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miércoles, 21 de diciembre de 2011

Dorothy, Rolex, and angiosperms

Becky Graham is now half way through her four month investigation into the effects of weather variables and intrahabitat differences on certain small mammal abundance, distribution, and movement. It is still early but already her capture records do not seem to follow the typical expected trends around new and full moon cycles. This is where the other variables Becky is testing will come in as an interesting avenue of explanation (strata, temperature, humidity, rainfall, and foliage cover). Presently she is in the middle of her third live trapping session. When she is not trapping Becky has also been making good progress with habitat surveys within her four trapping grids. So far Becky’s intern experience has allowed her to develop handling, micro chipping, and trapping skills as well as species and habitat knowledge. When not in the field she has learnt how to enter, store, and upload her data properly in preparation for analyses at the end of her field time. Becky’s project gets a mixture of new and repeat catches. So Becky now has a ‘three capture naming policy’. The newest addition to this club is ‘Dorothy’ the female Oligoryzomys.

Gemma Bach is now just a few days away from launching her project. Her research will focus on Langsdorffia hypogaea Mart, a parasitic angiosperm, and its interactions with the surrounding plant community and the factors effecting its distribution. This unusual plant parasite is only found within the semi-deciduous forest at Laguna Blanca, and the populations here are only the second record for Paraguay. Gemma will assess the impact these parasites have on their host through measuring the differences in height and diameter of trees as well as leaf length and breadth. Gemma will also attempt to explain how and why these parasitic plants are non-randomly distributed. She will be taking systematic soil samples in order to record different levels of Ph, conductivity, and salinity. Finally, Gemma will be using a light sensor to assess whether sunlight exposure is a contributing factor to their distribution.

A couple of weeks ago our botany friends Juana and Gloria visited for a day and a half. They collected a lot of plant samples and processed them into a temporary herbarium. Juana and Gloria are in the process of documenting all plant life within Laguna Blanca with the view to producing the first field guide for this reserve and the surrounding area. Juana and Gloria’s visit was particularly well timed as Gemma had only been with us for a few days, so all three botanists had the opportunity to spend some time together in the field.

Recently, a senior consultant from Rolex visited Laguna Blanca. Norm Scott and PLT scientific director Paul Smith were also in the visiting party so we thought it would be interesting for all camp members to make a presentation. I presented on the three long term projects I have here at the reserve and what impact our research will have for science and conservation efforts. It is always good practice to verbally present your research, but it is especially beneficial for interns. Many interns who visit us have done very little verbal presenting so this is an additional professional development practice which we encourage at PLT.

Finally, our draft paper on the behaviour and grouping patterns in wild Plush-crested jays is now completed and will be reviewed. Once we have made any corrects we want to make it will hopefully be submitted for publication.

Until next time I’ll say goodbye.

Best wishes,


sábado, 3 de diciembre de 2011

A string of goodbyes, “Pinchy” and our juvenile owls attempts at flight

Hello again,

Well after a wonderful 2 weeks we have had to say goodbye to Norman Scott and his wife Joan. If you read my previous blog you will know that Norman is one of the worlds leading experts in herpetology and has been helping us in the museum ensuring that all of our herpetofauna specimens are correctly identified. It has been a pleasure to work alongside someone with such knowledge and passion and we look forward to our continued collaboration. Joan has also been working hard for us and we now have a wonderful colouring book to use as a community outreach tool. A massive thank you to both of them for all their hard work during their time here. We must also thank Pier who somehow managed to find the time to help us by actively searching for frogs and snakes, showing me how to process birds (see my previous blog for more info on this), going through the herpetofauna collection with a fine tooth comb, assisting me in writing a community outreach project and also doing his own work for his PhD thesis – when did he sleep?

Sadly we have also had to say goodbye to a wonderful volunteer Mikey Kempster. Mikey really threw himself into everything that was happening here from going out frogging, to small mammal trapping and helping to organise the museum, there wasn’t a single job he wasn’t 100% enthusiastic about. When I asked him what he enjoyed most he had to think for a long time, then finally said that being “Pinchy” was a real highlight. Now you are probably wondering what I am talking about so let me explain from the beginning. A few weeks ago we visited 2 local schools to talk to children about the reserve, as part of our community outreach programme. We were very lucky to have a couple of guests come and assist us with this; Pablo and Amelio from Fundacion Moises Bertoni, a conservation organisation based in Eastern Paraguay. We went to the school and hid Mikey in the car so the children wouldn’t see him, then while Amelio was giving the presentations Pablo helped Mikey transform into “Pinchy” a 6ft bright yellow and black bird who had come to Laguna Blanca to help the white winged nightjar, Para La Tierra’s flagship species. “Pinchy” was a real hit and really helped us convey the conservation message to the children. A massive thank you to Mikey for all his help, enthusiasm and lets face it terrible jokes!!

And finally last time I promised you an update on the burrowing owls, well I am delighted to report that all 5 young are thriving and are looking bright and healthy and the mother is doing a fantastic job of keeping up with their insatiable appetites! We have some excellent footage of them attempting to fly, somewhat clumsy it has to be admitted but flying nevertheless! Unfortunately it’s not possible to explain to them the purpose of the camera trap as the mother was regularly seen sitting on top of it!

And that’s all for this time, see you in a couple of weeks