So sloth is certainly not one of the deadly sins exhibited this week! So what else could my biblical referenced title be about?
This week the project was joined by Dr Christian Cox and 2 masters students from his lab (www.coxevolab.org), who came here to help the establishment of the Panama project. With their arrival the project began in earnest! After assuming the lizards we were after (Anolis apletophallus) were hugely abundant we erroneously assumed that we could catch 100 in a day relatively easily. Now we know that they are abundant, BUT they are also hugely cryptic (camouflaged) and very small so its very difficult to see them especially when you factor in the dynamic and complex jungle ecosystem. So we are now catching about 60-80 over two days and it's quite a lot of work. So that was a kick in the teeth a little, not as bad as day one where it took us two hours to find 3. I was f-ing and blinding that day, assuming my PhD was sunk already. Fortunately you begin to develop a "search image", which is kind of like your brain filtering out background visual noise and making it easy to see the specific shape or pattern of the thing you are looking for. This makes it easier to spot them and our numbers began to climb up and hopefully will continue to do so. On day one of lizard collection we also managed to see something many people who spend months in the jungle do not... A jaguar! No, I joke. We were not that lucky. But we did see a sloth! Ok, not fast moving but its a greyish/brown/ greenish animal in a greyish/brownish/greenish forest and it normally spends 99% of its time in the canopy. Most of the last few days have been spent ferociously hunting for lizards and then meticulously measuring them, doing temperature trials on then and marking them ready for release. Not too complicated right? Well we spent nearly 12 hours in the lab one day and I was there for an extra 3 to finish up, getting home around midnight.There are a fair few teething problems in the first week as this is a brand new project. So hopefully there won't be too many days like that. But I have definitely taken one thing away from these few days, don't underestimate teething problems! But we have managed to get one island populated with lizards!
Another notable thing to mention was the night hike, a nice foray into the jungle to search for nocturnal beasts. Which was a success! We saw hundreds of frogs including one of my new favorites the Gladiator Tree frog and one animal I have really wanted to see for years; the Kinkajou! He was waiting for us right next to the car when we returned. Pretty good side dish of glamour to our long hours of monotony right?
Notable Animal Sightings:
Three Toed Sloth (Bradypus variegatus)
Capuchin Monkeys (Cebus capucinus)
Spectacled Caiman (Caiman crocodilus)
Gladiator Tree Frog (Hypsiboas rosenbergi)
Gaudy Leaf Frog (Agalychnis callidryas)
Kinkajou (Potos flavus)
Geoffrey's Tamarin (Saguinus geoffroyi)
For a bit of context to my blog from Panama please see my Research page to understand what I am doing.
The first week of my 5 months in Panama is now over. I could tell you about the gliz and glamour, all the high points and the cheesy movie perfect phrases. But this is not an over edited picture perfect Instagram account. I did however enjoy my first week, but I am sure many of you will ask why, after reading this. Let me begin with the key words for week one. "Optimum Temperature Models" what are these you ask? They are devices to record temperature that are created and distributed in such as way as to match the habitat and therefore relative temperatures that your study organism would be exposed to. E.g. if you were studying mole rats you would create an OTM that would have the same temperature absorbing properties of a molerat (don't ask me how to do that) and place it in an underground burrow at the same depth a molerat burrow would be. That is a very inaccurate and over simplified analogy, but what the hell, run with it. So anyway, my PhD is looking at the evolutionary change of lizards in response to climate change (or climate warming) so obviously temperature is a big deal. This is the part of science many people don't communicate and many people who want to be scientists don't realize. Some of the work is tedious and dull (if you go into Microbiology or soil science it's all tedious and dull, in my opinion....) but it needs to be done. You can't just swan over to Panama throw buckets of lizards at islands and watch the data roll in. You need to do the nitty gritty. So my first week was basically, individually plugging 221 temperature recorders into my laptop, programming them to record every hour. Then coating them in a waterproof plastic. Then peeling them off the desk because the the plastic had stuck them to the table. Then giving them a second coat. Then cutting off the excess plastic to neaten them up. Oh and finally we had to stick them to bits of wood to make it easier to attach them to trees.
Then it was of we went (We is myself and Dr Michael Logan, who is my friend and 3rd PhD supervisor) to our 12 survey islands. These islands are hotter than the mainland so give us the ability to mimic climate change when we move lizards from the mainland to said islands. But how much hotter, well we need to know exactly across the course of the year. So before we do anything, we need environmental data. Otherwise how can we prove that these hotter islands are the cause for evolutionary change? Because they might actually not be hotter, or maybe its only the hottest island that causes a change but we wouldn't know this if we did compare temperature data to evolutionary data. I digress, back to the fieldwork. Blasting around the Panama Canal on a small metal boat and doing Seal Team like landings on our sample islands kept the boyish part of me happy but we also had to distribute 17 OTM's across each island to mimic how lizards would distribute themselves when they are released to the islands over the next few weeks. So a pretty busy first week, not as glamorous as I am sure I would like to tell you, but this ladies and gentlemen is Science. Often glamour is a side dish, not the main course! But, it is a damn fine side dish!
Notable Animal Sightings:
Howler Monkeys - Heard rather than seen, every time it rains they howl as loud as they can.
Poison Dart Frog - Dendrobates auratus