Field Experience

 

I have been involved in a variety of field research projects and taken several field courses.

While working as a field researcher for an NSF funded research project in Costa Rica I studied bird and bat seed dispersal as well as bird species-specific seed consumption patterns. This project provided me with the opportunity to experience the joys and challenges of conducting an independent research project. My primary research goal was to collect data on bird and bat seed dispersal at four sites in Copa Buena, Costa Rica and determine the relative role of birds vs. bats in seed dispersal. This project posed a few challenges, primarily, how to separate the seeds dispersed by bird from those dispersed by bats and how to get enough data from multiple sites to yield significant results in just three months. My solution was simple yet intensive; I would collect data every day at two sites, switching seed collection nets just before sunrise and at sunset and I would change the site locations every week. I would then conduct my seed identification and fecal sampling research during the day, and in the evenings I would hike back out to my sites to change the nets again.

My field work started early, I was awake and hiking to my field sites by 3:30 AM every morning, it was important I start my work before the birds became active and after the bats started roosting. If I was late or missed a day the entire week’s worth of data would have to be discarded. Not even fevers and fits of vomiting kept me in bed. Every day was an adventure, new sites, new sounds; it wasn’t long before sunrise became my favorite time of the day. During the days when I had time, I also participated in field studies, conducting bird, plant and seed species diversity, density, and distributional pattern research with other researchers. Most afternoons I spent my time tucked away in the makeshift lab at Loma Linda drying identifying, and labeling seeds. This was an eye-opening experience for me as I had not realized just how many seed, and even tree, species had not yet been officially identified. As a result I developed a code system for the seeds I collected. I keyed each one out, compared it to the available set of seeds collected previously in the area for other studies and created a key of my own to use in my data analysis.

My data on seed dispersal during the day versus at night showed that an equal number of seeds were dispersed during the day (160.8 ± 45.0) and at night (135.9 ± 48.6), suggesting that both bats and birds play an important role in seed dispersal at my sites. More seeds were dispersed in plantations (234.6 ± 42.3) than in control plots (62.0 ± 22.9). However, seed dispersal in control plots located far from undisturbed forests showed a marked difference from those located near undisturbed forests. Those control plots located near undisturbed forests had significantly lower rates of seed dispersal than those located far from undisturbed forest. This suggests that natural forest recovery processes may differ from those in plots further from undisturbed forests due to seed dispersal and that bird and bat behavior and or species composition also differs based on distance from undisturbed forests. These results have interesting implications and warrant further study.

 

While taking a field course in Costa Rica I conducted informal surveys of amphibian species distribution, bird behavior and palm tree species diversity in three distinct Costa Rican habitats: rain forest, dry forest and costal forest. I also helped conduct both a fish species diversity study and a snail species diversity study. I designed a short field study of leaf cutter ants and quantified the approximate biomass consumed per hour during the day (leaf cutter ants work both during the day and the night, it is important to note that the rate of biomass carried to the colony differs at these times, due to weather changes, etc.). I extrapolated from this number the approximate biomass collected by a single colony of leaf cutter ants in a year.

Some of my earlier field work includes informal bird surveys of desert-adapted and migratory birds in the Mojave Desert, a microhabitat specific survey of desert adapted reptiles in the Mojave Desert, and a faunal survey of the Big Creek reserve. I have participated in bird colony studies conducted by the PRBO on Ano Nuevo Island and Alcatraz Island. Some of my work included mist-netting, nest box maintenance and management, sea bird colony observation, cormorant pellet dissection and diet analysis. I have participated in marine mammal observation for the wind to whales project in Monterey. These experiences have allowed me to acquire a range of skills valuable in field work.

Field Work and Experience:



Sampling Techniques:
  • Plant/ coverage sampling techniques, such as plot/quadrant sampling and transect sampling.
  • Terrestrial invertebrate sampling with the use of pit-falls and drop-boards
  • Terrestrial vertebrate sampling techniques such as mist netting (sm. migratory species, sea birds: rhinoceros auklets, gulls, etc.), bird handling, line transects (herps and aves), strip census, point surveys (aves), drop boards (herps), mark-recapture (aves using mist-netting and band), pellet counts (meso predators, and undulates in coastal scrub habitats), track counts (meso predators, and undulates in coastal scrub habitats) and rodent traps.
  • Aquatic sampling techniques such as dredging, grab samplers (Peterson and Ponar devices), surber swift-water net, artificial substrates, plankton traps, dip netting and townetting.
  • Computer analysis using Microsoft Excel, SYSTAT (determining sample size, ANOVA, etc) and ArcGIS.

Wind to Whales:


Ano Nuevo Island:


Ecological Field Methods:


Field Biology:

  • Example field notes
  • Photography

Nature Academy:

  • Catalina Island Marine Institute
  • River Restoration

 

 


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