June 27, 2011

Sampling Heliconias

My side project for this trip was to study arthropod diversity in two species of heliconia plants.  I worked on the project with Riley and Tom.  In both species we looked in leaf rolls and in inflorescences of the plant.  We unrolled the leaves and dissected the flower. It was interesting as with each opening it was exciting to see what kind of animals we would find.  We ended up seeing about 10 species repeatedly, but we had some surprises too.  We found katydids that seemed to be employing a sit-and-wait predatory tactic, and occasionally we found and were pinched by earwigs and once we even woke two sleeping bats in a leaf roll.  


Me with a rolled heliconia leaf


It's a three-person job. I unrolled the leaf while Tom aspirated the insects (sucked them up into a jar) and Riley was the large insect grabber.  We worked well together and found an interesting representation of insects that dwell in heliconia rolls.  Just finding heliconia plants was a challenge in and of itself – we spent a lot of time searching on and off path and it took us to some interesting places in the jungle.  Our collecting was successful, and we ended up getting around 70 samples with (sometimes) dozens of insects in each sample.  

The next step will be to identify the diversity and look for any patterns.  The project gave me the chance focus on the task at hand.  In the jungle there weren’t any unnecessary sensory distractions that so often fill my day.  I thought it helped sharpen my focus and I was surprised at how easy it was to transition to the more passive jungle environment.  The jungle is an ideal place to carry out research and my time there has certainly been influential in how I plan to continue my academic career.

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The Biodiversity Institute is home to about 60 graduate students and 30 research scientists and curators. They participate in field expeditions to all seven continents and represent areas such as entomology, ornithology, paleontology, parasitology and herpetology. As the authors of this blog, they share their experiences and adventures in collections-based biological research all over the world.

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