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National University of Singapore, Life Sciences Major, Biology Concentration, Minor in Environmental Biology (NUS and University of Toronto)

Focal Taxon: Termites; Lambir Research Project: Water Striders; Gaya Research Project; Maliau Basin Research Project; Treasured Trinkets

Who am I?

I'm in the centre! Haha.
I'm Mindy Tuan, a 3rd Year student from Singapore studying at NUS who loves travelling, exploring the unknown and the journey of discovery!

Racially chinese but not good at mandarin, I'm better at English, with a sprinkling of words I learnt in German and Thai classes. Really good at Singlish, which is the colloquial language we use back home in Singapore :D Even so though, I love my chinese name: Jia Min. Jia means 'home' in Mandarin. (:

What do I do most of the time?

I am a nature guide, lover of practically all nature, as well as photography! I do guiding at the nature reserves (wetland and forest) as well as the southern islands of Singapore (St. John's Island and Pulau Semakau). Some side taxonomical work on Tetragnatha genera of spiders, also commonly known as Big-Jawed spiders, is in the works at the current moment. Might be doing my honours project on spider behaviour when I get back to NUS. I also work at leadership and outdoor camps with youths and teach at science workshops sometimes, and I'm missing the kids right now!

What am I interested in?

Conceptually: Behaviour, Evolution and Ecology. Organismically: Insects, Spiders, Reptiles, Mammals, and mostly everything! And I've only just chosen my focal taxon to be Termites! I'm just not really a plant person, but I'm learning to appreciate the diversity of plants even more now (: I'm really exhilarated to be here and I sure do hope my brain rises up to the challenge of absorbing all the information given to us on this course!

What's in the future for me?

Well I'm heading off to University of Toronto after this field course ends for 9 months of environmental biology studies before my honours year starts, and it's really exciting to be involved in this field of science in this day and age! I hope to do something with conservation and taxonomical work as well in the future, don't know how that works but I'm keeping my options open!

Focal Taxon: Termites

Walk 10 metres into a forest and you're likely to see logs, dead wood, fallen branches to your left and right, and day in day out decomposers set the stage for nutrient recycling to take out these cellulose bricks. Termites are not only an important part of the decomposer crew, they also are habitat creators, house/shelter providers, and serve (though reluctantly) as prey for countless predators!

One of the few insects groups that are classed as eusocial insects, they have a caste system, and while for most groups this means that there is a queen, soldier and worker caste - termites actually have a king as well, and separations within the soldier and worker castes into major and minors at times!

Being intrigued at the different types of termites that live within relatively close proximity to each other, I set out with my gear^ to visit the forests of several locations^^ throughout the span of this course. Creating a simple character matrix, jotting down characteristic morphologies, mound type as well as keeping photographic records will hopefully, enable me to create a reasonably respectable monograph of sorts! Click here to check out my list of termites.

Some sketches:

^Gear includes but not limited to:

  • shovel
  • white tray
  • hammer
  • screwdriver
  • vials

^^Location list:

  • Lambir Hills National Park
  • Gaya Island
  • Deramakot
  • Maliau Basin

Lambir Research Project: Water Striders

Strider strider on the wall, who's the coolest of them all?..

So the strider team consisted of Jess, Alex and me - a.k.a. JAM - and we did 3 field trips into the river for about 2-3 hours per trip to observe, catch, capture, measure, release water striders at 5 different sites along the river length, which was awesome!

We initially found 5 species of water striders:

  • the big, long, fast brown ones
  • the really tiny black ones,
  • the cool looking green ones (we picked them eventually)
  • the intricate patterned short brown ones
  • the even more intricate patterned big brown ones

and after a series of observations we were bursting with questions, eventually deciding to tackle a question on strider territory - check more out here: report on intraspecific density-dependent variation in water strider territory size

Gaya Research Project: Land Hermit Crabs

Walking along the beach at night after classes back to our tents, Le and I quickly discovered large numbers of land hermit crabs scattered across the beach, sometimes in congregates for seemingly no reason, other times all gathered around eating sea almond fruits. Largely a nocturnal project, Le and I were curious as to whether there was a trade off between body size of the hermit crab and the protection it procured with the shell it was using.

So what kind of trade-off were we talking about?

Well we figured protection could be a scale of density of the shell they chose, and denser shells might affect the walking speed of the hermit crab, which might influence foraging time! In other words, if small hermit crabs wanted more protection, they might have a harder time foraging due to their 'choice' of denser shells!

The hermit crabs were extremely easy to find, collect - but tricky to handle! Le got nipped a few times by some of the larger hermits as we measured their claw sizes and walking speeds. Focussing on two different shell types, check out our abstract to know more!

Maliau Basin Research Project: Dragonflies

Along the path towards the forest there is a ditch.. and in that ditch lay several water bodies hosting astoundingly cool dragonflies! Andrew, Fae and I decided then these buzzing dragons were too good to pass up, and so we chose them for our study - we found more than 13 species and noticed that 6 of these species were particularly active in all areas of the ditch that we observed.

Wondering about whether removing dominant individuals would have an effect on the community of dragonflies, as well as basically wanting to see if certain species of dragonflies had a tendency to interact more with a particular dragonfly species than another, we commenced our four day study at the site during morning and afternoon periods.

Plugged into ipods and decked out with notebook, pencil and net, we're the dfly catchers. Read about our awesome project here in the report.

Meanwhile, I got some awesome pictures, and till I get a name for these species, they're going to be named morphologically! Click here to see (:

Treasured trinkets

So in the course of our journey we have passed through Lambir Hills National Park, Miri town, Niah Caves, Gaya Island, Mount Kinabalu, palm oil estates, Deramakot Forest Reserve and Maliau Basin Conservation Area, and here are some of the pictures showing what the places looked like. You can also check out our daily blog for more cool nuggets of information on our trip (and photos at the photo gallery)!