Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Field agents still at large

As expected, after 2 weeks of searching it's becoming more difficult to find different species.  We no longer need to pick up every brittle star we see, or every hermit crab, as they have likely already been documented.  We've had to start looking with a finer-toothed comb.  In fact, John's comb has gotten so fine that I often have to ask him which speck in the container is the snail that I'm supposed to preserve and which is a grain of sand.  We've also hit some different habitats.  Here are Gustav and François bagging a giant crab at a brackish pond that we visited.

To get here we braved cactus and wasps, both of which claimed John as a victim.  From the look of that water, and the smell, and the proximity to the sewage treatment plant, we might have been braving other things as well.

We've also stepped up the number of collecting events per day including shore dives in addition to snorkeling on the weekend when the boat is not available.  We've also been going through lots of mass samples.  Here are John and Art bashing rubble.

Art is hoping for shrimp; John is hoping not to add "hammer smash" to his list of injuries.

Our project is to document the biodiversity of 3 major phyla:  mollusca (snails, bivalves, octopus, etc.), arthropoda (crabs, shrimp, ostracods, etc.), and echinodermata (sea stars, urchins, sea cucumbers, etc.).  But who can resist the wormy phyla, especially when you find a worm like this!

This nemertean worm was over 4 meters long!  Art and Jean-Philippe collected it on our night dive, and somehow managed to get it all in one jar without breaking it.

For all this collecting, we have to keep our energy up.  At night we all gather around the dining room table...

...for processing, and keep our energy up with energetic music and frequent snacking.  But sometimes all the energetic music in the world can't sustain you, or isn't available, so you nap when and where you can.

Yes, that's a pile of tanks and regulators that Gustav is laying on, but he does have a nice buoy for a pillow.

Ever attentive to the caloric needs of active field workers such as themselves and the rest of us, François and Jean-Philippe have been keeping us very well fed.  This is in spite of our fridge and freezer being full of things like this:

That sign says "Shhhh...sipunculans relaxing."  The cold augments the anesthetic effect of the magnesium chloride.  It's just common decency, I'm sure you all do it.  What kind of person are you if you don't have worms in your fridge?

Only a few more days to pack in the biodiversity!

:) Mandy

Monday, April 23, 2012

FLMNH Earth Day Exhibition

The FLMNH research departments set up displays at Powell Hall this past Saturday to showcase the importance of biodiversity and of museum collections in understanding that diversity . Invertebrate Zoology students and volunteers showed up to help educate visitors about the wonder of (mostly) marine invertebrates and the occasional land snail. Ashley, Jeanne, Tina, Rob, John and Eva all pitched in, helping to wrangle the stuffed squid, small children and the microscope stations.

Ashley surveys the final setup.

Rob educates visitors on the wonders of crab diversity.

Jeanne, Teena and Ashley enjoy a break in the action.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Come rain or shine or wind or surf or ear infections...

So, we've been generally doing two simultaneous field excursions per day, one group goes diving and one group goes snorkeling/wading.  Usually we split up at the dock, but one day we all piled onto the boat (9 of us, plus dive gear for 5).  Here is the boat from the water, once the snorkelers have abandoned ship, with one of the divers hidden, taken while treading water without fins with a collecting bag in one hand and a camera in the other while trying to keep one's delicate ears out of the water.

Our numbers have grown.  Both Art and Zach have come to join us.  Art was immediately up to his old tricks.  Our yabby pump might still have the impression of his hand on the handle.  He has recruited Jean-Philippe to help him and they have pulled shrimp after shrimp out of their burrows.  Looks like he's got the hang of it.

Zach is here to help out and see how we do things.  Unfortunately, the weather has kept us from diving for the past several days and limited our collecting to sheltered areas that we can reach by car.  But science waits for no one so we've hit up a lot of habitats and utilized our numbers to employ a diverse array of collecting techniques.

The technique at this spot involved trying not to get shredded to ribbons by violent waves on rocky daggers of doom...also, collecting rock for bashing, and reaching brazenly into clumps of seaweed.

