I’ve brought up food in a tropical biology blog twice), and the house that I’m staying in even has its own shower and sink.  I’m currently living with three archaeologists (well two and a geology undergrad), who are here to excavate some of the Mayan ruins hidden within the rainforest.

I’ve been pleasantly surprised with the extent of the archaeologists’ presence and interaction.  Already, one has taken us thorugh a small tour of the close excavation sites, which are quite literally next to the field station.  I was so enthralled and impressed by how much there was and to see such a historical gem entirely overtaken and hidden within the forest.  I found it interesting to imagine the Maya living within the forest, but what exactly occurred and what still remains at this site still remains unknown.

After the archaeology lesson, we went on a little hike.  As a caveat, my rainforest taxonomic specialization is in spiders, so expect to hear a bit about them at least for the next few posts. After seeing many small spiders among the leaf litter, I was at first intimidated and worried by the notion of me being able to identify them all.  Also, there really are not too many resources at my disposal, so I ask you to stick with me through this process.  I first noticed the same small species which was ridiculously common.  Like really common.  After the hike, I identified it as a wolf spider, and I anticipate to see a lot of it in the next week, if my glimpse into Belize’s biodiversity is at least fairly representative.

On the hike, we also found an incredibly large leaf cutter ant nest, and we were given a short in-the-field lecture about leaf cutter ants from Dr. Solomon.  That-along with watching the response from our beating and antagonizing the colony-left me excited to excavating one of the nests later in the week.

That night, we were able to go on a night hike.  Not going to lie, it’s pretty scary only being to see about a foot wide at all times, but it was also exciting to stare into the black with one measly light, searching for those two eyes of an animal to reflect back.  There were a lot of spiders, and a lot of wolf spiders.  We noticed that some were carrying their offspring on their back, as well.

After returning to my lodging and reflecting on the day, it honestly felt like multiple days all rolled into one, even given the substantial travel to the site.  I’m exhausted, but excited, reagy to take out as much is possible from the experience, which includes waking up early tomorrow morning for bird watching…  Wish me luck!   DSCN0005 DSCN0009 DSCN0003DSCN0014 DSCN0030DSCN0139DSCN0159DSCN0166

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Jun 01

The End

http://www.owlplayground.com/2012EBio319/2013/06/01/the-end-2/,The End

When I look back on this trip, everything feels so far away, in both a geographic and temporal sense.  I know that I only got back to Houston a few days ago, but I prefer to hold onto the non-realistic image.  It was like I was a part of an entirely different world.  Everything was new to me, from the places we in to the conditions of our stay, to my own excited activism.  I knew that I was only going to have two weeks to experience all that I can of the tropics, and I’m happy with how it turned out.  I left with a lot of memories, and happily, not many of those will be chased by regrets.  I can honestly feel accomplished by our short stay.  Now, my desire to return is a whole different story.

I’ve always considered myself a bit of a minimalist, and that was something that I looked forward to experiencing on this trip.  I was a bit of a sheltered child, much to my own accord, but as I’ve grown I’ve continually longed for a more simple existence.  Maybe it’s just my stereotypical college kid coming out that’s afraid to enter the “real world,” but my interests have recently shifted to the more organic origins of human life and society.  I regret to admit that I will probably never go on another tropical field biology trip, but I hope that I will be able to do a similar thing in another field, where I will be able to be a part of the same huge scene.  In fact, one of the biggest reasons I went on this trip (besides my unwavering love for ecology and evolutionary biology) was to feel almost infinitely small within nature.  I figured there is no better place to do this than the tropics, and I was adequately pleased with my own humbling experience.  That’s something that I think everyone should experience.  One of my largest complaints with modern life is the depiction of humanity as beyond that of nature.  Even when regarding nature, we take it upon our own responsibility to preserve nature, unfortunately mostly because we still need it as a resource.  We have removed ourselves from the same nature that we have come from, and that’s really something that I wanted to return to through this trip.

I think that I enjoyed Las Cuevas more than I did Glover’s.  When I signed up for this course, the reef was sort of like a second-thought.  The aspect of the tropics that I have always been more interested in is the rainforest, perhaps because I’ve just never really studied marine biology.  Also, I just never felt that comfortable in the water.  Being on water is like second nature to me since rowing in high school, but it’s a totally different beast when you’re submerged.  I still have never been able to shake the attraction to being on a large open body of water, though.  It’s probably even more closely related to that whole humbling experience stuff I was talking about before- an even more obvious reminder to how little of what exists we are even able to see.

