Friday, August 9, 2013

Coming HOME!

Home, here I come!

The past 10 weeks have been great in so many ways. I have made new friends, experienced new culture and learned a ton about the ecology of Puerto Rico, specifically, the El Yunque Rainforest. After a dose of aquatic ecology, I think I will stick to focusing on terrestrial ecosystems and maybe start digging into soil microbial ecology.

The blog took the back burner as I got busier and busier toward the end of the summer (Sorry!). It was fun, stressful at times but the most rewarding experience I think I have ever had. I'm going to keep this short and say thanks for reading, Love you all, miss you and can't wait to see you.

Check out the poster that came of the research Sofia and I did this summer. Classen lab folks, look forward to a talk too :) Sofia and I are currently coming up with a plan for publication and eyeballing potential journals.

Monday, July 22, 2013

A condensed week and a half

What a week. I haven't written in a while, but here it is. Some weekend fun from the weekend before last and one long week of collecting samples and doing lab work.

July 13th-14th:

What a fun weekend! We traveled to the southwest portion of the Island and stayed with PJ's parents in his home town. Early early Saturday morning, we drove to Arecibo to visit another REU on the island. They are a group of physics students studying at the Arecibo Observatory. It was such a cool place. We  talked to them about their projects which have to do with pulsars and other complicated topics all new to me. It's interesting, one girl, Thankful, who studies millisecond pulsars points the telescope where she needs it to scan and then (to my surprise) looks at graphs and from those graphs, she can tell a whole range of things, like if there is interference from phones etc, if there is a pulsar. Specifically if it's a millisecond pulsar meaning it rotates completely in 1-10 milliseconds. It was neat to hear about the history of the telescope, all of which has left me since a week ago :) I was really blown away by the size and nature of the telescope. I imagined, a large room with a seat in the middle where you lay back at a slight angle and peer into a little spyglass tube that connects to a larger one and a larger one and a larger one etc. They laughed when I told them, needless to say. Look at this thing..

We swam, ate lunch and eventually said goodbye to Arecibo.. It was on to Ponce from there..

In Ponce, we went to the kioskos, a little strip on the beach of restaurants, bars and shops. So much fun.. We had drinks and food and even took a flaming shot. We drank it through a straw. It was not bad but honestly, it was not good either. Midori, Grenadine, Some yellow stuff, maybe creme de banana, tequila? (Danielle, have you ever made one?) and 151 so it lights. Sure does, let me tell you. You put the straw in, drink up and hope you're quick enough that you don't melt it and inhale straw fumes.

That night we headed to PJ's parent's house where his sweet Mother had beds and snacks ready for all 14 of us. I was amazed that she found the space, the girls room was downstairs, sort of like a little basement attached to the garageport. You could not step without stepping on some bodies bed, Casey (a field tech for Gus who is doing fish research) had her bed on top the pool table. It was dark when we came in but when we woke up it was such a beautiful view. They live in the southwest portion of the central mountains. There were roosters crowing, fog clearing and a friendly pair of dogs playing in the road. 

The Inn for the Night, thanks to our TA's parents.

ooooooooooh so dang cute!!!

 We eventually left the endless fruit trees, homely feel and lovely mountains of PJ's hometown and headed to the beach. We went to Cabo Rojo, "Playa Sucia" meaning dirty beach. You can see, it's quite the opposite. Arguable the most beautiful beach on Puerto Rico's main island.

We did not stay for too long because we had a date with some snorkels at 2:00p in La Parguera. The guide first took us to a sand bar called the party bar, which was nice and fun. There we tested out our snorkeling gear and I swam over to the Pincho boat to get a grilled chicken kabob. mmmmmmmm. From there we went to a shallow spot to snorkel where we saw urchins, cucumbers fish, coral, grasses and other small sea biota. I like snorkeling, It's fun. It was the first time I had ever been. We moved from there (we were in a boat boating around the different keys) to a deep spot and woahhh how different it was! We saw lobsters and crazy crazy corals and so many fish. Schools of anchovies or sardines, or something. There were some corals along a transect that were tagged, somebody must be doing some research. I got out and as we were boating to the last spot, a mangrove, I learned that I get seasick. After I thought about it, I realized I have never been on a small ocean boat (that I can remember) so yeah, seasick.

