My day started off with the usual, morning birding the grey Plumbious kite was in its usual spot and the Social Flycatchers were chirping about. A lone Scarlet Macaw flew into view and started to preen itself, all I could see was it’s a large silhouette with its trademark long tail feathers. We also saw a Keel-billed Toucan today, with its blackbody, oversized green beak, and its yellow throat. After birding and some much-needed breakfast, we set off on a busy day.
First, we investigated how hurricanes affected the biodiversity in the Chiqibul forests. We used the point intersect method, which is picking a specific length of trail, and a length off trail and counting and categorizing plant species that touch the tape measure. We did this in a hurricane damaged area (disturbed) and an undisturbed area. What we found was that the species composition of the areas were very different but the biodiversity levels were very similar. However, as a whole, disturbed areas add more biodiversity to the forest due to allowing different species to flourish. After presenting our findings and eating lunch, we went off on a trail to find sapodilla trees. These trees have a symbiotic relationship with ants where they provide shelter and food while the ants provided detection. However, it does take some time for the ants to colonize so the sapodilla may use leaf toughness to ward off herbivores (making leaves hard to make a hole into). We measured the grams of force needed to puncture a whole into 11 uncolonized trees and 11 colonized trees, data that we will be analyzing tomorrow. The ants came flooding out of the colonized trees and packed a small but very painful bite.
We then went on a hike to the bird tower, a metal and wood tower that is on a 400-foot-high hill. The view from up there was absolutely amazing, you could see the research station and the surrounding forest. You could even see the Mayan Mountains in the background. We walked back in the dark and I spotted a Jumping Pit Viper and a grey rat. Yes, rats are mammals as are all rodents. Rodents actually make up a large part of Mammalia and are found on all continents except for Antarctica.
We ended the day with dinner and presentation on reptiles, beetles, and: tropical diseases, parasites, and medicines.
Per usual, my day started at 5:00 am bird watching. It was a clear morning and the birds we saw were absolutely spectacular. The forest came to life as the Plumbious Kite took its regular perch and parrots flew overhead, two even landed in a tree right in front of us. The Melodious Blackbirds hopped onto the ground and the Social Flycatchers were chirping away. The highlight of morning was the sighting of two toucans. Their bright colors were absolutely stunning, with red and white tail feathers and a green eye ring. Another exciting event was the Plumbious Kite soaring down and catching an unfortunate moth.
After breakfast we devised an experiment utilizing pitfall traps, traps that an arthropod can fall into but not get out of. We’re comparing the nitrogen limitation, limitation of an environment to provide useable nitrogen to its organism, of the forest floor and the canopy as well as the arthropod species abundance and diversity. At each site we placed four vials, which were vials containing nitrogenous liquid in a tree and the floor and vials with just water in them. On the way we came across a shaft that led into a cave system right in the middle of the path! Looking down and imitating bat calls (kiss the top of your hand to create a high-pitched nose) we saw bats fly up almost out of the shaft. Since I’m the mammal taxon specialist, I tried to identify but to no avail. I couldn’t get a good picture and they wouldn’t let us me them long enough to identify them. They had light brown bodies and large dark brown wings and seeing them was absolutely amazing.
We returned to the station for lunch and then went to explore Las Cuevas Cave. The cave has a large entrance and is covered in bat guano. The ground is littered with Mayan Pottery, and there is a cenote (sinkhole exposing ground water). There, we had three presentation. The first was on Butterflies and Moths, the next was about Crickets, Katydids, and Grasshoppers, and lastly I gave my lecture on Cave Life. It was a very cool experience, especially to see a few things (like stalactites forming) that I had researched in real life.
After exploring the Mayan ruins above the cave and dinner, we ended the day with a night hike. We saw so many spiders and small critters that we hadn’t seen before and it was very eerie to hear all of the noises in the darkness.