--Jennie Miller, PhD Candidate
Classes have ended and we’re ramping up for summer fieldwork here in the Schmitz Lab. Five of the Schmitzers will be working in the field, carrying out innovative projects with lizards, spiders, grasshoppers and pollinators in Greece, Connecticut and Vermont.
Colin departed three weeks ago for the islands of Greece, where he’s collecting preliminary data on lizard morphology in the presence of predators and rock wall refugia. Colin will be catching lizards and measuring every diagnostic metric he can think of to motivate his upcoming dissertation experiments. He left for Greece with some pretty cool field equipment, including snake tongs and a lizard bite balance. Hope the lizards are biting, Colin!
Karin will be starting the sandbox experiment of her dissertation, which will run for the next few years. In June, she’ll transplant Solidago altissima plants from our greenhouse into cages in the fields of nearby Wallingford, CT. She’ll catch grasshoppers and stock the cages to examine their effects on the plants.
Bryan will be studying how local adaptation in grasshoppers affects ecosystem response to climate warming. He’ll be comparing how grasshoppers from Connecticut (which likely adapted to handle warm temperatures) and grasshoppers from Vermont (expected to handle cooler temperatures) affect plant communities. Bryan plans to carry out a transplant experiment in which he’ll move CT grasshoppers to VT and likewise VT grasshoppers to CT and then examine differences in how the grasshoppers consume plants in field cages subjected to warmed conditions (simulating climate change). Bryan expects that the cool-adapted VT population of grasshoppers will be more phenotypically plastic in its response to warming.
Rob has been prepping for fieldwork this summer by working in the lab, exposing Solidago plants to nitrogen and examining how the addition of nutrients to the soil impacts the rate of nitrogen cycling. He’ll be carrying out complimentary field experiments at the Yale Myers Forest, in which he’ll expose caged, old-field plots to different aboveground and belowground community compositions by altering the presence of herbivore grasshoppers, carnivorous spiders and microbial grazing springtails.
Our undergrad Kassie will spend her first summer with the Schmitz Lab up at the Yale Myers Forest. She’ll be studying native pollinator community and plant-insect interaction webs across an anthropogenic impact gradient. Kassie is a big fan of native bees, which she believes are an important component of ecosystem health and are increasingly important as managed bee populations are in decline (especially the European honey bee Apis mellifera). This summer Kassie will spend her days watching bees, searching for correlative ecological, life history and landscape clues to the most important factors that support or disrupt pollinator communities. Good luck Kassie!
Meanwhile, back in Greeley lab, Anne, Kevin and I will make ground-shaking progress in our spatial analyses of animal movement, distribution and predation patterns while sunbathing in the botanical garden to keep up with our labmates’ tans. Here’s to a fantastic summer!
--Kevin McLean, PhD Candidate
I looked at my calendar this morning and realized that it has now been over 7 weeks since I returned from my field season in Panama. Seeing as I was only gone for 12 weeks, I suppose it is about time that I stop telling people I am still “adjusting to being back.”
With that out of the way, on to the fieldwork update! I departed for Panama in mid-December to finish up the necessary training and do a bit of testing and tinkering for my dissertation research. A portion of my project will involve monitoring arboreal (tree-dwelling) mammals in the rainforest canopy using motion-sensitive cameras, or “camera traps.” While I’ve spent a fair amount of time learning how to use camera traps on the ground, setting them up 6-10 stories above the forest floor was a whole new challenge.
First on the agenda was learning how to actually get into the trees. I spent three weeks at the Institute for Tropical Ecology and Conservation (ITEC) taking a tree climbing course, which I sometimes refer to as “Canopy Access Techniques for Research” to sound unbelievably fancy. While three weeks may sound excessive, one of the many goals I set for myself while working on my dissertation was to not die, and my instructor Joe Maher played integral role in giving me the training necessary to succeed in that regard.
The next step was figuring out how to mount the cameras in the trees. I had a fair amount of help with this from Dr. Tremaine Gregory, who was kind enough to share the designs she used for her work in Peru. I put together a set of six mounts using a couple different designs that allowed me to monitor animals on pretty much any branch size or angle.
Once I got some initial troubleshooting out of the way, I was able to get some pretty great photos of the arboreal wildlife in Bocas del Toro. Some of the species that crossed the cameras included capuchin monkeys, green iguanas, woolly opossums, and climbing rats.
After about a month in Bocas I traveled to the Canal Zone to set up my cameras in the forests in the Barro Colorado Island Nature Monument. Dr. Stefan Schnitzer, the primary investigator for the Liana Ecology Project was kind enough to allow me to set up cameras on his research plots on the Gigante Peninsula.
I chose two trees on Gigante peninsula, one in a plot in which all the lianas had been removed, and another in a control plot. Once again it took a bit of fiddling to get things running smoothly, but after a several solid weeks I managed to get photos of more capuchins and woolly opossums, as well as some coatimundis, kinkajous, squirrels, and toucans.
I thankfully made it back to New Haven in one piece, where I will spend my time going through photos and working on the other pieces of my dissertation until I return to Panama January 2014.