We eventually left, got in the car and headed home. It was such a fun trip home. We were in 2 cars united by walkie talkies. We joked and sang back and forth which made the trip go by really quickly. The station was a pleasant sight. Sleep came easily that night. Monday would mark the start of chaos. 

And so it was, I began collecting and processing my samples. This is why I've been out of touch with the blog, because since monday it has been nonstop. I have stayed at Sofias home in Rio Piedras twice because the nights have been so late. Between collecting samples, placing them in tubes, going through a 3 hour light and two hour dark cycle with dissolved oxygen and mass measurements plus filtration in between, I would get back to the lab with samples at 12 Noon and not finish until 11:30 at night. Once a set was finished, it went to the chlorophyl extraction stage for 6-24 hours. Then, to the light absorbance on the spectrophotometer to eventually find the chlorophyll-a content. Basically place in tube, fill, measure DO, light cycle, make foil baggies, weigh them, Measure DO, filter, fill, measure DO, dark cycle, measure DO, filter, chlorohyll extraction in methanol, spec readings, back in the foil baggies, mass, oven dry for 24 hours, mass, burn, weigh. Mass Mass mass, foil baggies (no crucibles here, folks) for all 48 samples from each stream. It's like 18 of labwork for each 48 samples (not including the wait time for chlorophyll extraction, oven drying, and muffle furnace burns). 

So today is my last day of this madness and I am so excited to finally have data to work with!!!! All summer, I have just been waiting around, switching things out sometimes and mostly just hanging around the station waiting on my biofilms to grow. My time has come and it has done me in. It's almost over though, and tomorrow, we go to Culebra Island at 2am to catch the 4:30am ferry over. I'm going to sleep on the beach, get sunburnt, and have the most relaxing day of my life.

This post is almost as disorganized and ranty as by brain feels, but more to come eventually, maybe with some results next time? Who knows. 



Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Elvia Melendez-Ackerman, plant-plant feedbacks

Elvia Melendez-Ackerman, UPR Rio Piedras, gave us a seminar wednesday talking about plant-plant interactions on Mona Island, an island in between Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic. It's an interesting looking island, without many beaches as you might suspect, the coastline is dominated by jagged looking cliffs, like the photo on your left. There is a cactus, threatened species Harrisia portoriscensis, is now endemic to the island that used to colonize Puerto Rico as well but no longer does. (endemic to = only found in that area, for example, the hellbender salamander is endemic to the eastern US)
For this project, her work, along with graduate student Julissa Rojas-Sandoval, focuses on the interaction between african grass Megathyrsus maximus and H. portorscensis. To begin, they tried to understand first how this flower is pollinated, and which type of pollination, (natural, cross, self, autogamy or agamospermy) produced the highest amount of fruit set. They initially thought that it was a bat or bee pollinated flower, but turns out, after monitering 200 hours of the flower, it was only visited 5 times! So what is driving the pollination of these cacti flowers? Well, turns out it's wind. 

See here, to the left, the cactus has really long flowers, Elvia and Julissa found that on average, they were 21 cm from the main stalk of the cactus, allowing the flower to be out in the open where wind could freely whirl it around. It flowers all year long, yet this species has become extinct in Puerto Rico and is in fear of the same on Mona Island. So the task at hand was to get information on the population, specifically, whether or not it was threatened in Mona Island. Plant censuses brought about interest in the invasive african guinea grass, M. Maximus that was beginning to take over the southeastern portion of the Island. It's no small wonder that it's fire and drought resistant and is taking over. They found that the population is slowly but surely decreasing and that it's likely due to the presence of this invasive grass, but that is still up for debate. Shade was found to affect the juvenile stage of the cacti, specifically, shade from the grass hinders the growth while shade from other plants native to the island does not hinder their growth. It's a strange situation. I thought that the next step in an experiment like this would be to do lab growth of cacti in soils collected underneath different types of plants found on the island. Plant-plant feedback turned plant-soil feedback. Sounds like fun :)

This post is sufficiently late by a week but I've been so busy.. We had a great weekend on the southwest portion of the island, and I will eventually maybe this weekend post about that. I began collecting and processing my samples this week so it has been quite insane.

3 more weeks or so.


Monday, July 8, 2013

Happy Birthday Kaci White!

