Blog for 2010-07-1

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Morning walk to the sampling site.
Today was the second full day of our Maliau Basin projects, and Rachel and I woke up early to start around dawn. Our project involves investigating the reproductive ecology of several dispersing bracket fungi in the genus Ganoderma by collecting their spores at regular two-hour intervals during the daylight hours for two consecutive days.
Morning walk to the sampling site.
On 30/6/2010, we started collecting at 6:00 a.m. and finished at 6:00 p.m.; today, we decided to shift our sampling schedule ahead two hours so that our data points would cover a greater portion of the day. Before starting our sampling at 8:00 a.m., Rachel accompanied some visting researchers who were going out into the forest to fog the canopy for insects. (Insect fogging involves misting the canopy with an insect-specific neurotoxin and then collecting the specimens that fall to the ground.) We headed out for our first sample at 7:45, walking down the beautiful car track to the river, crossing the suspension bridge, and hiking a few minutes into the jungle to the fallen stump where our fungi were growing. By now, on the second day, this walk was friendly and familiar; we had walked it seven times on the first day out of a total of fourteen.
One of our three bracket fungi.
When we reached our fungi, we began sampling each one. This worked as follows: we collected spores on plastic masking tape carefully inserted into covered petri dishes. These spore traps were assembled in a spore-free location far from the sampling site and then opened and exposed 2 cm away from the fertile surface of the fungus being measured for 3 minutes. During this time, we also recorded several atmospheric parameters of the microclimate around each fungus. Three minutes is a surprisingly long time to hold one's arm still! Especially when the feat has to be repeated three times per measuring session, seven times per day. Rachel and I returned from our 8:00 a.m. measurement in time to catch the second half of a fascinating lecture by Frank on human evolution and migration.
The lab.
He talked about the major migrations of humans in prehistory and how they helped explain the diversity and distribution of people groups we see today. This was an enlightening discussion - understanding the movements of populations out of Africa helps to explain the peculiar arrangements of contemporary ethnic groups in Europe, Africa, and especially Southeast Asia. The importance of agriculture in driving such expansions was also highlighted. Then Frank talked a little about language diversity and the susprising rate of linguistic and cultural extinction going on today. Apparently, the world's population will almost exclusively speak just a dozen languages, mostly Indo-European, within a hundred years. I wonder why this issue receives so much less media attention than the biodiversity crisis!

After Frank's lecture, Rachel and I went out sampling again at 10:00, and then brought our samples back to the lab for preparation. We prepare our samples for analysis by pressing the adhesive tape onto glass microscope slides, trapping the spores between the glass and plastic and ensuring that there is no spore loss or contamination. We then carefully remove excess tape from the slides, label them, and examine them under the microscope to record spore counts.

Spores fixed on glass microscope slides.
The rest of the day, including lunch and the afternoon, was spend methodically repeating our spore sampling procedure every two hours. Right before dinner, however, we had a great introduction to economics by David, Prof. Pringle's husband and the head TF of Harvard's famous EC10 course. Unfortunately, Rachel and I had to miss some of it to go to our 6:00 p.m. sampling, but the parts I was able to watch included the clearest presentation of economic concepts I've ever seen. After David's lecture was dinner (with Rambutan!) and then a workshop, also by David, on the economics of cap-and-trade systems. The important message of the workshop was that cap and trade systems eliminate pollution more efficiently than other systems because the comparative advantage pollution reducer does the lion's share of the reducing.

Finally, Rachel and I collected our 8:00 p.m. sample in the pitch-darkness, fixed the spores on the slides, and retired for the evening. Tommorrow, we'll be counting all of the spores on all of our slides (there are 42). It'll likely take all day, but we'll be able to stay in the clean, air-conditioned lab. Hopefully our experiment will yeild some interesting results!