I definitely got what I expected from this trip.  There was more than enough biology to go around, I was able to nerd out for a good two weeks, and there were countless numbers of times when I was just taken aback by nature.  I leave with stories that I will probably tell for the rest of my life, but I was only given a taste of the thing that really brought me to the trip – the quest to experience not only what we consider nature but being a part of some process or interaction that could be considered natural in and of itself.  I’ve also made a lot of friendships that I know will grow beyond the summer.  In addition, this was yet another experience that bridged the gap between undergraduate studies and research.  Oftentimes, those articles and people that we read about sort of remain a mystery to me.  I automatically place them on a pedestal, but it is experiences like these that show how much still needs to be known and how much any of us could contribute with only a little more discipline.  All of it keeps me hopeful.

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Jun 01

Herbivory and Coconuts

http://www.owlplayground.com/2012EBio319/2013/06/01/herbivory-and-coconuts/,Herbivory and Coconuts

Day 4 at Glover’s

The big project today had us working again in the shallows on the far side of the island.  First, each pair collected three kinds of algae.  My pair collected two species of green and one brown.  After collecting those as well as a plethora of other species of algae and animals, we identified them all and prepared for the continuation of the experiment, which dealt with observing and measuring herbivory in the reef.  It was really cool to use the wet lab at the station, especially because we were all using it at the same time.  It was awesome to get so many people participating in one activity around one area, including all of the local expert staff of the station (read: Herbert’s a boss).

After identifying everything, we created a raised transect consisting of fishing line between two PVC pipes.  We placed the three algae samples in clumps along the line and pretty much just observed what happened.  I know that I talked about how fun it was to be so close to the corals and fish, but this was even more active than yesterday.  Honestly, the experiment did not go as I expected, with fish approaching the algae and nibbling at it, but they did come out in good numbers, and it was pretty cool to see the diversity in such small waters.

This was also our last night at Glover’s, and it definitely felt like last day of a vacation.  I had that same resilience of any childhood beach trip- trying to be as active as possible and not go to bed, because that just leads to the morning when we leave.  I learned how to break open a coconut, and we were able to enjoy every part of it.  Star tripping was also a treat.  All of the time that we have away from work like this always remind me that I’m going to miss the people on this trip, both the students and the instructors.  I hate to get all reminisce-y all of a sudden, but it really has been the activities and the people that have made this trip so awesome.  If we didn’t have such a stable group dynamic, we probably would not have been able to deal with some of the obstacles that we had as a group (although many of those were caused internally…).DSCN1062DSCN1072

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Jun 01

My Coral Interaction

http://www.owlplayground.com/2012EBio319/2013/06/01/my-coral-interaction/,My Coral Interaction

Day 3 at Glover’s

The days here are really stringing together.  I can barely tell the difference between what I did yesterday and today.  It’s even crazier to think that tomorrow is our last real day here; afterwards, we’ll just be waking up to leave (and stopping by mangroves on the way back).

Today, we spend some time in the shallow waters behind the island, which was a pretty awesome place.  Because the water is so low but corals are still commons, I was able to see a pretty decent amount of younger fish, but I saw them very close-up.  We were doing work under water in waters about two or three feet deep, so I had to either lie as flat as possible above the corals of squat down with my face underwater-pretty awkward, but effective.  I just wonder what it would have looked like from another’s perspective…  It was a lot of fun experiencing the corals so intimately.  (And by intimately, I mean really intimately- my leg still bears the wound from the fire coral…)  We were searching for sea urchins, which are borers within corals, so we had to really stick our faces in and around the corals.  We were also able to be within inches of the different fish, which would not scatter as much because we spent most of our time not moving.  It was also a lot of fun doing that one activity of searching for sea urchins over such a long time.  I definitely felt more and more comfortable as I searched for longer periods of time.  And that also meant that I was getting more comfortable about corals, themselves.  We were able to see a different view of the corals as well.  Because we were so close to them, we were able to see the unique microhabitat within the corals, whether they were weathered away dug out by borers.

We also had the opportunity to go outside of the atoll.  We were in choppier, deeper waters, but it was definitely cool seeing the complete picture of Glover’s geology.

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Christmas tree worm!

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Jun 01

The Challenges of Marine Biology

http://www.owlplayground.com/2012EBio319/2013/06/01/the-challenges-of-marine-biology/,The Challenges of Marine Biology

Day 2 at Glover’s

We were given a fairly exhaustive scavenger hunt list earlier.  I really like the idea of a scavenger hunt, especially to test out those acute observational skills that we’ve been honing in the rainforest.  However, I honestly did not know most of what was on the list.  Hopefully I’ll be able to figure that stuff out within the next day or so…

I’m definitely getting a hang of snorkeling while doing other activities.  Every now and again I freak out over my camera, which often feels like it fell off my neck, especially when I’m engrossed in some other activity.  My hand writing while snorkeling is almost as bad as when walking in Las Cuevas, too.  And it’s just about as exhausting.

