Monday, April 17, 2017

An Audiophile's guide to Monteverde

I've always considered myself to be a recreational audiophile. I grew up spending hours poring over CDs at the library and streaming music. The summer following my freshman year of college, I interned with a National Public Radio show where I was mentored by people who, like me, treasured sounds and who taught me how to collect sounds the way that other people collect stamps or baseball cards. Throughout my time in Monteverde, surrounds by trilling birds, whining cicadas, and chirping frogs, I kept finding myself wishing that I had my sound recorder with me. There was so much to hear and no way to capture it. On our hikes I would let myself get lost in the layers of sound, trying to remember every vibration that hit my ears.
Fortunately, our guest lecturer was another audiophile who understood the value of sound. Mark Wainwright, author of Mammals of Costa Rica, is not only incredibly intelligent and knowledgeable about birds and amphibians in addition to mammals, he also knows how to analyze sound and wield it as a research tool. According to Mark, one can use current technology to "see" bird and frog calls, a fact he demonstrated using recording he had of frog calls and a rudimentary sound editing software. Over the course of our time in Monteverde, I learned a little about how to sift through layers of sound--a puzzle that requires you to train your brain and ear to isolate one thread of sound from the cacophony around you--especially on our night walks where we tried to identify frogs based on their calls and the use those calls to lead us to the frog itself. We had relatively little success, but the exercise itself was as enlightening as it was challenging.
Taking advantage of Mark's bird expertise, we went birdwatching one morning and saw wrens, robins, motmots, vultures, and toucans. With each new bird we discovered, we discussed the call they made. Other birds in Monteverde that we heard but did not see include the bell bird and the Oropendola, both of whom have very distinctive calls.
Our time at Monteverde had more to offer me than just beautiful sounds; it also introduced me to a topic related to my future career interests. My favorite lecture that we had at Monteverde discussed amphibian decline. While there are many potential causes for amphibian decline, one of the most probable is a fungus called chytrid. What I found most interesting as a future microbiologist was the research that is now being conducted to see how amphibians are adapting to chytrid. A University of Costa Rica lab is currently investigating how frogs' microbiomes contribute to chytrid resistance. The intersection of ecology and microbiology fascinates me and I was very excited to be able to connect these two fields of study.
Overall, my time in Monteverde was characterized by geeking out over sound, microbiology and learning more about the importance of amphibians to montane ecosystems. I hope to return someday to Monteverde, maybe conducting research if my own on the importance of the microbiome to frogs' chytrid resistance. If I do, I'll be sure to bring my sound recorder.

Emma Roszkowski
Grinnell College

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