Monday, January 13, 2014

Taking Research Opportunities

This is a guest blog written by M.S. student, Anna Meyer.  Anna is working on harvester ant abundance, density, and nutritional quality for her thesis.  She also has taken advantage of numerous other opportunities to advance her career at Texas Tech.  Below, she profiles one such opportunity.

The island © Anna Meyer 2013

Another shot of the island © Anna Meyer 2013

Our fearless crew © Anna Meyer 2013
            In October, I had the good fortune to go to the British Virgin Islands to join six other graduate students.  We visited a private island that is mostly forested and which boasts a wide variety of local fauna.  We stayed on the island for roughly two weeks, conducting a small observational study on epiphytic plants (specifically Tillandsia utriculata).  We encountered whip scorpions, Bridled Quail-doves, stout iguanas, bananaquits, and fishing bats.  During our mornings and evenings we met a mixture of scientists and ecologists directing a wide variety of research, as well as directors, managers, and locals.  The island itself was a paradise, so serene that the greatest danger I faced during the trip was possibility of being stranded in an airport in Puerto Rico.

A nest of local paper wasps, aka "Jack Spaniards" © Anna Meyer 2013

One of the thousands of hermit crabs on the island © Anna Meyer 2013
         Once our research was complete, our little group visited Roadtown, on Tortola. During our trip, we visited Sage Mountain National Park (also called Mount Sage National Park).  While hiking the park we discussed the viability of wildlife management in a small and somewhat unknown area.  Sage Mountain is a combination of old growth forest surrounded by agricultural growth and old plantations.  Much of the area was cut for mahogany plantations in the past, and is now secondary growth.  Now, some of the endemic trees (such as the bulletwood tree) are rare, and the park is too small to support many non-edge species. How do you increase the effectiveness of a management area that is too small for it to encompass multiple habitat types or contain a variety of wildlife? How do you encourage people to visit without damaging the integrity of the park? 

Tillandsia utriculata © Anna Meyer 2013
Our visit to Sage Mountain and our experience on the island were an incredibly enlightening experience.  Despite my initial concerns about missing classes and disrupting my research, this chance was one I wouldn’t miss.  Opportunities for international research and travel have been rare in the current economic climate, but any potential ventures should be taken whenever possible, despite additional work and time investment. This trip was an eye opener on the pros and cons of doing research as a group, the potential hazards of international travel, and the joys of doing fieldwork in a completely different ecosystem.

A bridled quail-dove!  A fairly inconspicuous, but fascinating bird! © Anna Meyer 2013

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