Sunday, March 13, 2016

Thoughts on Palo Verde IP

We have just completed presenting our Independent projects for Palo Verde and Professor Mauricio revealed something extraordinary to us afterwards unintentionally. He was showing us photos from his trap camera at a nearby artificial watering hole. Each photo presented an animal, air temperature, date and time of day. What I noticed was that during our study period, was that from February 24-27 the temperature recorded on the camera by 9am was between 38-40 degrees Celsius, or 100 to 104 degrees Fahrenheit. This means that we were all conducting research in these temperatures! Additionally, we completed our projects without anyone suffering from heat exhaustion. This is the greatest success I could ask for to conclude our first half of the field experience.
            Bridgett and I conducted a study of plant-ant interactions and if agricultural development was influencing the ecology of those interactions at the border. Over three days I stared at vachellia trees and counted two common species of ant that were active on the tree, while Bridgett took measurements of herbivory and fruiting bodies such as beltian bodies, which the tree supply ants for nutrients, and flowers. I was interested in learning about how we are unintentionally developing the ecology of forests with our activity and this study was an excellent point of view from which to explore these ecological questions.
            We discovered that the ants Pseudomyrmex spinicola were less active at the rice fields, but trees at both sites had similar levels of herbivory. There should have been a relationship between ant activity and herbivory, but the trees were doing fine without good defenders! The edge of a forest is a very important part of the forest. It is the buffer between protected conservation areas and human development. However, forest edges are subject to human interaction with wildlife, damage from abiotic factors like strong winds, and affects of agrochemicals from neighboring farmland. I believe our research, as well as others’ support the idea that the border is a fragile piece of land that deserves to be identified as an important piece of land to conserve, or as a biological Demilitarized Zone that needs to be identified as a part of the forest or fragment that is going to be affected on the edge.
            It has been a stressful, difficult week for all of us, and sometimes I was not interested in being outside all day. I have had very little experience in this kind of work, perhaps five days worth of field biology research now if we include this last week, which was three days worth. I have only written two other scientifically formatted papers so far in college and one of them was for freshman chemistry. These are my only experiences with using statistics to interpret data and telling a story of my results. I know after 30 years of writing papers I will feel more comfortable with it, but today I am grateful to know that I am doing the best I can with where I am.
            I need to give credit to the structure of this program. I was initially very concerned that I was not learning language and culture first, but after our first three sites, I think we will all be grateful to have this break from science in March. I will enjoying seeing some of my classmates in a different element, an urban social setting now that we have gotten to know each other here, in Palo Verde and also in Las Cruces.

Ace Spitzer
University of Northern Colorado

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