Tag Archives: LCRS

Reflection

Final Blog Post

Reflection

Written at 5:32 pm on May 31st

 

We’ve been home a little over a day now, but my brain is still reeling from this incredible experience. We may have been bitten by bugs or burned by the sun, but this trip is one I’ll always remember. I relished the opportunity to learn about field work and to do science experiments in new environments with people who are just as passionate as I am (if not even more!).

 

I had never really visited a rainforest in its pristine quality such as the Chiquibul area around Las Cuevas. There were just so many hymenopterans, insects, and plant diversity. My expectations were high due to the Planet Earth’s wonderful episodes, but wow, I was still floored.

 

Similarities wise, when comparing the rainforest to a reef, there is an equal amount of diversity—there are plants and coral that are common or rare (for their respective ecosystems), and the same seems to apply to animals/fish in both places! It’s just wild to me how such brilliant ecosystems can support as much life as they do. I was also shocked at just how much rain affected the rainforest. The first heavy rain ignited the nuptial flight for some termite and ant species! I know that rain affecting the rainforest seems obvious, but this nuptial flight and predictability of some fauna presence made the whole phenomenon magical.

 

Despite the obvious difference of salt water vs. freshwater and marine vs. terrestrial, I felt that there wasn’t much that differed. Of course, the biological diversity and make-up of the ecosystems are totally different. But if one were to equate a tree to a coral, and a reptile to a fish, one might find similar compositions and proportions of those species. However, now that I think about it a little more, there are SO MANY undiscovered arthropods in the rainforest, and probably just as many microscopic organisms in the coral reef. If I had to guess which ecosystem has greater biological richness, my money would be on the rainforest.

 

This course was everything I hoped it would be and more. I surely expected more mosquitos in the rainforest and less on the island, but the opposite was true. On a more serious note, I am really pleased with how our group got along, how we approached each poster/project, and just hung out in the downtime. Academics wise, I really felt like I learned a lot about ecology, which as a BioSciences major, I don’t have to study in total depth. If I had to pick three things that will stick with me forever… humm

  • Scarlet macaws are endangered due to poachers who steal their babies to sell as pets. This was surprising to me because finding their nests must be pretty hard already!
  • Frogs are really hard to find in the rainforest, especially during the dry season. Also, their sounds can deceive the human ear, and it sounds like they go in all different directions. I was actually shocked by the chorus of the rainforest at night, and I couldn’t really distinguish which animals were making what sounds.
  • Corals can form viable hybrids that could help increase genetic diversity and resilience of global warming effects in the ocean. This is just incredibly crucial to the future of coral reefs.

 

If I really had to pick a favorite part, I would say that snorkeling in the forereef and in the backreef, with such still water, was truly a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. There was just such a range of fish—in age, size, color, and species. And the coral/sponges were also spectacular. And the water was so blue. And the list could go on.

 

My “technically” least favorite part was the humidity in the rainforest. So dense and thick, I almost found it harder to breathe. Now, this also could have to do with my being out of shape from the semester, but either way I was surprised.

 

And truly, if that is the worst thing I can say about this trip, then amen—this was truly an incredible trip. I am so thankful to have had the opportunity to go to Belize.

Day 6: The Day the Insects, Rain, and Southern Mississippi Took Over

Blog Post #6

Day 6: The Day the Insects, Rain, and Southern Mississippi Took Over

Written 12:30 pm May 21st

 

This post was supposed to be written last night (May 20th), but then I took a Benadryl (#thankschiggers) and fell asleep while typing.

Shoutout to Mom and Jems for a happy birthday!

 

Yesterday, we spent half of the morning collecting our urine and water samples. Veronica netted another Mexican Tree Frog, but this one had varying shades of brown and green to help it camouflage in the leaf litter. When we returnred, we started analyzing our catches. (Check out Day 4 for the background on this project.) So basically, for the next 5 hours, I looked at insects of all different kinds. Standing over a bunch of springtails, flies, etc and helping our experts (other students who looked at those insects closely) was frustrating but rewarding. Also, everything smelled like urine.

While we were analyzing data, a huge thunderstorm cracked through the sky and we had the chance to get rained on in the rainforest! Scott was especially excited because the first big rain of the season triggers social insects’ nuptial (mating) flights. A few hours later, there were termites EVERYWHERE, and their wings shed very easily.

After the thunderstorm, a group of 25 from Southern Mississippi University arrived. The instructor for their course was intrigued with our insect project, and so he asked if we could present to his group on our urine insects. After much convincing, the group unanimously decided to go for it—and along the way we made all the “pee” puns. We were sad that our personal research station was no longer just ours, but we also had a great icebreaker to meet some new people.

 

Day 5: Our First Poster Day

Blog Post #5

Day 5: Our First Poster Day

Written on May 20that 6:17 am

 

DISCLAIMER: Las Cuevas was supposed to have internet—right now, it isn’t working. All LCRS posts from the rainforest will be posted after the fact!

