Saturday, July 25, 2015

Day 8, 7/16/15

     Today was one of those incredible days that you will never forget.  We took the day off from the snail survey and went to the Seven Seas Beach in Fajardo.
     When you first arrive, you realize how popular these beaches are and how packed they can become.  Luckily for us, the day was overcast and there were some scattered showers that really helped to cut down on the number of people.
     The trick is that once you reach the sand, head left (southwest?), and there is a path into the woods that looks pretty dubious.  Have faith and keep going.  Once you emerge, you will be at a secluded beach away from the crowded public beach.  It is substantially sized, pristine, and amazing.  Just don't forget to bring your refreshments, since you won't be finding vendors or bars anywhere nearby.
     Our group had a fantastic time swimming in the ocean, and the waves were easily big enough to knock you over.  We spent our time in equal shares of swimming and lounging in the sand.  There was even a roped-off sea turtle nest!  That part made me really happy knowing that I was that close to such beautiful creatures and that Puerto Rico was doing its part to protect them.
     It was the most amazing beach that I have been on and will certainly be something that I remember forever.

Day 6, 7/14/15

     Field work has been continuing steadily during the night, but there is plenty of time for fun during the day.  Today we spent some time on the other end of El Yunque for some sightseeing.
     Our first stop was Coco Falls, which is a really beautiful natural waterfall that falls over some really interesting rock formations.  Unfortunately, there is a pretty serious drought happening on Puerto Rico, so the normally roaring Coco Falls was just barely a trickle of water down the rock face.  You'll see in a picture.
     After climbing around at the Falls, we decided to take a trip up a long and winding trail up to Briton Tower and the local high-altitude cloud forest.  Once we reached Briton Tower, we were greeted by an amazing view of the forest and scenes below.
     After the tower we hiked for just a bit in the cloud forest, where the high altitude causes the trees and shrubs to be stunted and small and for a large part of the local fauna to be noticeably absent.  It was a strange, but worthwhile experience, if you ever get the chance.

Saturday, July 18, 2015

Day 4, 7/12/15

     I think a little elaboration on the experiment procedures would probably be smart.
     The first experiment, called the Big Grid, is about sampling the land snail population so that we can make calculations about species richness, the number of different species, and species evenness, ratios of each species pops compared to other snail species in the community.  Each plot is divided into subplots and sampled for a timed 15 minutes.  The most common snails are Caracolus caracola and Nenia tridens.  Those two species get counted, tagged with unique numbers, and measured with calipers.  There are about thirteen or so other species that are also counted, but not tagged or measured.  After all of the plots are sampled, about two nights work, that is one "run" of the Grid, and we do four runs of the grid.
     Another experiment that we collect data for is called the Canopy Trimming Experiment.  I know less about this experiment, but the point is to see whether trimming the foliage of the dense canopy and allowing more sunlight and rain through will have an effect on snail populations.  For this experiment you just make counts of each species in the designated plots; no tagging or measuring here.
     This picture is C. caracola and N. tridens, the two most common snails.

Day 2, 7/10/15

     Today began a bit slow, but we seem like a pretty laid back group, so that isn't too surprising.  We seem to do a lot of reading and listening to music in our down time.
     When the evening came, around 8pm, we headed out to the Big Grid, a collection of forty sampling plots, to begin conducting our land snail census.  It is a beautiful hike through the rainforest, but it was also far more intense and mountainous than I would have guessed, and I found myself struggling to keep up.  It was dark and we work with headlamps on, so falling behind was becoming unsafe.
     It was then decided that I would do most of the data entry for the census and there was also another experiment involving the snails that I would be working on.

Friday, July 10, 2015

Day 1, Getting Acquainted

     My name is Spencer Frakes and I'm a senior at RSU.  I'm majoring in Biology in the Environmental Conservation option.  As a way to earn some work experience and experience an amazing ecosystem, I'll be spending about three weeks working in the Luquillo Forest of Puerto Rico.  My job here is to be a member of a six-person team conducting a survey of snails in the rainforest.
     We arrived in San Juan yesterday afternoon and had enough time to drive around Old San Juan and take a rough car tour.  Then we continued on out of town toward the forest and the station.
     Once there, I met the other members of my team and we all went and had dinner at a local barbecue shack.  Our first night concluded with a hike in the forest to get a feel for the place and to see a few of the fifteen or so snails that will be my focus for the near future.
     I feel incredibly lucky to get to take this trip, and am looking forward to more!

Monday, July 22, 2013

The End of Our Journey

Today is the final day of our trip, by the end of the day we will be back in Oklahoma. We've done a decent amount of stuff since the last update. We've collected and dried leaves for a decomposition study. I weighed the leaves and the snail shells that were to accompany the leaves so that rate of decomposition  can be compared to litter with and without snail shells. We got all of those put out Sunday afternoon, thus ending the research portions of the trip for Dr. Zimmermann and myself.

Not everything we've done since the last post has been purely science we've had some fun as well. Saturday we pretty much spent the day out and about. We stopped in the morning at a Puerto Rican bakery where we enjoyed breakfast before we headed back up to the tourist oriented portion of El Yunque. There we enjoyed a hike up to the highest observation tower on the mountain and a hike through the cloud forest. From there we headed down to the beach and made our way to a beach referred to as the hidden beach where it's almost completely free of your everyday beach goers.

Here's a short recap of things I've done/learned throughout the short time I've been down here:

  • mark/recapture of snails
  • become very proficient with calipers
  • data entry
  • litter decomposition work
  • experienced the rainforest both during the day and at night
  • learned to navigate the big grid at night using a compass and map
  • experienced many of the streams and waterfalls the rainforest has to offer
  • swam in both the rainforest and the ocean
  • tried many delicious foods
  • visited Old San Juan
  • kayaked a biobay
  • visited the cloud forest
  • spent time at the beach
  • visited the mangroves
All in all I've enjoyed the trip and would recommend it to anyone willing to deal with a little bit of hard work in the rainforest because it's not an experience that will be forgotten anytime soon. I've gained loads of field experience while down here while also enjoying a decent amount of fun as well.
 The view from the highest observation tower on El Yunque
 Hidden Beach

Friday, July 19, 2013


Not a whole lot has changed since the last post. Not much has been done in the way of work. The plant work has started but I'm not in that group. They got five plots done on Wednesday and had to stop due to plans for Wednesday night and yesterday it rained and stormed all day so it was unsafe for them to go out. I'm just waiting on people to finish their portions of data entry so I can finish up mine. In the way of work that's about all I've got.

However, Wednesday night was quite the experience. We took a trip out to a BioBay where we got to experience water that glows, well not really. What happens is there is a dinoflagellate in the water that is bioluminescent when disturbed, so as you paddle your kayak or move your hand in the water throughout this particular bay the water around you glows from the dinoflagellates. To get to the bay we paddled a short distance through a boatyard and then through the mangroves until finally reaching the bay itself. after arriving there we had a short meeting explaining what goes on and we were free to paddle around the bay until dark when we had to rejoin our tour group for another meeting about why the water glows and what sets it apart from other parts of the world. It's definitely an experience worth paying for if you ever have the opportunity.