Andrea Crowther is a graduate student at KU and is interested in the taxonomy, biology, and evolutionary relationships of sea anemones. Andrea’s doctoral research focuses on shallow tropical sea anemones that possess branched outgrowths housing zooxanthellae and defensive spheres dense with stinging capsules. Andrea will spend two weeks (13 November - 2 December 2009) in Moorea, French Polynesia collecting sea anemones for her research and working with members of the Moorea Biocode Project (www.mooreabiocode.org). Blogs and photos from her fieldwork will be entered here at Field Notes.
After two weeks of diving and snorkeling the beautiful waters of Moorea to collect sea anemones, my time on the island was coming to a close. Which meant it was time to pack all my gear and specimens. My dive gear was dried by the tropical breeze while I packed up my laboratory equipment. The specimens I had collected had been stored in 10% formalin or 95% ethanol. For transportation, I removed the specimens from their jars filled with liquid preservative, wrapped them in damp gauze, and sealed them in plastic bags. I packed them all into a box and sent them back to the Biodiversity Institute in the US via FedEx. Finally, I re-packed my suitcase with everything else I had come with (plus a few souvenirs) and flew back to the US.
Once back in the US, I sent all the paperwork regarding my collecting work to the administration at the KUBI. They checked the documents to make sure that the specimens were collected and exported legally, and then allowed them to be accessioned in the Division of Invertebrate Zoology collections. I unpacked the specimens and put them in their final resting place – jars full of formalin in our museum! The photo shows some of the jars full of specimens I have collected in my time as a graduate student, including the new ones from Moorea.
Hello! I am a new graduate student in Herpetology at the KU Biodiversity Institute. I am interested in studying the evolutionary history, biogeography and morphology of frogs from Southeast Asia.
This week I’ll set out on my first field expedition and I’m very excited. I will be on this trip from December 30th to January 21st with several other ecology and evolutionary biology students and faculty. We will be going to Mt. Palali, in the Caraballo Mountains of Nueva Viscaya Province, in the Philippines. The purpose of this trip is collect specimens that will be used in current and future research involving the biodiversity of the Philippines. -Allie
Hannah Owens is an Ichthyology graduate student at the University of Kansas in the Biodiversity Institute. She is particularly interested in the role of climate change in the evolutionary history and biogeography of fishes, especially cods. Hannah will be travelling to Kangerlussuaq, Greenland for a week as part of KU’s Climate Change, Humans, and Nature in a Global Environment (C-CHANGE) National Science Foundation Integrative Graduate Education and Research Training (IGERT) program. She and her fellow trainees (in diverse disciplines ranging from sociology and anthropology to history and engineering) will be investigating the multifarious effects of climate change in the Arctic.
Cameron Siler studies the diversity, biology and evolutionary history of amphibians and reptiles from Southeast Asia at the University of Kansas. Cameron is a graduate student in Herpetology at the KU Biodiversity Institute, and is working toward the completion of a doctorate degree focused on studying the evolution of limb loss in lizards. In the group of lizards he studies, some species have evolved a completely limbless body and look just like worms or small snakes even though they are still lizards! Other species in the same group still have four limbs and resemble the typical lizards that we all think about. Cameron leaves for the Philippines Feb. 1 as part of a Fulbright-Hayes fellowship. He will collaborate with the Philippine National Museum and the Philippine government to conduct conservation and biodiversity surveys throughout the country. The project will last for nine months until October, when Cameron will return to KU. You can follow Cameron’s blog entries from the Philippines here at Field Notes.
During our second full day out at the CICRA research station in the rain forest, a few of us went out with Caroline and Dan, her colleague in her research in Amazonia Peru, to the area where they collect data. Dan walked Joe, Tom, and Caroline, and I around the plot, showing us what has happened since Caroline’s last visit. Dan told us about the various insects he has spotted within the 1 Hectare plot (100 meters by 100 meters). While doing this, he showed us a hive of Africanized bees (killer bees), different wasp nests, and an enormous bee hive, about 3 feet long by 2 feet tall, with some strange black bees Dan later tells us are from the genus Melipona. Little did I know that this hive will give me one of the most memorable moments of the trip.