 

Well May 19thwas a day for the books! We were tasked with our first project that we were to start and finish in one day. We were attempting to look at new pioneer plant biodiversity in hurricane gaps with tree regrowth vs not.  However, the hurricane gaps (tree fall areas induced by hurricanes) were so dense that we couldn’t enter the forest with the methodology we had created. So, we just ended up looking at plant biodiversity in hurricane gaps vs. forest.

We collected leaf samples from 10 different plots and then sorted them into morphospecies (categories of leaves that we think looked like the same species, not rooted in actual knowledge). It appeared to us that there was no significant difference between the two—had 30 morphospecies in gaps vs 28 in forest. We made a very lovely poster, and Scott thoroughly enjoyed our presentation.

After that, I gave my presentation on Amphibians! Everyone really liked my Frog and Toad slide especially. We had hoped it would rain so that there would be frogs out during our night hike, but unfortunately, it did not. We could hear frogs but unfortuantely couldn’t see them. I don’t think my eagle eye spotting was the best, and I was still somewhat confused by the calls of amphibians vs. insects, so the sound was hard to follow.

However, we did see lots of nocturnal reptiles including mud turtles, a red backed coffee snake, and a banded gecko! I also really enjoyed listening to the insect chorus of communication throughout the night. And I even had a chance to feel like Newt Scamander when I held a stick bug that looked a lot like a Bowtruckle! 🙂

Day 3: Surrounded by Green

Blog Post #3

Day 3: Surrounded by Green

Written on May 17that 9:31 pm

 

DISCLAIMER: Las Cuevas was supposed to have internet—right now, it isn’t working. All LCRS posts from the rainforest will be posted after the fact!

On our first full day at LCRS, we started our first project! We were given a method (camera trapping) and were tasked with creating a question, testable hypothesis, and a full methodology. After much discussion, tweaking, and organizing, we decided to ask about human impact on mammal traffic. We measured this by setting camera traps in pairs—one on the trail facing the trail, the other off trail facing away from the trail. We hope to catch some great cat (like jaguar) shots!

With all the details figured out, we left for to set up the first three pairs. We went from the station, down Monkey Tail Trail, and turned onto Saffron Trail. This broad daylight hiking was different than yesterday—the sun rays glowed through the trees lighting up the forest canopy with all shades of green. Most notable canopy spotting today was a large termite nest in the Y of some branches; it had to be at least 5 ft in diameter!

I sadly did not spot any amphibians today—I think this is because it is the end of the dry season, and not that many rains have come yet. Also, most of the Belizean frogs are nocturnal and we’ve just been hiking in daylight or dusk thus far. The tree frog from yesterday was really a treat!

Somewhat related to amphibians are boa constrictors! We actually had the incredible opportunity to spot one in the wild while hiking off trail to set the camera trap. The boa was directly in front of a 30 ft wide leaf cutter ant pile, so we were all having a field day with this nature sightings. The snake, on the other hand, was very nervous but never lunged—it just followed any moving person with its eyes.

When we returned from our hike, we had a chance to shower then hear from the Director of Friends of Conservation and Development Raphael. He explained to us that (in a nutshell) his NGO is responsible for patrolling the border with Guatemala and other high-risk areas to protect the wildlife. All in all, today I learned to appreciate the rainforest, and even more, the colors and battles of the rainforest of today really made me appreciate being in the rainforest.

 

Day 2: Three Days Packed into One!

Blog Post #2

Day 2: 3 days packed into 1!

Written at 9:43 pm on May 16th

 

DISCLAIMER: Las Cuevas was supposed to have internet—right now, it isn’t working. All LCRS posts from the rainforest are posted after the fact!

Today felt like 3 days packed into 1… We started at the Rio on Pools excursion, which is halfway to Caracol from our ecolodge. There, we swam, “showered,” and identified wildlife. I spotted several little puddles of tadpoles! Also, Claire helped me pick up one of the bigger ones for a picture.

When we left Rio on Pools, I fell asleep in the van, so waking up felt like a whole new day. We arrived at Caracol to observe the Mayan ruins and learn more about the culture. We also talked about forest reclamation over these structures, and we discussed the pros and cons of excavation. No amphibians were spotted on this trip, but it was great to see the birds, howler monkeys, lizards, and countless plants along the way.

Again, I fell asleep during the ride to Las Cuevas Research Station and woke up to an oscillated turkey in the road. Once settled in, we readied ourselves for our calibration hike, figuring out all our gear, hiking ability, and sharpening our eagle eyes. Kirsten spotted a Mexican Tree Frog (identified thanks to my Taxon ID card!) that was blowing up his air sacs doing a mating call, resting in the center of a palm frond. Scott lowered the leaf appendage so we could see it better and the frog promptly projectile urinated behind him and jumped forward onto Scott. He said the frog was slippery, so he couldn’t catch it.

We came back to a lovely dinner, and then we did our first night of lectures, it is now 10:18 pm and I am ready to go to sleep! 5 am birding calls my name tomorrow.