The fourth dispatch from Expedition Cloudbridge 2017, by Jack Burton
Cloudbridge Reserve is centred around many trails that are used on a daily basis for biological research, and each trail varies from direction, altitudes and different levels of forest growth – some being new growth and some of it being old growth. During our time so far I’ve been accompanying 6 young women from Exeter University, hiking up and down these trails, exploring and embracing its natural beauty, but primarily focusing on documenting their research.
We’re undertaking two projects, but our main focus so far has been on our daytime study: epiphytes. These are plants that use other trees, or basically anything really, for support and include lichens and moss, as-well as ferns and funky looking bromeliads. For us and Cloudbridge they are important as bio-indicator species, which means they can help reveal the health of an ecosystem.
It took us a while to narrow down our research question, but we have decided to focus on how the age of forest affects the composition of epiphytes. Cloudbridge is composed of different aged trees and the pre-existing transects along the trail are classified as “old-growth”, “regenerated under/over 30 years”, or “planted” to highlight this. In seeing where epiphytes thrive and the variation in different areas, we strive to be able to show the value of reforesting and re-wilding.
We have chosen an equal number of each age of forest to sample and within each 150m transect divided these again into three to increase sample size. Due to time constraints we are picking 4 trees in each 50m and choosing the closest to every 12.5m mark that fits the diameter breast height range we calculated at each transect on our first outings. We wrap each tree with marking tape and record on it the following: ‘Exeter, Tree number, Aspect (N,W,S,E), which 50m of the transect it is (A,B,C) and trail name’.
We actually finished this part of our study this morning which is a pretty big milestone for us!
Due to a dodgy knee I stayed back to focus on our moth project, which I am kind-of thankful for seeing as it was a hike up the Montaña trail (basically mountain in Spanish) and we’ve just got back from a crazy but brilliant weekend on the coast in Dominical.
It’s super exciting to start the epiphyte sampling next, as we will begin to see if there are trends or not. I am also loving applying all the stuff learnt in our lectures and hopefully adding to the ever-increasingly important world of conservation biology. Along with all the other amazing researchers and volunteers we’re getting to learn about how this mesmerising and dynamic environment works with the ultimate goal of protecting it for the foreseeable future. And this is basically what Cloudbridge as a research centre is working towards, emphasised in their motto: ‘Conservation. Reforestation. Education.’’
That ladies and gentlemen is what we call ‘science’. As Ellie brought the subject up, our next blog will be about our time in Dominical – I wasn’t planning on writing one about our weekend break as it seems completely out of context from our research, but it turns out it was a significant part to the expedition, with many amazing moments to share. I have become completely enamored with Costa Rica; the people, landscape, climate and wildlife.
I’m starting to understand the countries renowned phrase ‘Pura Vida’ (Pure Life), we are living in the moment… we are happy, happy as ever. I’m pretty close to saying I’m having the best time of my life, and I’m thankful for the people I have to share these moments with.