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viernes, 25 de noviembre de 2011

Leaf sniffing, burrow stealers, and angry opossums

Becky Graham is into her second round of small mammal trapping for her investigation into the affect of weather variables and intrahabitat differences have on species abundance, distribution, and movement. Becky is working the trapping sessions around the lunar cycles, therefore she has a week in between sessions. Last week after her first trapping session finished Becky began her habitat surveying. By using a quadrat method she is taking data concerning the amount of foliage cover traps have and how this may influence the abundance of species and/or the type of species found in that area and at which strata level. Becky and her team have trapped a number of different species so far, including the White-eared opossum (Didelphis albiventris). Micro chips are used in order assess recapture and one particular opossum seems to be turning up regularly in the same trap. As delighted as Becky’s team are to see this animal, the opossum does not appear to be as happy to see them. Hissing with a wide open mouth, this species can literally be quite a hand full to manage.

Two days ago we welcomed my newest intern Gemma Bach. Gemma has come all the way from Australia and will be with us at Laguna Blanca for three months. Gemma is a keen and knowledgeable botanist with a particular interest in plant ecology, plant pathogens, and plant health. It is very nice for us to have another botanist here. As a zoologist I always get to learn a lot from our botanists which provides an enhanced ability to look at broader ecological questions. During our initial outing to the cerrado Gemma was able to teach me all sorts of signs plants display when they are not healthy and what the possible reasons for this could be. What became clear was that ‘sick’ plants and trees on the cerrado were localized and not species specific. Therefore Gemma theorizes that there may be acute differences in soil compounds within the cerrado.
The most exciting outcome Gemma and I had while in the cerrado concerned the ongoing confusion over the relationship Clyomys laticeps has with a certain shrub. It has perplexed me for some time now but with the help of a botanist I may have a new avenue to investigate. The leaves of this particular shrub change in texture and smell as they mature. The newest shrubs of this species have very strong smelling waxy leaves that seem to disappear the older the shrub gets. This was not found to be the case for several other common shrubs on the cerrado. Further investigation is needed to reveal whether Clyomys are attracted to this shrub by scent and why. Finally, I have been researching the phenomenon of burrow stealing. Many non burrowing species use the burrows of small mammals for their own benefit. I will shortly be excavating some clyomys burrow systems to try and reveal what snake, lizard, and invertebrate species are benefiting from this little known keystone species.
Over the next few weeks Gemma will begin to formulate her project, hypotheses, and methods. She is fortunate to arrive at this particular time as we currently have two returning botanists here. Juana and Gloria are in the process of producing the first thorough documentation and listing of all the plant and tree species within the reserve. So between the three of them we hope to see some exciting botanical research coming out of Laguna Blanca.

Untill next time ill say goodbye.

Best wishes,


miércoles, 23 de noviembre de 2011

VIPs, Camera traps and a bird brain

Hi Everyone,

First off I am happy to inform you that we are very privileged to have 3 very important people with us at the moment. Norman Scott is one of the world’s leading experts on herpetofauna and is here to study our museum collection of amphibians and reptiles. In addition he is also collecting specimens and we have been going out frogging and actively searching for snakes and lizards. It is a pleasure to work alongside someone with not only the same passion as me but such knowledge! Joan Scott has been helping us out too. We are in the process of creating a children’s colouring book to use as an educational tool as part of our community outreach programme. Joan is an excellent artist and is designing the pictures for this book while she is here. Joining Norman and Joan is Pier Cacciali, one of our external collaborators and an expert on snakes as well as other herps, it’s great to have him here again. A big thank you to Norman, Joan and Pier for all their hard work and enthusiasm and here’s to another week of them being here.

Another great piece of news is that not only do we have one of our camera traps on site and in action and we have some amazing pics of some of the vulture species we have in the cerrado. Within days of the trap arriving and doing a test run I found the ideal bait – a dead dog that had been killed on the road. I won’t pretend it was particularly pleasant but it did prove to be very effective. I placed the dog in a patch of cerrado near the house and set up the camera trap. All we had to do then was leave it alone and wait. 3 days later I returned to an almost completely stripped skeleton and some great pictures of vultures visiting the carcass.

If you have been following this blog you will know that we have a breeding pair of burrowing owls living in the garden. We have confirmed sightings of 5 young, all extremely fluffy and unbearably cute. They are getting bolder too and I don’t think it is going to be long before they take flight, they are growing so fast. We really hope to get their first flight on camera so have placed the camera trap in front of their burrow – all we need now is patience from us and courage from them. I’ll keep you posted.

And finally the bird brain! Pier very kindly took an afternoon out of his busy schedule to teach me how to process birds. We don’t actively collect birds for the museum however if we come across one that has died we will take it as a specimen. The bird I was working on was a grey-necked wood rail (Aramides cajanea) which was, unbelievably, found dead in a Sherman trap used for catching small mammals. How and why it squeezed itself in there is a mystery but it proved to be a great opportunity for me to learn how to process birds. I have to say the technique is a bit harder than mammals and pretty gross in parts. However it was very interesting to see how the process works and we now have a rather nice exhibit for the museum.

