Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Guaiacum sanctum

Our time at Palo Verde National Park has been concentrated on research.  I had never spent much time studying plants, so I had some reserves going into our faculty-led project about Guaiacum sanctum, an endangered evergreen species.  However, the more I learned about the species, the more interested I became.  The tree is different from many other dry forest tree species in that it is evergreen and has an odd age distribution.  In addition, it was fun to participate in the research.  I liked being part of a continuing project and helping to gather accurate data about an endangered species.
            A couple of my friends and I were interested in looking into the plant further, so, the following week, we decided to do our independent project about it.  We studied how age and light affects the plant’s functional traits.
            It was a cool experience.  It felt very official to go out and measure the trees, collect leaf samples, and take fisheye pictures of the canopy above each plant.  We wound up being able to collect information on many more trees than we had expected to and were able to get a pretty good picture of what the trees were like throughout the Palo Verde dry forest.  It was also interesting to be out collecting information on the plants that hadn’t necessarily been collected before.  Guaiacum sanctum is a species that has not been very thoroughly studied, so there are still many gaps in basic information about the plant.  Over the course of our four data collection days, we all developed an attachment to the plant that I hadn’t expected to feel.
            We wound up getting a lot of interesting results through our project.  For example, taller trees produce fewer leaflets, but put more resources into creating each one.  It was nice to be able to explain our results as well. In this case, that the larger trees had the resources to put into the leaves, instead of having to dedicate all their energy to ensuring that they had access to water and could survive the dry season.
            I would definitely like to spend more time learning about specific plants in the future.  Getting to study a plant at this level helped me to care about the species more than I thought I could, and I would like to have the same experience with other species. 
I think this mentality continues into a lot of conservation work: with education, people come to care about a species and its survival.  While most people won’t end up researching the species themselves, it is great to know that even informing people about their characteristics can produce such a change in perception.
Jessica Kuesel
Duke University

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