The station feels even more like a resort than Las Cuevas, including the food.  We’re eating freshly baked break every single day; I feel like that isn’t normal.  But I’m definitely not complaining either way.

We started doing work with transects and quadrats today. We covered transects briefly in Las Cuevas, but things are definitely much more difficult underwater.  It’s given me a whole new respect for marine biologists.  I honestly can’t imagine how difficult it is to be accurate, even with better resources.  I’m just happy that we’re able to do our work in such a stimulating environment.

I’d also like to comment on how awesome the people are here.  They have a whole different wealth of knowledge when it comes to the different species around the area.  I can’t really imagine what it would be like out in the water for your entire life.  I guess that’s also representative on how I still feel slightly uncomfortable in the water.  I do feel like I’m getting better, though.  And there is even greater incentive for my improvement here, because the farther and deeper I go, the more of this amazing diversity I’m actually able to see.

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Jun 01

To the Reef!

http://www.owlplayground.com/2012EBio319/2013/06/01/to-the-reef-3/,To the Reef!

Traveling to Glover’s

We got our first good look at Belize City today.  Not going to lie, it was much less appealing than I would have imagined.  Well, I don’t know if appealing is the right word…  I’ll at least say that it was not as well developed as I would have imagined.  I really don’t know that much about the socioeconomic condition of Belize’s cities, but I just imagined that Belize City would have been higher up.  Maybe it’s because of its shared name with the country or its location.  Our visit was very short, so we might have only seen a very small part of it, too.  All I know is that the walk to the dive shop was hilariously awkward with a group made predominantly of girls, especially Charlene literally running away from a man selling something on the street.

I knew that Glover’s Reef was out there, but I never really considered how far away it was from the mainland; the boat ride over was about 2.5 hours.  The trip was extremely scenic, at least.  The entire course was lined with different shades of water which demonstrate the changed in depth and presence of coral as well as many isolated islands lined with mangroves.  On the trip, we were also able to experience more closely the creole spoken in Belize City (and I’m sure many other cities).  Each local I’ve talked to about it describes it as “broken English,” but I still can’t really put a finger on what makes it so distinct.  It sort of sounds like English with a little Spanish melted in a tortilla of Afro-Cuban pronunciation/enunciation.  I still have almost no idea what’s being said, though.

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The island that we’re staying is amazingly beautiful.  And small, which I think adds to the appeal.  Again, I feel so spoiled this trip.  The island honestly feels like half research station/half resort.  The rooms are big with fans, we have wifi in the main buildings, and we have power 24/7.  However, I have a feeling that I will not be spending much time in my room these next few days.  Excluding today, we only have three more full days before leaving.  Together with how beautiful it is outside, I anticipate that we will all be spending a lot of our time outside.  That is, if we are able to make it.  I know for a fact that I’m still not recovered from the rainforest, but I’m really banking on adrenaline to push me through these few days.  It’ll be just as exhaustive as before, but hopefully the novel environment and liveliness of the corals will maintain the group’s energy.DSCN0847

We went for a quick snorkel right after arriving.  Before, I was pretty concerned that I wouldn’t be comfortable snorkeling, given my lack of experience and poor memories from my few experiences, but everything was A-OK!  In general, I know much, much less about marine biology than I do about terrestrial stuff, so I think that I’m going to try to be a follower this trip. We also saw a nurse shark, which was pretty exciting.  In line with my lack of marine knowledge, I didn’t even really know it was a nurse shark at first.  I was snorkeling and saw it emerge from the coral, and I thought “wow, that large fish looks a lot like a shark!”  Of course, I didn’t say that out loud but just agreed that I saw it.  Everyone else doesn’t need to know how little I know as of now.DSCN0868

That’s also part of why I’m even more excited for the lectures.  I’m done with mine, so I don’t have to worry about them, but I also think that I’m going to learn much more from these lectures than I would from those in the rainforest.  I feel like I haven’t emphasized enough in my blogs how awesome the opportunity is to learn from your fellow students.  And I think that all the instructors have done an amazing job with facilitating that interaction.  Answering questions offers a large benefit just as asking them does; you’re able to master your knowledge through packaging it up to match whatever the question was, along many other things.DSCN0872

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Jun 01

On to Civilization- Past and Present

http://www.owlplayground.com/2012EBio319/2013/06/01/on-to-civilization-past-and-present/,On to Civilization- Past and Present

Leaving Las Cuevas

When I first sat down to write this, I had the instinct to use the whole “leaving Las Cuevas was bittersweet” line, but I don’t think that I really agree with that.  I think that it is definitely much more bitter than it is sweet.  I know that we’re simply leaving to go to another of the most beautiful places on earth, but I still feel my departure is too early.  Obviously there are things that I could have done that I didn’t, but I think that my largest complaint is that I didn’t imply enjoy the rainforest more.  We’re here for a class, which has its own agenda, but I should have personally tried to make more of this amazingly unique experience.  There were many times where I was entirely complacent with only accomplishing what was asked of me, where I should have done more – not for a grade or an impression but for me.