And that’s about all for now, until next time

Hasta pronto


jueves, 10 de noviembre de 2011

Weather variables, intern papers, and more grants

PLT’s newest intern Becky Graham has now successfully launched her study. After some careful planning and research she finalised her project a few days before her first trapping session was due to begin. Becky’s research is looking at several factors that may affect the abundance and movement of certain small mammal species in the semi deciduous transitional forests (semi caducifolio) at Laguna Blanca. Becky has set up four 50m x 50m trapping grids in different areas of the forest which have intra-habitat differences to each other. These grids are located in the interior forest, transitional ecotone between the forest and cerradon, bordering the lake, and bordering an anthropogenic disturbance (agricultural land). Becky has also set Sherman traps at ground, arboreal, and canopy level in order to examine abundance differences in forest strata. She will conduct her trapping sessions around the lunar cycles (full and new moon phases) and will also be testing the affect certain other variables have on trapping and abundance. These include temperature, humidity, rainfall, and foliage structure and densities within each grid.

Becky’s first few days of trapping are underway and she is quickly learning all the handling and micro chipping techniques she will need for the coming months. She is also receiving some much appreciated help from volunteer Mike Kempster and ex intern/current volunteer Aimme Oxley. Becky’s project will produce results on how certain small mammals adapt to the variables within the semi deciduous transitional forests, which is an understudied ecosystem. Her results will also allow comparisons from the different intra-habitat structures so she will be able to assess the risk of further habitat change and degradation. Becky’s assessment of weather variables will give a better understanding of the ecology of the species living in these semi deciduous transitional forests.

As I have said in a previous blog, the intern experience at PLT does not necessarily end when students leave Laguna Blanca. Ex intern Greg Goodfellow is now at a stage to start writing his first publication based on his findings from his project investigating White-rumped tanager duets. In collaboration with myself and PLT Science Coordinator Paul Smith, Greg will aim to produce a paper for submission by January. Currently we are looking at Greg’s data to decide which particular area of his research is most appropriate and viable for publication.

Finally, we are on to the next set of funding applications. In a couple of weeks we will submit grant applications both to the Phoenix Zoo Conservation and Science grant and the SeaWorld and Bush Gardens Wildlife Fund. These grants encompass a broad and inclusive focus on scientific research, conservation, and local community work.
Unitl next time I’ll say goodbye.

Best wishes,


miércoles, 2 de noviembre de 2011

Spring is in the air!

Apologies to all you folks in countries heading into winter, because spring has definitely sprung here at Laguna Blanca! We may not have lambs frolicking in fields and daffodils but we do have a rather unique blend of wildlife which, if we are lucky, allows us a brief glimpse of their new arrivals. Around camp the southern lapwings have a couple of tiny babies (exact replicas of their parents but sooo small) – adorable but don’t make the mistake of getting too close, their parents are pretty feisty! We also have a pair of burrowing owls that live in the garden and the other day I spotted, for the first time ever, one of them leaving their burrow. I think they may have young in there…!

The frogs aren’t letting us down either - it’s definitely the breeding season for some species, which means I also have several tadpole projects running. At our new and exciting frog pond in the local village we managed to gather about 25 tadpoles of various sizes and stages of development (catching tadpoles is surprisingly tricky by the way!). So little work has been done on tadpoles that any data we can gather is vital. We have no idea what species they are (or even if they are the same species) until they morp into froglets, so I have to stay patient and keep them alive (and fed well enough to stop them eating each other!). Not the easiest task but a lot easier than caterpillars I can tell you! I also have 2 funnel traps full of eggs from 2 species that laid in captivity. Neither I have much hope for though, as the eggs seem to be really sensitive and may not hatch - but nothing ventured and all that, so fingers-crossed. I’ll let you know how I get on! Finally if you remember last time I told you about the new pitfall trap line we dug into the flooded forest? Well it hasn’t disappointed. Within days we had not 1 but 2 toads that are new species for our collection. This is great as we are on a real drive to see how many new anuran species we can add our inventory at the moment.

Another project that I meant to tell you about last time but didn’t have the space for is our recycled vegetable garden. We are having another bash at growing vegetables and so far melon and squash are the most successful contestants. “But why is it called a recycled garden?” I hear you cry. Well, because everything, from the exterior fence, to the borders, the compost heap, and the scarecrow are made from 100% reused materials. In fact the only thing that that has been bought new is a longer hose pipe and the seeds themselves. I’ve never had the opportunity to have a go at growing fruit and veg before so it’s all trial and error – the best way to learn though I reckon (well as long are we aren’t too hungry!).

That’s all for now folks thanks for reading!