According to Dan, the Hymenopotera (wasps, bees, and ants) guy in our KU group, the bees were stingless so they couldn’t sting us. I later asked him as to why nature would evolve to lose its defense against predators. His respose, “I have no idea, it makes no sense to me.” Naturally we weren’t worried about the nest as much as we should have been. Next, Caroline became interested with the bees, and started to walk toward the hive. She announced to us that the bees were all flying around outside of the hive. I thought to myself that if she isn’t worried I should have no reason to worry as well. I guess Joe and Tom had the same mindset as me. All of a sudden I felt a pinch followed by another and another. Only then was it when I saw that we were under attack.
Apparently Dan forgot to mention that even though the bees can’t sting, they still have a form of defense against threats. They bite. They bite a lot. So for the next 10 minutes we were all dealing with little black bees clinging to our skin and clothes biting. Arms, face, neck, scalp, hands: they were all bitten. It was comical after the initial shock of the attack, watching the bees that clung to our clothes, and watching everyone else deal with the same problem as me. The whole situation instantly became hilarious when we realized we were picking bugs out of each other’s hair and off of each other’s backs. According to Dan’s thinking the bees were just mad because they can’t sting so instead they bite like banshees.
Ever since, I’ve been sure to keep an eye out for all hives from any species.
One of the things that I forget when getting ready for an expedition is how much I have learned about field research in the past and how much there is to learn if you are new to fieldwork. I'm not just speaking of learning field collection methods or processing insects in our field lab station. When you are going on your first expedition experience, you don't know what gear to bring. What will the weather be like? What shoes are best in the muggy Amazon rain forest? What socks should you bring? What will best carry it all from Kansas to Lima to the field station and back? It is a charming reminder how much we learn from our first expedition even before we walk a trail. These are but a few of the things we are going over in weekly pre-departure meetings.
And so, a scant 10 days after it began, my Greenlandic adventure is at an end. I got to experience big polar science, witness the first suggestions of climate change in the form of retreating glaciers and early mosquito and flower emergence, and eat some delicious whale and cured fishes of many sorts.
Camping near the ice edge.
Talking arctic science with grad students from other universities.
The Søndrestrom Incoherent Scatter Radar Facility.
Three things I still can’t wrap my head around:
I met the U.S. Ambassador to Denmark.
The ice sheet is huge. Really, really huge.
I went to Greenland?!
It was a fun trip, both too short and just long enough. Until my next adventure, kasuuta and takuss!
Our final day in Greenland was best characterized by last-minute good intentions and chaos as we tried to do everything we had been putting off all week. After breakfast, we visited the Kangerlussuaq Museum. As we were driving up, the man who is the museum (ticket taker, curator, and docent) ran up and greeted us enthusiastically and followed us around asking if we had any questions and telling us all about the history of the army base and airstrip known as Kangerlussuaq. One gets the impression that his summers (he goes back to Denmark in the winter—there isn’t a lot of activity once the snow and darkness set in) are usually spent in quiet contemplation of the photos documenting the comings and goings (glamorous actresses, well-known politicians, and eminent scientists--Niels Bohr once sat on the porch outside!), the history of aviation, polar science and the military in and out of Kangerlussuaq, and the occasional rogue wildlife that has wandered in from the tundra (including the skin of the only documented polar bear from the area and photos and cartoons of “Terrible Willie”, the musk ox that held Kangerlussuaq in his sway, often thwarting capture attempts and running amok on the runway and through the streets).[ibimage==694==310-scale-rounded==none==self==ibimage_img-left]
After that enlightening stop, a few of us did some sight-seeing, including driving up to the TACAN radar station, which offered great views of Kangerlussuaq, as well as the surrounding tundra and lakes. While up there, we ran into an international group of wealthy tourists (accompanied by a police escort) that were taking a “study tour” of Greenland, including several men in dress shoes wielding very nice birding telescopes and fancy SLR cameras and several women in precarious heels that were much more interested in picking an herb that looked like rosemary and smelled like Lysol to steep for aquavit. It was a little surreal.
