Tag Archives: Cedar

Day 4: Getting Our Rainforest Legs

Scott said that after a few days of hiking in the rainforest, we would start to feel more energetic and less exhausted. This despite our full days. I think a few of us are starting to feel this. Today started with more bird watching, for everyone else. I slept through bird watching and went to breakfast at 7 instead. Right after breakfast and until lunch we set up an experiment to determine nitrogen limitation on the forest floor versus in the canopy by using human urine. Where did we get human urine? Guess.

We set up vials of urine and water along a straight trail every 200m. We also saw a cave full of what might have been Leaf-Nosed Bats, another Cedar tree (Cedrela odorata), and a Bay Cedar (Guazuma ulmifolia). Liz still has yet to catch a Blue Morpho butterfly, but we can identify them well from a distance. They are an iconic rainforest animal.

The bark of the Spanish Cedar (Cedrela Odorata)

In the afternoon we went to a cave and held the day’s lectures in it. The cave was home to an ancient Maya religious site, and walls and platforms built by the Maya for ceremonies are still standing today. On some platforms Mayan pottery remains. We also saw either swallows or some other bird nesting in the entrance. There were cave crickets and a millipede, and many interesting formations, in the cave.

In the evening we went on a short night hike (not too far from the station clearing) looking for night creatures. Much of the fauna of the rainforest is more active at night than during the day. We saw a Central American Tree Snake, lots of colorful beetles, moths, a scorpion, a tailless whip scorpion (not actually a scorpion, though an arachnid), leaf cutter ants, an orb weaver and some crickets. We also saw a Wolf Spider with its abdomen absolutely coated with little baby spiders. This stage does not last long, so we were lucky to see it. What we saw at first was a yellow shine where the eyes of the spider were and what looked like a huge abdomen with green glitter. Those were the eyes of all the baby spiders.

Wolf spider with babies crawling all over its abomen (green glitter = eyes)

Day 6: The Poisonwood Tree

We spent the whole day today working on more research projects, then hiked to the bird tower for the sunset in the evening.

Morning: Assessing differences in plant diversity between hurricane disturbed and undisturbed areas using sampling along transects in disturbed and undisturbed areas. From this we could not reject a null hypothesis that the diversity was the same between disturbed and undisturbed areas (couldn’t say for sure whether there was a difference at all).

Afternoon: Assessing the toughness of young Trumpet Tree (Cecropia peltata) as a protection against herbivory before colonization by Aztec ants. To do this, we had to measure the toughness of many trees of this species with a specialized tool, including trees colonized by ants. The bite of these ants isn’t too bad—speaking from experience here—but we each exposed ourselves to them as we each tested the leaves of a one tree colonized and one uncolonized by ants. We had to bend the trees down because they are very tall—I will attach a picture here—and this would cause the ants to rain down on us. Once we finished, we also had to climb over ant covered trunks that we had felled across the trail.

It is worth noting that we did not at any point go through the rainforest felling trees on a whim. This Cecropia species is a pioneer species, meaning it grows rapidly and colonizes sunny areas, so in a way it is accustomed to recovering from destruction. Most of the ones we severed were fairly young, as well, and we avoided damaging the trees where possible.

In the evening we went to the bird tower. On the way up we finally saw a White Poisonwood tree (Sebastiana tuerckheimiana)! The tree has had a few other scientific names, but this appears to be the most accepted version. It is not a widespread species and can be confused with the other poisonwood tree in Belize, the Black Poisonwood (Metopium brownei). Poisonwood trees are felled only by brazen individuals who are accustomed to the effects of the extremely caustic sap which can be found in many parts of the tree, most notably, of course, the trunk. However, it is highly sought after by some carvers and woodworkers for the exceptionally hard and smooth wood. I was excited to finally see the infamous tree from a safe distance.

White Poisonwood tree (Sebastiana tuerckheimiana)

We also saw a Cedar (Cedrela odorata) again. This time I recognized it by its pods, which pop open, the casing forming a four-pointed star with a small nut in the middle. I then looked up and saw the tree. It seems to grow in more exposed areas, but all of the ones I have identified are quite large, so it is difficult to tell what the surrounding area might have looked like when the tree was young. I have also seen them deep in the forest, however.

We had an amazing view from the top of the bird tower, but sadly the sun was obscured by clouds. I will include a picture when I have one. Someone commented that we could see nothing from the top of the hill, especially without climbing the tower, but we saw a few animals while there as well as the view. Of course, we were still surrounded by trees! There is always something new to see here.

Day 5: Null Hypotheses and Spelunking Adventures

Today we started off by summarizing the results from our experiments yesterday about Cecropia and ant interactions. My group ended up with negative results. We didn’t find any evidence of young Cecropia mimicking other plants. We did notice some differences between juvenile and adult trees, such as red petioles (the stems of leaves) and slightly longer trichomes (the tiny hairs on plants). However, we weren’t able to conclusively determine that those differences had an adaptive role. One group tested the toughness of juvenile and adult leaves and found that juvenile leaves were tougher. This could be adaptive because it would make it more difficult for herbivores to eat the leaves. If the project was continued, it would be beneficial to see if herbivores preferred younger or older leaves.

We also were able to visit the cave at Las Cuevas. The cave was a part of Mayan ceremonies, and there is still evidence of their presence. There are pottery shards throughout the cave system and the cave is built up in some areas. Platforms were built near the entrance and some spaces between chambers were made to be narrower. The whole history behind the cave is extremely interesting. The caves also had some wildlife. We saw at least two species of bats, millipedes, and a species of scorpion with long legs and no tail. One of the best aspects about the cave was how undeveloped it was. I’m not used to visiting preserved caves that haven’t been commercialized. It was cool to feel like I was one of the first to visit the cave, even though many, many people have visited it before me.

Entering the cave
Entering (taking pictures of) the cave

My favorite trees today were the big trees that we commonly see around the Chiquibul. The cedar (Cedrela odorata) can be 20-30m tall. Right now it doesn’t have leaves, but it has some wooden seed pods that are still attached to the branches. The seed pods look like 5-petaled flowers – they’re very pretty. Another big tree is the ceiba (Ceiba pentandra). When it is mature, its bark is very smooth and it can reach 60-70m. It has been difficult for me to identify ceiba from their leaves because the trunks reach so high into the canopy.

Cedar seed pod

We only have two more full days at LCRS, so we’ll have to make them count!