In the hospital where I work at home, patients are often evaluated on how well they are able to complete Activities of Daily Living or ADLs. ADLs include the ability to do household chores, personal hygiene, and mobility. I wanted to include a post on one of my typical days at Las Selva Biological Research Station, and believe that this is an appropriate title. This post will give you a glimpse into the majority of the days of my two months of research.
All meals are served cafeteria-style in ‘el comedor’, the cafeteria. Breakfast is served from 6-7:30, with clean-up promptly at 7:30. Most mornings, I try to be at breakfast by 7. Though when in the States, I typically shower in the morning, being in the tropics means sweating pretty much all the time and going into the field just after taking a shower is counter-productive. So, typically I just get up, change into field clothes and go to breakfast.
After breakfast, it’s time to organize the materials I need for that day, and we (Grace and I go to the field together) are usually leaving for the field (meaning forest) by 8. Depending on how far we have to walk/bike/hike, we are usually setting up transects with frogs by 8:30 or 9. Each of my transects have 20 frogs, and we set up 6 in one day. Each transect takes about 1/2 hour to set up, unless the terrain is especially hilly or there is a lot of undergrowth.
At La Selva, we divided the forest into two different types: primary and secondary. Primary forest is also called old-growth, and is considered to have ‘never’ been cut down. Secondary forest, on the other hand, may have been affected as recently as 5-10 years ago. After navigating through the forest, one becomes quite good at identifying the forest type. Primary forest has many large, old trees, with little undergrowth (smaller trees and plants that aren’t much taller than a person). Secondary forest has less large trees and therefore much more sunlight for the undergrowth to be quite unruly. Secondary forest is difficult to lay a transect in, and is sometimes frustrating. We want to have approximately half of the transects in secondary forest and half in primary to account for any differences that may occur in predation, so walking through the secondary forest was necessary, though at times undesirable.
Depending on how far we have gone, we may make it back to home base for lunch, or may have had to get a bag lunch. Lunch is served at the comedor from 11:30-1, but the Station realizes that many researchers need to spend the whole day in the field and it is impossible for them to return for lunch. If we are going to be in the field all day, we can request field lunches, and take them with us. Field lunches include two sandwiches, fruit, crackers or cookies, and a drink. The nice thing about taking a field lunch is that you can pick a picturesque place in which to eat your lunch: one day Grace and I ate lunch while sitting on rocks in the middle of a small river, looking at the water tumble around rocks while we ate our PB&J.
After being the field and eating lunch, we would typically return to the forest to work on Grace’s research. Grace is studying digit-ratios in amphibians and reptiles, two types of frogs (including the species that I am researching) and two types of anoles (small lizards). Brief explanation: if you hold up your hand, with your fingers together instead of spread, you will probably notice that your 2nd finger is either a little longer or a little shorter than your 4th finger. The ratio of lengths is a sexual dimorphic trait in humans, meaning that ratio is different in males than in females. In this case, typically males have a longer 4th finger and females typically have a longer 2nd finger (don’t be dismayed if the opposite is true for you, it’s just been shown to be a trend). This has something to do with the levels of hormones we are exposed to while in the womb. Grace’s study is to determine if the amphibians and reptiles have a similar sexual dimorphism.
In order to complete her study, Grace has to collect 70 individuals of each of the four species. This means that almost every afternoon, we go out to the forest to catch frogs and lizards. The Oophaga pumilio are by far the easiest to catch, because they hop short distances and relatively slowly. Because they warn predators of their toxicity with their bright coloration they don’t frequently have to escape predators and can take their time leisurely hopping through the forest. The other frogs we catch are brown frogs that do not contain toxins. Because they have no other defense, they have evolved into little hopping machines. They can hop two or three feet in a single jump! They blend in to the leaf litter, too, so they are much more difficult to catch. The lizards are very speedy, but often depend upon remaining completely still to blend into the background and avoid being seen and eaten by predators. Non-moving lizards, though hard to spot, are generally easy to catch because their eyes are on the sides of their heads. If you approach them from behind, they never see you coming!
After spending a few hours catching frogs and anoles, we head back to the station where it’s time to take much needed shower. I then head to the lab to work on making frogs. Dinner is at 6 in the comedor, and it’s nice to catch up with what everyone else did for the day. After dinner there may be some socializing, but I generally go back to the lab to make frogs (hopefully with some helpers!). Frog-making is a HUGE part of my research, and I’m often up until 12 or 1 making frogs. It takes several hours to make even only enough frogs for one day in the field! After making enough frogs for the next day, and setting up the materials I will need to take into the field, it’s time for bed. And the next day, it’s pretty much all the same thing, though I may have to pick up frogs on some days instead o set them out. Also, every third day, I have no transects to work. On those days, I try to make as many frogs as possible, go out to catch small things with Grace, and help Grace photograph the feet of her catches (after loading the photos on the computer, she uses a special program to measure the length of the toes).
That’s pretty much it. ADLs of research at La Selva Biological Station!