I'm straying from the normal post content of this blog because it's my best friends birthday! I wish I could be there to celebrate her 22nd birthday with her. I miss you and love you Kaci!!! In the going on 8 years that I have known you, you've been a better friend than I could ask for. Thanks for being that person. You are wonderful! In lieu of being there with you, here's some of our fun times from the books. :)

Happy Birthday, Kaci White!

:)  adios mi mejor amiga, te amo!

Brianne Chasilea, I love you too! :)

Sunday, July 7, 2013

El Cuarto de Julio

It's been a good week. Full of enjoyment, that is. It started off under the crunch to finish my restructured introduction. It took a lot of time to do, and what I ended up with is two and a half pages of background. I'm almost nearly sure that it's waaaaaaaaay too long, I'm just waiting on Sofia's comments. The good thing is, that most of the space is spent talking about what is known about biofilm function altered by organic chemicals; caffeine, diuron, sucrose (more later) and sucralose. Soooo, if it turns out that I have gone into far too much detail, then half my discussion section will be done since in the discussion, I will speak on my results and call upon other studies who have found results on a similar study.  Glad that's over, for now..

Thursday was an eventful day in many ways, Sofia and I are in phase II of the experiment, we had an amazing dinner at a barbeque we attended for El Cuarto de Julio, and it was my doggies first birthday. Happy Birthday, Boudreaux.

We had been at the grocery store the night before and instructed to find something to bring to the barbeque. As a group, we decided on pinchos, the Puerto Rican shishkabob, because who doesn't love a shishkabob?  We made fruit, veggie, chicken and shrimp pinchos for a vege-pesce-tarian/carnivore combo. We fixed up homemade hummus and salsa, too. We made the hummus without tahini, although we found a jar of it, it was too much tahini and too expensive and we only needed a very little bit. The hummus great, so don't let lack of tahini keep you from making your own! 

Sofia and I were late to the barbecue due to a morning full of mishaps. We have started switching out the plain agar growth environments for chemically amended ones, but first, we had to make the chemical agars. oh joy. We had 6 types of agar to make and when making agar, allow extra time unless you're a seasoned pro. First, a control agar, then each single chemical agar and also, a mixed treatment (since normally, these chemicals aren't found in isolation in the environments they pollute, plus we will be able to account for possible synergies amongst the treatments). First we poured the agar too soon and it didn't solidify.
Then we made one batch 30 mL shy of the perfect amount. Later, we let the water get too hot before we added the agar powder so when we added it, the water started to boil, and the agar floated up like it was bubble surfing on the water and when we took it off the heat, boiling stopped and it was a large clump of agar. All this was scattered about some successful attempts, and in the end we finished them. After they cooled, we went down to Quebrada Taína (Taína stream). It was about 2:00 and everyone had already left. We came back, got cleaned up and left the station in search of the Ackerman's residence up the mountain where everyone was enjoying the nice weather at the annual Fourth of July BBQ. When we left the gate, I got out to close it and there was a sweet little puppy walking by, he was starving, you could tell by his protruding ribcage and bony thighs. He was all black, probably a boxer, terrier mix or something. Really cute, and he had a big cecropia leaf in his mouth, like he was going to eat it. The thing about strays here, is that they are everywhere. I mean everywhere. Many people are irresponsible with their animals and shelters are overflowing, so they just run wild and reproduce when people drop them off because they don't want to take care of them. I got back into the car and we headed to the BBQ..

Pine trees? Strangely, yes. They have been introduced over the years and here, near the Ackermans place, there are plenty. 

It was a great time, the Ackermans have a nice residence up in the hills of El Yunque. There were lots of people, many of James and Elvias' graduate students, all of the mentors, us REU's, ALonso's family and all the techs at the station. There was soooo much food. The pinchos turned out great, everyone had a nice time, outside on a sunny day in the mountains. It's rare that the weather works along with your plans here, so this was delightful. Here we are..

When we got back to the station, the pup was not at the bottom of the road near the gate anymore, he had made the hike up, and found his way about a quarter mile away to the station!

