Sunday, June 28, 2015

Meanwhile in Yauco...

Now-a-days when the term “hybrid” is brought up, one thinks of the newer line of automobiles recognized for their fuel economy. Well recently, when I think of hybrids I can’t help but connect the idea to fuel economy as well. Not in cars, however, but lizards!

I’m currently stationed in Yauco, at the southwestern side of Puerto Rico, with the intent of becoming better acquainted with the pure-bred and mitochondrial-hybrid Anolis pulchellus. I chose to set up camp for my field study in Yauco not only because my grandparents reside here and they love to nourish me with seven to eight full course meals every day but also because Yauco is located near the boundary between the two regions that consist entirely of either mitochondrial-hybrid pulchellus to the west and of pure-bred pulchellus to the east.

My grandparents allowed me to convert their backyard shed into a mini-lab under the agreement that they have permission to overfeed me. 

I’m curious as to how the possession of mitochondrial DNA from another species affects the hybrids’ phenotypic traits that are strongly affiliated by a mitochondria’s “fuel economy.”  Are there differences in physiological performance between mitochondrial-hybrid and pure-bred A. pulchellus? For starters, the plan is to capture enough from both groups in order to measure a phenotype, sprint speed. 
Race track set! From this angle a camcorder is set to record each trial as a lizard sprints to the top towards the black bag. (And no worries - there is a screen over that window)

With A. pulchellus known to be one of the more abundant species on the island, I’m hoping to find plenty of specimens. But as any field biologist can tell you, anything can happen.

Stay tuned!

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Tools of the Trade

Next time you read a study involving behavioral observations of animals in the wild, pay close attention to the part of the methods that actually mention those observations. I use “mentions” because I’m willing to bet that you’ll find just one or a few sentences about the process. “We conducted 20 minute focal observations of X number of individuals.” Don’t let these one-liners mislead you. Collecting this type of data is hard work! 

We are busy collecting data on female Anolis gundlachi lizards here in Puerto Rico, and our methods include lots of behavioral observations. Just what does a budding behavioral ecologist need in order to tap into the lives of free-living animals? I’ve already talked a little about this—a comfortable rock is a must. Pencil and paper, a (good!) pair of binoculars, and a fair bit of patience will get you well on your way. But our team is carrying just a little extra. Just check out the contents of Deborah’s field pack!

Once we’re loaded up with everything we need in order to find, watch, and record, we hike to our plots and settle in for a busy day. Deborah and Karen are breaking in our slick new binoculars—turns out this work is more fun when you can actually see the lizards!


Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Puerto Rico--La Isla de Aventura!

Fieldwork is an adventure, made all the wilder when it takes place in Puerto Rico.

Today was to be our first day observing the behavior and ecology of female Anolis gundlachi lizards. In order to record their natural behavior, we need to be far enough away from the lizards so as not to disturb their activity. This requires a comfortable rock, a heavy dose of patience, and a good pair of binoculars. So, we set off early this morning this morning to start our behavioral observations of female A. gundlachi.

Well, I should say “tratamos probar” (we tried to try). After a few failed attempts to follow individuals, we discovered that some of the binoculars I brought for us to use were no good. So, off to town Deborah, Karen and I went in search of superior binoculars.

As it turns out, the road to finding binoculars on short notice in Puerto Rico is fraught with obstacles. First, few stores in Puerto Rico carry binoculars, apparently. Second, potholes are no fun. We got a flat tire in Carolina. Resourceful Deborah got to changing it only to discover that our spare was also flat!   


But, have no fear—we are a hardy team! Five hours later, we have returned to El Verde Field Station with a repaired tire and three brand spanking new pairs of binoculars. Tomorrow is another day, and maybe this time we can actually see the lizards! Vamanos!

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Field Season Strikes Again!

One summer just wasn’t enough! I am back at El Verde Field Station in Puerto Rico, finishing off the first full day of Field Season 2015. We spent the day re-acquainting ourselves with the Anolis lizards that call El Verde home. I think they recognized me. 

Meet the awesome new team members gearing up to shed light on the secret lives of female Anolis lizards! Karen is our cooking aficionado, and joins me from the University of Missouri. She is pursuing a degree in Biology, and plans to attend Veterinary school upon graduating. Deborah is our resident expert on Puerto Rico, and is putting me to shame with her lizard spotting skills! She attends the University of Puerto Rico in Aguadilla, where she is studying biology. Look out for more from these two—they’ll be sharing their thoughts as our field season progresses!
Deborah and Karen enjoying an overcast first day in the field!

Got to run--It's taco night! Stay tuned for more tales from the field!