Today at least, we were able to do something that I had wanted to do (along with many others), which was hike up to the bird tower in the very early morning to go birding as the sun was rising over the horizon.  This wasn’t a particularly prudent idea considering that we were leaving a few hours afterwards, but I think that it was totally worth it.  We didn’t even see that many bird, and maybe only one species we hadn’t seen before, but it gave me a chance to just stop and witness nature.

On a more fantastical note, we also stopped by the Maya site Caracol today.  Both the ruins themselves and the setting was beautiful.  We even saw a tree willed with Oropendula nests, those birds that make the synthesizer sounds and the hanging nests.  It was awesome, because they’re also incredibly beautiful birds, and there were also dozens in one tree.

What really struck me initially about the ruins was the massive size of Caracol.  And that’s not even the size of the city itself but of the city’s center, which would be surrounded by residential housing for the inhabitants.  There were multiple different plazas, which were surrounded by massive structures on all four axes.  Our tour guide explained to us more about the historical context and known customs of the city while we were sitting on the top of the main temple, where the king would sit.  Similar to our experiences within the cave at Las Cuevas, I tried to adopt the perspective of the ancient Maya, as well as I ever could at least.  That’s always been the one thing that interested me the most about history, archaeology, and anthropology: the challenge to fundamentally change the way you make sense of the world.  And for me at least, it’s something that I don’t plan on stopping anytime soon.

When we got back to San Ignacio, the whole civilization (well, active civilization) thing was something to get used to.  Of course, it’s nothing like being in the states, but just being around so many different people was very different.  I’m surprised by it, but I already miss the solitude of Las Cuevas.  I found myself seeking personal interaction when we had time off at the station, but when we were in the jungle, I really wanted to have as small of a group as possible.  I don’t know if that’s because we make so much noise when we walk over the dry leaves in large groups, because I wanted to go my own pace, or because I simply wanted to be alone in nature, but it definitely seeped over into our return to the city.  I will say, however, that the beds are much more comfortable in San Ignacio.

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Jun 01

Walking in the Shoes of the Maya

http://www.owlplayground.com/2012EBio319/2013/06/01/walking-in-the-shoes-of-the-maya/,Walking in the Shoes of the Maya

Day 7 at Las Cuevas

Today was our last full day at Las Cuevas.  I’m really going to miss it.   At first, the time went by pretty slowly, that is, each day was filled with so much that each individual day felt like multiple.  Now that we’re approaching the end, however, I’m starting to face regrets of things that I have not done, a sort of early realization of the conundrum that you don’t know what you have till it’s gone.  Nonetheless, it’s been an amazingly full stay, and I’m incredibly happy and grateful that I was able to experience it.  The day itself mainly consisted up picking up some of the experiments that we set out days ago and analyzing the results.  That includes the camera traps and the clay snakes we put out for a mimicry experiment.  Into the night, we had an even more unique opportunity.  One of the archaeologists gave us a lecture on caves and actually brought us through her cave’s intricate and historically/culturally revelatory tunnel system.

I found picking up the traps particularly interesting, because it was both one of the first and last things that we had done in Las Cuevas.  As a group, we had changed so much throughout the week in between.  Today, we were able to relatively easily complete the hike that had demolished us all before.  More personally, the way that I viewed the rainforest had changed as well.  I understood that the large biodiversity was well spread within a small density, but at the same time, there was a little part of me that wanted to see more.  I wasn’t quite able to remove all of my childlike wonder and hope, as I made a bet with Brian that we would capture an ocelot in a photo.  And we did!  Other than that, the organisms weren’t as amazing – just some opossums, a rat, some large birds, and a lot of pictures of moving leaves.

Holly’s lecture was also a highlight.  Not only is she a leading expert on cave archaeology, but she was able to give a very directed lecture at the site in our own backyard.  The lecture was interesting but what was more amazing was what we were able to do afterwards.  She took us on a personal tour throughout the cave, through the same pathway believed to have been used by Maya elite.  In fact, they believe that the entire distance we traveled would only have been traveled by the king himself.