Right on the other side of the peninsula from this spot was an idyllic beach with sand and seagrass flats with lots of burrows for Art and Jean-Philippe.  John spent a lot of time here snorkeling through the seagrass with a sieve to see what he could shake off.

We also recently hit up some mucky mangrove habitat.  Before getting in the water, Gustav laid a crab trap.  My attempted action shot ended up as a picture of Gustav with a string in his hand, but you can use your imagination.

François tried to sneak up on crabs with a metal basket net and hand net.  Zach went through the silt and seagrass with a fine mesh net.  We all tried to keep our faces out of the green, opaque water.

So, even without diving, we've been keeping ourselves busy.  With so many people now staying at the house, the gear-explosion has reached epic levels.

Keep in mind that this is just (most of) our gear.  Some more gear, all the specimens, and all the processing stations are not pictured.

Tomorrow heralds the return of diving (fingers crossed).  We'll see what we can find!

:) Mandy

Thursday, April 12, 2012

The first few days: hit the ground running

These first few days have been busy!  We arrived Sunday evening after a quick 2 hour flight from Miami.  We settled into our place, had a good meal and got up the next morning ready to get to work.  We have been brought on board to do a biodiversity survey of the French Marine National Park on St. Martin.  So the first morning we met with the staff there to do some general strategizing and introductions.

The meeting was conducted largely in French, which everyone speaks but John and I.  We did a lot of smiling and nodding.  I assume that Gustav and François weren't making any extravagant promises on my behalf.  After the meeting Gustav took them out to gear-mountain, which we had brought with us to the station, to demonstrate some of our collecting techniques.  Here is what brushing off an overhang into a net looks like (or maybe it's a scraper, I can't be sure).

After that we were released on our own recognizance, and we took off for some some snorkeling and intertidal wading.  Gustav and François donned snorkel gear.

John, Jean-Philippe, and I braved the sun for some intertidal wading.

Of course, in our enthusiasm we bit off almost more than we could chew, collecting over 100 species the first afternoon and turning our nice, spacious accommodations into a crowded field station with an explosion of specimens sorted into tupperware, photo equipment, anesthitizing chemicals, preserving chemicals, vials, tools, field notes, collecting gear, computers, buckets, and bags as far as the eye can see.  Behold this tiny subsample of our handiwork (before things got really crazy, before they brought us as extra table, before we started mass sampling).

What is a mass sample you query?  Instead of picking animals up one at a time we sample by habitat and then pick through later to pull out tiny or hidden animals.  One example is sand sifting, which is exactly what is sounds like.

Another is rubble bashing which is also just what it sounds like.  Here is some ideal rubble, pre-bash.

Mass samples deserve the lion's share of the blame for keeping us up processing until midnight.  They also deserve the lion's share of the credit for the fact that we've documented around 300 species in 3 days (and the reason I haven't been able to post until now). Despite these long hours, for some reason people still think we're on vacation when we head to the field...well, maybe I know the reason...

Check out all those invertebrates (plus host)!

:) Mandy

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Something is brewing...

Have a gander at this picture.

It means one of two things:
1)  Um, the lab always looks like this.  A lab with supplies and equipment everywhere is an action packed lab, a lab like ours.  This picture means nothing is up!
2)  We are preparing for a trip.

Lets see if this second picture helps sort things out
So now you're probably thinking either:
1)  Yeah, I've read the blog.  You guys are waaaaaaaay into photography.  It's only natural that you'd have a mountain of photo supplies laying around.
2)  What?  Those are photo supplies?  Isn't that a baking dish?
3)  That's a lot of photo stuff, even for you, you must be preparing for some fieldwork

This last picture should seal the deal:

Gustav, François, John (Slapcinsky variety), and I are all heading out to St. Martin tomorrow morning.  This vehicle we fit us and all our gear (barely) for the drive to Miami where we will catch our plane.  I'll keep you posted on what we're up to.

:) Mandy