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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,


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