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 2002

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  Field Season 2002 an occasional online journal.
 

21 June 2002

  Barro Colorado National Monument (BCNM) includes BCI and its surrounding peninsulas  (read "ridgetops" in days gone by).   One such peninsula,  Gigante, is the home of much of our research this summer.  Gigante is the home of a number of "big" experiments in tropical ecology. These include the irrigation of extensive areas of forest during that effectively nullify the harsh 4 month dry season, and building of huge fences that keep out vertebrate herbivores in order to explore the effect of these animals on the diversity of trees.  I am collaborating with Dr.'s Joe Wright (of STRI), Kyle Harms (Louisiana State University) and Joe Yavitt (Cornell) on an equally ambitious project: the fertilization of forest plots, 40 m on a side, to explore how nutrients limit the growth and diversity of organisms in a tropical forest (the yellow rectangle).

 

 

  So BCNM can be thought of as a series of  peninsulas (and hence research projects) arranged like spokes around BCI's center. Not suprisingly, a common mode of transport around BCNM is the motorboat.  We ride "Number 12", powered by a truly boss silver, 4 cycle engine.  Mary, myself, Kyle and Eileen Thorson (Kyle's assistant this summer) ride in style, roaring out of the field station's harbor at 6:00 AM. At this hour, the sun is just rising (remember, near the equator, the days and nights are pretty much 12 hours long).  Given the amount of concrete, which holds the tropical heat through the night, it is often warm and sticky around the dock, especially when your wearing a life jacket. But once we enter the canal lane the breeze is luscious. Also quite invigorating is the traffic in the canal. This being the Panama canal and all, we share the lanes with much much larger vessels.
  We swing south, leave the canal lanes, and wind our way through the gap between the Gigante Peninsula to the south and BCI to the North.  We carefully follow the narrow lanes that map the channel.  The channels are followed religiously since the very trees that make the tropical forest the spectacular thing it is, stand as drowned corpses in the waters of lake Gatun.  A collision with a tropical hardwood corpse at 20 mph can destroy a propeller, if not worse.  And its a long paddle back to the island.

We slow and head south through narrowing channels.  The water is choked with plants, and large turtles and caimans (serious speed bumps) lie just below the surface.  Since in the tropics  its "hard to see the forest for the trees", gliding along these channels is a great opportunity to examine the forest as a whole.

  As the boat slides up the mud bank, Kyle jumps out with the rope, tugs the boat even higher, and ties the boat to a tree.  We climb out, shoulder our field gear, and head up the muddy trail, into the forest.
 

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