Saturday, October 30, 2010

Waterfall Hike

We've had a couple new arrivals, and starting today our numbers are going to start increasing by leaps and bounds. This means a lot more trips to the field, with lots of different sampling techniques going on at once. And that means a lot more time in the lab for processing: anethetizing, photographing, subsampling, preserving. It's going to start getting crowded in here.

For one of our trips, Vetea (who lives and works here) took John, Yasunori, and I to look for terrestrial and freshwater molluscs in the area around Afareaitu Waterfall and the stream it feeds. The foliage was very dense in places, and we hiked around for about 4 hours fighting our way uphill through the vegetation.

But we did eventually make it to the waterfall.

Where we did some collecting around the pool at the base. Yasunori has a special interest in the nerite group of freshwater snails. He even found one that he had described as a species eight years ago.

While we were poking around the waterfall several more groups came and went, which was surprising considering how much of an effort it took us to get there. Then we realized there was a trail, which we weren't too proud to take on the way back to the car. Taking the trail down did nothing to diminish my sense of smug superiority over those who had taken the trail both ways!

So far every collecting trip has yielded new species for the biocode project, and my collecting skills are improving daily. Things are starting to get busy!

:) Mandy

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

My first Moorea snorkel

So on our second day we decided to get wet. Our focus was going to be micro organisms, mostly molluscs, so we were going to be doing brushing and sieving and sediment sampling in addition to general hand collecting. We headed out to a mud/silt flat with occasional coral bommies. Here is John looking for a suitable rock to flip and brush.

So, maybe I'll do some sand fanning, see if I can't find any...holy crap! Look at the size of that sea cucumber!

Wow, these guys are thick on the ground, I can see why Gustav likes it here. Ok, so, sand fanning. Maybe I can find some small snails or shrimp. Hey, is that an urchin!

It is an urchin! Those are pretty big too. They are crowded into every crevice in the coral. I can't believe how much coral is on this mud flat, and so close to shore. Looks like the fish like it too.

The colors are amazing! There are even picasso triggers (not pictured), my favorite! I wonder if this algae growth is hiding tree worms!

I mean micro molluscs. I wonder if that algae is hiding any micro molluscs. Hmmm, so far nothing. Except a baby giant clam!

Is that a blue one!

This is pretty much how my snorkel went. I eventually began scouring the rocks along the jetty, and was excited to find several micro molluscs! Which turned out to be hermit crabs. So, there's a lot to see in Moorea and my first snorkel was full of new and exciting stuff. Next time I vow to do better. Maybe I'll help John with the brushing.

:) Mandy

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

We're in Moorea!

This month begins the third and final installment of the three-year Moorea Biocode project. When our flight arrived yesterday at 5:30 am it was already full daylight. I can tell this will be something to get used to. The first wave to arrive was me, John, and Art. Art has been here before so he showed us the ropes. One of the first things we did was set up the lab (did you think I was going to say sleep, or eat, or did I).

Over the course of the next seven weeks we will be joined but twenty researchers coming and going as their time allows. We will be relying on their expertise to help us identify the animals in the groups that haven't been as thoroughly documented in years past. One of the holes in our knowledge is in phylum Mollusca, and one of the experts, Yasunori Kano, has already arrived to help out. So what does a group of scientists do after 13+ hours of travel, little to no sleep, inconsistently scheduled meals, and already having shown our dedication by setting up our stuff in the lab? We go collecting of course!

"Hmmm," you're thinking, "I thought you said you were in Moorea, you know, beaches, palm trees, coral reefs, all that jazz?" How right you are, but for our first collecting foray we decided to hit up some freshwater habitat which hasn't been as extensively sampled. John also found some interesting land snails in a tree on the edge of the stream, and Yasunori took a look around the estuary where the stream empties into the ocean and found some interesting animals as well. The estuarine area was full of these crabs:

But, we didn't collect any, they are so large and abundant that it's impossible that they were missed in the previous two years. After collecting we headed down to the grocery store to stock up on breakfast and lunch food. Sometime in the store I hit my wall and entered a quasi-zombie state. We put the food away and hit the lab for a while and then staggered off to our bungalows.

Only it was night. And now, please enjoy a picture of that jazz you were asking about earlier. We'll hit this up next.

:) Mandy

Monday, October 4, 2010

Invertebrates in the News will resume shortly meanwhile...

You can read about Triactis producta at the Invertebrate of the month. Andrea Crowther wrote about this sea anemone and its association with the pom-pom crabs Lybia.

Photo: Lybia tessellata, Réunion Island by François Michonneau/FLMNH CC 3.0

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Super Rewind: Keys Marine Lab 2010

I suppose I can't dive right into this post without acknowledging the extraordinary tardiness of it's presentation. Yes, I'm really lame, this is something we can all agree on. Now that that's out of the way, lets talk about our experience at the Keys Marine Lab (KML) in the Florida Keys after the Bioblitz in Biscayne Bay.

First off, the facility is great, there are dry labs, a wet lab, water tables (for keeping things alive), ample dorm space, and many other sciencey amenities including a boat complete with captain/dive master for diving or snorkeling. In the morning we would usually split into two groups one going out on the boat and the other doing shore-based collecting. Here are Gustav and Nat discussing strategy with the captain.

As far at the boat activities went, this strategy involved snorkeling, diving, and plankton tows. Because this was my first opportunity to use my AAUS Science Diver certification for actual collecting in the field I was pretty excited. I was also pretty inept. We'd all pile back into the boat after the air started running low, then while we were waiting for Gustav, who enters a presumably anaerobic state involving extremely low air consumption while diving, we would compare our finds of the dive. This Petrochirus diogenes was one of them.

I invariably lacked the collection skills of the more experienced among us (i.e. nearly everyone else) but I never came back completely empty-handed. And not only because my partner/dive buddy was the intrepid Sarah who had developed mad critter-spotting skills during her time in Moorea. Here she is on a snorkel excursion collecting some sargassum to be examined for critters.

The examining part looks like this.

Ok, maybe Hsiu is examining. The wet lab with its water tables and work space was where the animals were brought and sorted. This was also where sargassum was picked through and chunks of coral rubble were cracked open to reveal the creatures within. I think Nat is taking something from the water table back to the dry lab to be processed. The dry lab was a hive of activity. As earlier at Bioblitz, and as is usual in general in the field, the animals are anesthitized, photographed, and subsampled. There is also someone manning the computer and entering the animals into a spreadsheet along with the location they were found and their taxonomic ID. Here are Gustav and Anne DuPont consulting over an ID. Jenna is subsampling, and Francois is at the photo station. Since I don't see anyone next to Jenna where the computer person usually sat, I'm going to assume that it was me, who paused ever-so-briefly to take this picture.

After a long day of collecting and processing we'd haul our carcasses up to the dorm for dinner. Carole even made us some brownies to keep our energy and spirits high. Don't George, John, and Anne look revitalized?

In all, it was a very fun and productive trip. As we aim to increase our knowledge of the Florida fauna, we will hopefully be spending more time at KML in the future.

(Thanks to Carole Marshall and Anne DuPont for the crab picture and the brownie picture!)