Tonight is my last night in Costa Rica and as I sit on my clean hotel bed with four soft pillows around me I can’t help but reflect on the past 10 weeks. This is the same hotel I stayed in my first night here and at that time I was unaware of the obstacles I would have to overcome before my return.
Field research is an excellent challenge of character and self development. It also tests your ability to be flexible and a positive attitude is a must. Before coming to Costa Rica on the NSF funded project with three other MSEM students, I spent countless hours sifting through literature and developing methods to test my hypothesis during the ten week study. I was looking at abiotic features of fragmented forest to determine how size and shape of each fragment impacts air, water, and soil quality. Upon arriving at Las Cruces Biological Station my entire project changed. Supplies broke, solutions did not arrive, and my YSI meter, the holy grail of all water testing meters, was on backorder. I could see all of my meticulous planning slowly go down the toilet. Now what? I spent a semester coming up with a project that I had to change on the fly. First, I took stock of what I did have: soil pH meter, soil moisture meter, soil conductivity meter, a kestrel weather tracker, 15 kestrel drops and 30 passive air samplers. Second, I revisited my original questions. I knew I wanted to look at ecosystem services provided by the forest, specifically regulating services. All this in mind I began brainstorming with Dr. Wasserman and this is what we came up with: I was going to work side by side with Eric and collect data using the previously mentioned meters in his nested plots (you should read his post for more info, pretty good stuff) to help support each other’s data sets. That wasn’t too far from the original plan. What was new, were the transects I was going to conduct in each forest fragment to determine the extent edge effects have on microclimate and soil.
I came up with a new protocol to test soil temperature, moisture and conductivity as well as ambient temperature and relative humidity at each point of my 200 meter transects; the points fell along the transect at 0, 5, 10, 20, 40, 60, 80, 100, 150, and 200 meters. Where it was possible I did the transects into the forest as well as out of the forest. The general findings aren’t revolutionary by any means; it’s cooler in the forest than out of the forest. What will be more interesting comes from a GIS component to see how the difference in temperature, between inside and outside the forest, changes based on fragment size. A visual will be more compelling but you will have to come to my presentation for the final product.
As for the passive air samplers (PAS), the data will not be available for my final paper and presentation this May, they need to stay in the field for a few months. In a brief description I will attempt to describe their purpose in this project. PAS house a polyurethane foam disk (PUF), which will collect persistent organic pollutants (POPs), some of which come from nature but most of which come from anthropogenic sources. This includes but is not limited to: pesticides such as organophosphates, benzene and fossil fuels from engine exhaust, and hydrofluorocarbons. All of these things travel through air and water and become deposited in soil. As a regulating service, forests filter the air, deforestation and fragmentation will likely limit this service. Deployment of these PAS will hopefully tell a story of the ability for each fragment to regulate POPs. Kestrel d3 are placed with half of the PAS to collect detailed microclimate information. And that’s enough of that.
Field work is dirty, I’m talking day five in the same field pants, mud up to your knees kind of dirty. Field work is monotonous, following the same protocol day after day, eating the same rice and beans nearly three meals a day. Field work is far from glamorous and at times it down right makes you want to cry. All this said, I loved everything about the experience. I loved being in the forest and seeing the biodiversity of Costa Rica first hand. I loved working with my research partner in crime, Eric, and how quickly we were able to laugh about sticky situations. I loved our all day hikes and eating lunch by a stream. I also really loved getting away from the social demands of real life. I am grateful for this experience and would do it again in a heartbeat, which is easy to say from the comfort of my hotel bed.