have arrived in the Canal Zone, bringing with them the
dry season. After months of gray skies,
glassy water, daily downpours and chiggers, the sun is now shining every day,
conditions in Lake Gatun are perfect for small boat
sailing, and the ticks are starting to multiply. It is hotter during the day, cooler at night,
and the forest has stopped smelling like rotting carcasses and acquired a new,
more pleasant scent. New flowers are blooming, and the Dipteryx
fruits are starting to mature, relieving the extreme food shortage that has
been afflicting the frugivores for the last few months.
The start of the dry season means
something different for each island resident.
For Andrea, the winds bring a sense of panic because the
seedlings she has been growing for one of her experiments will now die if she
transplants them to the forest
After spending weeks hunting down
800 Quararibea asterolepis seeds,
planting them and watering the 400 seedlings that germinated and grew, she is
faced with difficult decision: should
she transplant them into the forest, even though their chances of surviving the
dry season are miniscule, or should she try to keep them alive in a shade-house
until the beginning of the next rainy season, 5 months from now?
The decision to not transplant
means that all the seedlings have to be transplanted into larger pots, and
because Andrea is interested in the micorrhizae associated with plant roots,
all the pots, and the soil has to sterilized before the seedlings can be
transplanted. She and her assistant Alex
have been spending the last week scrubbing planting pots, cloroxing them to
make sure no fungal spores are hanging around, and running soil through a very
frightening looking machine that makes sure the dirt is sterile. On top of this all, they have also been
harvesting and peeling Coussarea
curvigemmia seeds, which they are planting tonight for their next
has been a major player in my life recently as well. Because it is just about the only fruit
available in the forest right now, the capuchins have been spending huge
amounts of time eating this little white berry.
In addition to watching monkeys eat it, I have also been spending huge amounts
of time (say 12-15 hours in the past 5 days) peeling Coussarea, and scraping the pulp off the seed. I’m doing this
because I want to know about the nutritional content of the most important
foods in the capuchin diet. This
information will be really helpful for understanding why they make the foraging
decisions they do, and will also help me determine the quality of each capuchin
social group’s home range. I only needed
ten grams of dry Coussarea pulp, but
that translated into more than 50 grams of wet pulp, and over 400 whole
fruits. Luckily, my new research
assistant, Vilma, was here last week to help me with all of this!
Vilma has been working on BCI on and off for a few years,
and was tracking ocelots when I first arrived.
I’m really excited to have her helping me with my project!
Along with the sunny weather, a large number of the
non-residents ARTS team members also descended on the island in December. In addition to Tony, the software designer,
Karl, the database guy, Kevin, our spatial statistics consultant, and Dan, of
NYARTS (pronounces neeeeyarts), Roland, one of the PIs on the project also was
on the island for a couple of weeks. The
lab was bursting with people, and meetings had to be held on the balcony
The outcome of all these people’s efforts is
somewhat mixed for me. The system is still being tinkered with,
and I’m still not exactly sure what kind of data I will get from it,
and what I will be able to do with that data. It’s a little bit
stressful, not really knowing what shape the project is going to
take. However, that stress has been somewhat mitigated by the
amount of time I’m spending in the field. When you are physically
exhausted, there is a whole lot less energy left over to spend worrying
Some bad news for me is that two of the radio collars I put
on monkeys have malfunctioned, so I have lost two social groups from my sample.
This is partially compensated for by the lucky fact that one of the
radio-collared males has immigrated into another group, so the net loss from my
study is only one group. However, this
all means that I will have to dart again in February—something I am not really
looking forward to at all.
There has also been a lot to celebrate on the island
just heard that she has
been awarded a Fulbright to do her PhD work in the US.
It also looks like Raff will finally be escaping from BCI,
as he has job offers to go work for a bush dog project in Peru or tracking
coyotes in Illinois.
I am headed home in a few days to spend Christmas with my
family. It’s a weird period of
transition on the island, because when I get back, a lot of my friends here
will have finished their research and left.
Titoche—leaving us to go back to Belgium
because his beetles aren’t producing larvae right now.
The constant flux of people makes island life interesting,
but also emotionally tiring. I’m glad to
be going home for a while, and I’m hoping for snow and good sledding
Rainbow over the dredging division docks.
Christophe mending the holes the bats chewed in his mist
An assassin bug caught in a spider web
Merry Christmas! I hope you all have a great holiday!