Roxy and Natalia found him when they got home and felt so terrible for the poor thing that they gave him a name, pincho, and fed him, which is sort of forbidden here. Hilda says that if we feed them, she will known because they will stay. And once we start feeding them, they're our responsibility. He hung around until the next day, when Keysa learned about a friend who was looking for a new pup. He brought his doggie over so check for compatibility and turns out, they got along great! Her friend re-named our little pincho to Meeko, (spelling?) which Sofia tells me is a a type of monkey.

Here's Pincho..

So, here I am now, it's Sunday. Friday, I made more agars to set out Saturday in the nasty Venezuela stream. Normally, we wear gloves in that stream (the stench alone is enough to make you vomit), but I was working with little zip ties and a sharp knife and I said screw the gloves, lets get this done! Big mistake. We finished quickly which was nice, but now I am up to my shoulders in some new rash. I don't know if it was the super nasty stream we were in or the soap I used to clean the yuck off afterwards, but my arms are covered in bumpety, itchy, hot redness. I was hard to sleep last night because of it but I read for awhile and it took my mind off of it. 

Speaking of, I have finished a few books since I've been here, which normally takes me two months for one. I read Into the Wild by John Krakauer, What Einstein Told His Cook: Kitchen Science Explained by Robert Wolke and Most recently, A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson. All great books. Now, I am starting book I of Game of Thrones series by George R.R. Martin. (Grandma, I bought The Power of One by Bryce Courtenay, and I plan to read it, but I loaned it to Amanda, one of the REU gals. Can't wait!)

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Old San Juan

Old San Juan is a beautiful place. If you ever get the chance, you should go. It's unlike any other place in Puerto Rico and contrary to it's name, it seems to be in better shape than a lot of the islands metropolitan areas. We visited Saturday and got to do some touristy stuff.  We were able to make it to one of the two forts in San Juan, Castillo San Felipe del Morro. Directly on the coast, overlooking the sea, this 16th century citadel was named for King Phillip II of Spain. It was built in order to guard the and defend, if necessary, the San Juan Bay and harbor city of San Juan. Here's what we saw.. (with a few pit stops first in random places..)

These are some cool fungi I found hiking in the forest. It's luck that I found them really. I was wearing some crappy shoes for the hike we were on (sorry chacos, under the bus go you) that day and I kept falling down on the way back down. Well, I fell trying to get over a rock, looked to my right and this is what I found! So neat!

Here is what the beach griller was grilling up from last time... Pinchos Pollo are delicious, if you're not a veg-head. 

Okay, HERE is Old San Juan. This below is a view looking back from the fort at some building, don't know what, but I like the colors. It reminds me of my living room.

here is a view just before we walked right up and into the Fort

Strange little structure..

The colors here are nice too, this is just as we walked through the gateway.

Tres Banderas! US, Puerto Rico (Stripes) and ..................

This iguana is having a afternoon sunbath, sounds nice. 

Here is the lighthouse, however this is not the original structure, pretty obvious. The original was destroyed during a bombardment in 1898.

Egelz, in an ocean-overlook structure

Two of the 7 layers of the fort 


The walls are up to 5 meters thick in some places!

So cool. 

I wonder what these were used for, maybe little cubbies for people to work in?


View back toward the city, from the Fort

A rather large pile of cannon balls

I love a good photo with no people in it, it feels like you've got the whole place to yourself. Imagine what it might have looked like before a battle. Whew!

And now, we are back in Old San Juan, just walking around the city, looking in shops and eating the best dang passionfruit helado I have ever had. It's like sorbet, sweet, cold and delicious. 

Some awesome street art!

Urban gardening, mmm good. 

The better part of Old San Juan looks like this, the balconies are to apartments.

Somebodies home, so cool!

The scents coming from the coffee shop were unbearably amazing. All the doors and windows were open, people were inside on couches chattering away in spanish.

More city streets..

Those strange little faces, popping up everywhere.

It was a good day, I really like Old San Juan but it can't be explored fully in a day. I will hopefully return before the trip is over and have more to say and more to show from this really awesome port city.    

Lately, I have been working hard at my introduction. I took some well needed advice from my mentor here in Puerto Rico, Sofia, and at UT, Aimee, and after an intense literature review, I am re-structuring my introduction in a way that flows well, and sufficiently introduces the topic to a broad range of readers. It's time consuming work but compared to the original introduction, it is an improvement that I am proud of.

Time for lunch. and coffee.