I didn’t just find the tour interesting because of its exclusivity.  It’s truly remarkable to know that you are reenacting (in a very minimal scale) the same rituals and ceremonies practiced by the Maya people – literally imagine yourself in their shoes (or should I say feet?) just as they had performed those action in order to reenact some sacred mythology to get closer to their gods.  Something that made the experience even more exciting was the fact that my headlamp was dying and that I had already begun hallucinating due to lack of sleep before the tour.

That’s just another example of how amazing and unexpected so many of the best things of this trip were.  Of course, I had some expectations for the environment and what we were doing, but most of what amazes about the rainforest is not explicitly planned.  And that’s one of the most amazing things about the rainforest (and most else) – we cannot predict it to a tee.  It is very much its own entity, and we are still learning so much from it about it.

We just happened to have a little more surprise within our own rainforest.DSCN0623DSCN0651DSCN0665

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May 31

It’s never over….till its over. ;)

http://www.owlplayground.com/2012EBio319/2013/05/31/2473/,It’s never over….till its over. ;)

May 31, 2013

As we know, the tropical rainforest and the coral reef are two of the most biologically diverse ecosystems on Earth. But why is that?  There are a lot of different hypotheses out there, but I believe it has  a lot to do with the stable environments that both ecosystems provide.  In addition, both ecosystems also have very nutrient-poor habitats, thus, they are both able to thrive due to the fact that many of its organisms have complex food chains that allow them to recycle nutrients with amazing efficiency.

This course has honestly exceeded my expectations.  I learned a lot more than I had expected to during this course. Not only did I learn about the different types of organisms that live in the tropical rainforests and the coral reefs, but I learned about the threats and how the ecosystem as a whole functions.

My favorite part of the course had to be the second time we went on the 50-hectare hike.  When we first went out on the 50-hectare hike to set up the camera traps, I had a lot of trouble making it through the steep hills.  But the second time around, it was a breeze! I think we were able to pick up all the camera traps in less than two hours! The results from the camera traps were awesome too! We saw an oscillate, possum, fox, and a bird! My other favorite part of the course has to be the live coral experiment. During this activity, I actually felt like a biologist! I loved diving down toput out the 100 ft. transect and set down the quadrants!

My least favorite part of the course would probably be when we went to the seagrass to set out the jellyfish transect.  I didn’t like it because the water was so shallow and murky that I was afraid that the jellyfish would float up and hurt me.  But other than that, I LOVED every other part of this trip!

The three most interesting things I learned during this trip?  Hmm….well firstly, I learned that if there isn’t a queen and there aren’t any eggs in an ant mound, the workers, solders, and majors lose direction and motivation to continue to garden the ant mound. Thus, the whole system would fall apart and the ants will eventually all die.  Secondly, something I found surprising and interesting was that the soil in the tropical rainforest was really nutrient-poor.  It seems like a paradox because there is so much diversity in the tropical rainforest, yet the very foundation of the rainforest is essentially useless. Lastly, it was so fascinating how there are certain organisms that are bioluminescent! During the night snorkel when we all turned off all of our lights, it looked like an underwater light show! It was so beautiful and exciting!

I really wished the trip didn’t have to end! I would recommend this trip 100%!! If any prospective EBIO 319 kids are reading, TAKE THIS CLASS, you won’t regret! I PROMISE!!! :D

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May 31

Memories to Last a Lifetime (Wrap Up)

http://www.owlplayground.com/2012EBio319/2013/05/31/memories-to-last-a-lifetime-wrap-up/,Memories to Last a Lifetime (Wrap Up)

I have been in Houston for a total of 30 hours and I can safely say that my life in Houston is nothing compared to my life in Belize.  Heading into the trip my expectations and imagination had built up the trip into something that seemed more fictional than real, and even now as I flick through the 1128 photos that I took, I can hardly believe that what I experienced was real.  It is hard to imagine just how much you can do in 2 weeks, but also how fast that time can fly by.  However, my perspective on various things has changed.  It feels so strange taking hot showers now; actually, I felt like I was burning myself when I first showered in Houston.

 

I am not sure how I am supposed to cram every last thing I have to say about the trip into one small blog entry, but I shall give it my best.

 

First of all, though the two ecosystems we visited are very different visually, they have a surprising amount of similarities.  Both ecosystems have a surprising amount of biodiversity.  We saw so many wonderful and interesting organisms, but part of me cannot help but wonder what else we could have encountered if our stay was longer or if we did more nighttime activities.  Because of the biodiversity, producers, herbivores, carnivores, omnivores, and scavengers interact in many symbioses such as mutualism or parasitism.  Through the various interactions, each organism creates its own niche that allows it to thrive as best as it can in the environment it is present in.  But the similarities span deeper than the organization of the basic food web.     Both systems are one of the highest producing systems in the world even though they both are in nutrient poor environments.  The soil of the rainforest and the water of the ocean are both nutrient lacking.  However, the organisms in both systems have adapted.  For example, the buttressed roots in the trees in the rainforest allow for the roots to spread out not down so that the maximum nutrients can be obtained from the fertile but thin top soil layer.  Nutrient cycling is the key to both ecosystems!  Because nutrients and energy are limited in both ecosystems, the organisms must create niches.  Ecosystems in the tropics tend to have higher numbers of specialized niches than other areas in the world so that competition for resources is lowered.  But these specialized animals do not act individually, they are all linked together.  For example, when we stumbled upon two beetles mating we observed how they mated and then dug a hole in the tree bark to lay their eggs so that they would be protected.

