By Camille Delavaux, 2015 TRI Fellow in Ecuador
My original plan was to go to Yasuní National Park, Ecuador and compare mycorrhizal fungal abundance with plant diversity. Mycorrhizal fungi, if you haven’t heard of them, are symbiotic fungi that form relationships with plants. The plant gives the fungi carbon (since fungi can’t photosynthesize), and the fungi scavenges for nutrients and water to trade for the carbon (mostly phosphorous). It fascinates me that these fungi may form shared, underground networks between plants in a forest. The idea that this network maintains diversity by trading resources is shared by other researchers, but it hasn’t been well-studied in wet, muddy, difficult-to-access tropical forests. Ninety percent of tropical plants form the kind of mycorrhizal fungi I study: arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi. The general idea…
by Jacob Bukoski, 2015 TRI Fellow in Thailand and Vietnam
Calf-deep in mud and supporting a two-meter long steel soil auger across my shoulders, I pause to watch Bang Ream – a member of my field team – stoop down and rake the mud with an old, L-shaped metal pipe. After three or four swipes, he reaches down and picks up a muddy ball approximately the size of my fist. He turns and vigorously shakes the mudball around in the salty water quickly seeping into one of my ankle deep footprints in the mud. Looking up at me with a big grin on his face, he holds up his prize and says “hoy” with a tonal up-swing, which means clam in Thai.
Whether it’s the shellfish, mushrooms, fish…
By Elizabeth Tokarz, 2015 TRI Fellow in Ecuador
How I came to be Heli Eli. (Note. In Spanish, the “H” is silent, making the pronunciation of the nickname ellie-ellie.)
It all started when I was looking for an herbaceous species to survey this summer. Yasuní National Park in Orellana, Ecuador is one of the sites of a Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute plot, monitored with a tree census every five or so years. However, as comprehensive as this census is, hundreds of plant species are overlooked, notably herbaceous species. Though I was originally vying for the nickname “Herbaceous Eli,” I opted to zero in on the Heliconia genus to make the census more realistic, considering I planned to head the project myself. The Heliconia species not only display beautiful…
By Nina Horstman, 2015 TRI Fellow in Indonesia
It is July in East Kalimantan and the merica (Piper nigrum) harvest has begun. White peppercorns are heaped onto mats to dry in the sunshine, their spicy, dusty scent filling the air. July also brings Ramadan to Indonesia, the holy month of fasting in the world’s most populous Islamic nation. The pace of daily life has turned sluggish, as villagers wait in the dim shade of their homes until the muezzin’s plangent cry signals that they can break their fast. This slack in farming activity has, in fact, proved advantageous for my research; it means that more people are in their homes during the day, willing to welcome me to chat or be interviewed.