We came back for lunch, wrapped up souvenir shopping, and returned all our glass bottles to collect the deposit. This involved feeding each bottle onto a conveyor belt with a scanner that counted and verified that the bottles were the appropriate size. It was very cool, and made me once again yearn for a similar system in Kansas. Once business in town was wrapped up and all the students and professors were rounded up, we ran back out to the tundra, where Sharon Billings, KU’s Ecology and Evolutionary Biology professor on the trip, taught us about how tundra soil forms, including mechanical and chemical weathering, as well as decomposition (which is MUCH slower in the Arctic than elsewhere, since colder temperatures impede the metabolism of bacteria that do the decomposing). We then ran back to pack and eat dinner. After dinner, there was more packing, hunting down equipment we had borrowed from KISS, and socializing with the other scientists passing through Kangerlussuaq on the way to or from fieldwork.
The next day was a lot of hurry up and wait with the Air National Guard before getting on the C-130 back to the States—it was a straight shot back, since it is the beginning of the field season and much more equipment is being flown into Greenland than out. I got to go up in the cockpit, which was awesome—there is a ridiculous amount of equipment and space up there, including a bunk where one of the crew members was taking a nap. Dinner was a much-anticipated slice of pizza at New York Pizza and Fried Chicken in Schenectady—it turns out I really missed pizza! The following day, Thursday, was another day of travel from Schenectady to D.C. to Kansas City on United Airlines regional jets that made me long for the freedom of a C-130, where you can get up and move around as much as you like. Up next, the wrap up.
Yesterday I got up early and hiked up into the hills outside of town with one of the professors. We found a beautiful pond at the top and were at last greeted with a view of the elusive Mallard. Still, it’s the first one of the trip. Yay! Then a pair of Phalaropes then came around the corner to smooth things over--that was a nice treat.
fter breakfast, we met with some glaciologists that are staying at KISS -- Kangerlussuaq International Science Support facility -- for a few days to learn about their project, which uses hot water to drill down into the ice sheet to measure temperatures and shifts throughout the ice to better model the movements of the glaciers. They had stretched out three kilometers of hose and were marking it off meter by meter so they could measure the depth of the hole as they drill—an excellent activity to keep grad students out of trouble while waiting for their two months on the ice sheet to commence. We then drove back out to the ice sheet to meet a pair of hydrologists measuring the outflow of the Watson River as it drains Russell Glacier.
After a morning of science, we hiked out to see an enormous glacier lake. Highlights of the hike (aside from the actual glacier, which was, of course, ridiculously cool) included an up-close view of two musk ox, two caribou, and a (tiny) calving event!
After the hike, five of us were dropped off to camp for the night in sight of the glacier and two waterfalls. It was awesome, except that we kept waking up thinking we had overslept because it was so bright outside.
he next day, we met back up and visited a group of ecology grad students from Penn State doing a long-term study examining the effects of caribou and musk ox grazing, as well as the effects of warming climate, on plant and invertebrate populations dynamics. Every day for three months they go to six sites (named after the seven dwarfs, minus, inexplicably, Grumpy) and survey plant and insect diversity and phenology inside and outside an area fenced to keep out grazers, and inside these cones that block wind and increase the temperature by two degrees. Apparently we were in the midst of a huge caterpillar outbreak that was decimating willows on the north-facing slopes of their study sites—the bonus there being that wasps that parasitize the caterpillars are also enjoying a bumper year. Extra bonus: Arctic hare sighting!
After our visit there, we went fossil hunting down by the fjord, where I found a clam. Dinner included half a chicken and whale Carpaccio—it tasted kind of like fishy beef. Tomorrow is going to be a scramble to do everything we haven’t done yet, since it’s our last day in Greenland. I can’t believe it’s almost over!