 

It is hard to believe but this trip was way better than my expectations.  I could never have imagined how close the group would have gotten and just how many laughs we had.  Though we were all tired at times, we brought the best out in each other as we bonded through the many many activities and experiments that we did.

 

It is so hard to choose a favorite activity.  Overall, I really loved the tour of the Las Cuevas cave system.  To take the same procession route that the Mayan kings had taken thousands of years before and stand on the king’s platform is an experience that I will never forget!  I also really loved the Bird Tower.  To stand on the top of the rickety old tower and look around and just see mountains of rain forest for miles on end really made me realize just how vast and isolated we were.  For the coral reef, I would say that swimming with the nurse shark was my favorite part!

 

Though choosing a favorite part was not easy at all, choosing a least favorite part proves to be even harder.  I think the worst part was the constant worry about ticks.  I did not get a tick until the last few days at the rainforest and everyone else was finding ticks.  I was paranoid that maybe there was a blood sucking bug on me that I could not find! I think my time on the reef could have been more enjoyable if I was not sea sick for some of the time!

 

I have learnt so much during this trip and I am not sure how to judge which things are more important as they are all so different.

 

Maybe the biggest take home that I have learnt is that there is so much out there! The world has so much to offer me and I need to take advantage of it while I can.   I need to try to go with the flow more and allow my life experiences to mold me into the person that I will be content to be.  I still struggle to know what I want to do when I am older, but after listening to Mark Robinson’s story about how he just stumbled upon archaeology and fell in love with it.  I think I can worry less about that and rest knowing that everything will fall into place.

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I have also learnt to appreciate the common items that we have in Houston compared to in Belize.  But ironically, I find myself overwhelmed by all the technology and luxury items that we have.  After spending so much time away from everything my perspective has changed and I actually felt a little guilty showering with hot water the other day.  I long for that isolation and simplicity that we saw on the Bird Tower and on the 2-3 hour boat ride to Glover’s.

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Last of all, I was surprised by everything that we saw! I could not have even thought of how much biodiversity we could have seen even though we really only saw a small portion of it all.  It boggles my mind to think that there is still so much that we did not get to see and appreciate.  But I am content knowing that we saw so many mammals (especially the ocelot), birds (especially the 15 Scarlet Macaws), sharks, ray-finned fish, and all the other organisms.  Not to mention the Mayan Ruins and the archaeology side of things which was a superb added bonus!!

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Well, that concludes my blogs.  It is saddening to know that this is the end of the blogs, but I have memories and pictures that will last a life time.  After all, I shall relive every moment as I excitedly tell my friends every last detail of what I did!!

 

Permanent link to this article: http://www.owlplayground.com/2012EBio319/2013/05/31/memories-to-last-a-lifetime-wrap-up/

May 31

San Ignacio! (Day 1)

http://www.owlplayground.com/2012EBio319/2013/05/31/san-ignacio-day-1/,San Ignacio! (Day 1)

Today we arrived in Belize City.  As I craned my neck to look out of the airplane window, I saw the vast luscious tropical rainforest below and a snaking river.  However, I also saw a lot of fires from the slash and burn agriculture method.

 

After we got on the bus, we bought some water and set off toward San Ignacio where we would be spending the night.  I loved to look at all of the gorgeous homes.  The standard of living in Belize is very different than in Houston, but they were gorgeous in the simplistic manner.  The countryside was scattered with quaint brightly colored homes that stood out in the monotonous green background.

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We stopped by a restaurant for lunch.  There was a lot of t-shirts there that tourists had given to the restaurant.  I really like that! This was our first encounter with rice and beans and beans and rice.  We clearly established ourselves as tourists when we had no clue the “obvious” difference between them.  Beans and rice are separate while rice and beans are together.

 

Once we moved in to our room at Midas, we went for a tour of the city.  We stopped by a market place and got to see what kind of fruit and other food were being sold.  Some people tried a cashew.  I was surprised to learn that the cashew nut was an external nut.

 

Around the city were some positive reminders!

 

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We waded in the river near the hotel and got to see an amazing sunset before we headed off to the restaurant for dinner.   We struggled again with the rice and beans ordeal.

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After a nice meal, we headed back to the hotel.  I cannot wait to get to Las Cuevas tomorrow!

Permanent link to this article: http://www.owlplayground.com/2012EBio319/2013/05/31/san-ignacio-day-1/

May 31

Wrap-up

http://www.owlplayground.com/2012EBio319/2013/05/31/wrap-up-4/,Wrap-up

There are so many similarities that link the tropical rainforest and coral reefs, both superficially and at a deeper ecological level. One of the first things you notice is the value of space. Every possible niche seems to be occupied with some different organism with a new creative way to utilize the resources in that particular area. Nothing is left to waste, down to the briny leaves mangroves shed to rid themselves of salt that feed juvenile fish. Queen conch shells are covered with turf algae, epiphytes grow on tree trunks and branches, and all kinds of organisms lay eggs on the undersides of leaves. Logically these observations make a lot of sense, for to support such a diversity of life efficiency is critical. It makes exploring both ecosystems every day an exciting uncertainty as to what you can run across. This even leaves out the vast population of organisms that evade human observation altogether, of which we caught a few glimpses of thanks to our camera traps (yay ocelot!).

One of the most interesting paradoxes of both the rainforest and the coral reefs is their existence in relatively nutrient-poor areas. Superficially, it makes since that one would conclude that clearing rainforest for agricultural reasons would be highly profitable, because look at what productivity the rainforest soil supports in the natural forest! We know now that rainforest topsoil is actually very thin and nutrient poor, and the real reason it can host such a myriad of life forms is that the whole nitrogen cycle and decomposition happen fast enough that the integration of nutrients into the soil is a step that is pretty much skipped. Coral reef waters seem to be coincidentally similar, in that the water that houses them in Belize is beautiful and clear, and obviously not the source of nutrients for the reef organisms. It is a really fascinating phenomenon that very similar paradoxes exist in both biologically diverse places.

This course definitely exceeded my expectations on how cool the lab work stuff was we did, as well as how well work and enjoying ourselves was balanced. One of my favorite parts of the course was the long river hike we did in the rainforest, where we got to stay and explore the river for a couple of hours. I felt it was a valuable excursion to see an additional niche of the rainforest and see some of the different organisms that hang out there. It was also a good sense of accomplishment to do a 14 km hike before 2 PM!

The one part of the course that I felt like could use some improvement would be to set clearer parameters for some of the coursework requirements, especially the field notebook. I think it would’ve been useful to have a crash course little overview on how and what to do with the field notebook and some ideas of good habits to have while keeping one.

Let’s see, three things I’ll never forget from this course:

  1. Often fixing the world of all its problems is a daunting and discouraging task. While it certainly is, this trip was really an inspiring glance at some of the great people who are devoting their lives on what can seem like one of the most discouraging issues: conservation. And the truth is, the way they approach it as one small victory at a time (Boris working for increases in the scarlet macaw population, Herbert finally seeing an increase in sea turtle numbers on the reef) is the way to leave the Earth a better place than how we found it. So many people on this trip have restored my faith in humans’ love of nature and the drive to protect it. It has been so encouraging.
  2. Archeologists seem to be quite the chatty bunch, and have good stories to tell. Good people to be stranded in the middle of the jungle with.
  3. Caterpillar poop is called frass.

 

I’m hoping to make it back to that beautiful country one day. You betta Belize it!

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May 31

Time to say goodbye..

http://www.owlplayground.com/2012EBio319/2013/05/31/2183/,Time to say goodbye..

May 27, 2013

This morning, we had to leave Glover’s Paradise..I mean Reef…even though we only stayed here for 3 days, I feel like I once again, got attached to the people at the research station.  We have been so fortunate to be taken care of by such a fantastic crew.  Herbert, Richard, Rudy, Carlos, David, and Anthony! Ahh! I’m going to miss you guys!!  Oh, and I can’t forget about the cooking ladies.  They always had a gorgeous smile on their face and were eager to feed us!  The food was always on point! They treated us with fresh fish this morning and words can’t even describe how yummy it was!!

On the ride to the mangroves, we saw dolphins!! They were all around the boat! I couldn’t help but let out a shriek. I was just so excited, I had not seen dolphins before!!

Once we arrived to the mangroves, we noticed the fire coral…the ridiculous amount of fire coral..I was terrified to say the least. But once I got used to it, it was fine.  We got to see a lot of large sea stars and sea urchins that I didn’t get to see at Glover’s Reef.  There were red, orange, and white sea stars! I was surprised at how hard and stiff they were.  I always thought that sea stars were really gooey and soft.

Overall, the mangroves were so beautiful.  I really noticed the red mangroves because it was the closest to the ocean. The roots were so prominent and looked strong and healthy. It also seemed like a lot of different types of organisms thrived in this area. (e.g. fire coral, sea stars, urchins)

But now we are in Belize City and I can’t believe we are leaving to go back to Houston in morning. I learned so much during this trip and I’m honestly going to miss this class so much! Hopefully, we will do reunions and lunches together!  Bye BELIZEEEE!

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Permanent link to this article: http://www.owlplayground.com/2012EBio319/2013/05/31/2183/

May 31

Why do algae have such a fun life style? Because half of their life cycle is spent in a GAME-tophyte..haha..

http://www.owlplayground.com/2012EBio319/2013/05/31/2178/,Why do algae have such a fun life style? Because half of their life cycle is spent in a GAME-tophyte..haha..

May 26, 2013

NOOOO!! This morning I woke up and remembered that today was the last full day at Glover’s reef…how sad…not only is it our last day, but that means the course is almost over…I don’t want it to end. We managed to get a lot done in the short amount of time that we had! Ahhh….why must all good things come to an end??

First, we went out to the side of the island to collect 2 different types of green algae and 1 type of brown algae.  Our green algae were Halimeda tuna and Caulerpa cupressoides.  Our brown algae was Lobophora variegata.  Most of the other students on the course collected the same types of coral so it was difficult to collect 20 individual pieces of each algae.

After we collected and identified the algae, we went out on the boat to try to go snorkeling again! But the weather did not permit us to go! The waters were too murky and the currents were too strong for us to enjoy the snorkel.  Therefore, we went back to the research station to eat lunch.

After lunch, we went to the back reef again and set up the Algae experiment.  We got two PVS pipes and measured 100 ft of fishing line.  Then, we attached the fishing line to the PVS pipe and that created our transect.  Every 7 feet, we would put a bundle of algae up on the fishing line with the clothespin. We would see which type of algae would attract the most fish.  For our experiment, we found that the green algae #1, which is the Halimeda tuna attracted the most fish.  I also noticed that the fish tended to eat the root of the algae instead of the head. Also, during our Algae experiment, I saw a queen conch and a flamingo tongue! I love finding mollusks! :)) The flamingo tongue was so tiny but always an interesting sight!

Afterwards, we relaxed on the beach and went over our data! It was a really relaxed and fun day!

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May 31

I sea you urchinn’ over there! LOL!!!!!

http://www.owlplayground.com/2012EBio319/2013/05/31/2152/,I sea you urchinn’ over there! LOL!!!!!

May 25, 2013

Today was a day for huge victories! We went out to the for-reef and back-reef! I was terrified to go into water that was deeper than the lagoon but Dr. Solomon assured me  that it would be only be around 10-30 feet deep. First, we just identified and looked for different types of organisms and coral. Surprisingly, I found my first mollusk! Usually people have to find them and bring them to me, but this time, I spotted the Caribbean reef squid on my own! It is in the Decapoda order and Loliginidae family. The genus and species is Sepiotuthis sepioidea.  It was gorgeous.  We saw four of them and they were so colorful.  They had a yellow and purple tone to them! YAY MOLLUSKS!

After we explored the coral reefs, we had to whip out the quadrants and transects once again to find out the percentage of live coral on a particular reef.  Kemji and I had to lay out a 100 feet transect and start counting.  Kemji would do the counting and I would dive down to set the quadrants.  We were really quick and efficient, thus we finished rather early.  We continued to swim around  but then I saw a bunch of cone jellyfish and got scared. I frantically swam to the safe boat and kept Meghan company. Later, I found out that the cone jellyfish are harmless. So, I flipped out for no reason!!

When we got back to the research station, we were treated with CHEESEBURGERS! Those were gone in miliseconds!!! Everyone was so excited and thrilled to be able to have a cheeseburger in paradise.

After lunch, we walked to the other side of the island to do another 150 ft transect to collect sea urchins! At first, Kemji and I couldn’t see any of them, but after Dr. Solomon showed us how it was done, we were able so many!  We found four echinometra lucunter, two echinometra viridis, three eucidaris tribuloides and six diadema antillarum!! I was so proud of us!

Around 6:30 p.m. we went on our first night snorkel! There were six of us and it was pretty scary.  It wasn’t as bad as I thought, but I was very anxious and terrified the entire time. A lionfish was hiding under the coral and these tiny little blue fish were EVERYWHERE! I’m sure there were hundreds of them in the small patch of coral we were at.  Also, while we were snorkeling, we turned off all of our lights and we could see the luminescent organisms. Terrifying but definitely worth it.  Overall, I had a lot of fun!

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