Shoplifting the Nectar
It was that time. We had been together for a month. The day we all boarded the van in San Jose seemed so long ago. Everyone was a stranger, now we were all together 24/7. We knew so many things about each other; some things we wished we had never known but they were in our memories just the same. We were realizing it was going to be hard to say goodbye in 10 days, so we tried to make the most of it.
When we first got to Las Alturas, we were given a chance to unpack and then we had something extremely rare: free time! I decided to rinse out some laundry before heading out to join a game of Frisbee. I haven’t been running at all during our course, mostly because I lacked the motivation but also because snakes were everywhere and I was too busy, but I figured sprinting after a Frisbee was just as good. We played monkey in the middle and that really got the heart pumping. But it was fun! I wasn’t getting enough of this kind of fun lately. Most people went for an actual run, though, and as they trickled back our game got bigger and bigger. Finally, Jane pulled out her Jillian Michaels video and a majority of us (me excluded) went out and followed her in a 30 minute exercise. Those of us that weren’t participating were working (me) or watching the participants (everyone else, including our chefs). It was a bit of a sight to see, especially when they used books instead of weights.
The next morning, after we survived an insane wind storm that threatened to blow us all away at 3:30 am, we hiked up to take a look at La Amistad Reserve, which is right on the border between Costa Rica and Panama. We tried to be quiet to see birds, but it started to drizzle early on and there didn’t seem to be many birds around to observe. The hike was long, and we easily climbed for 3 hours. The higher we got, we noticed we had climbed into a cloud. It was pretty spectacular. We also snaked our way though a bamboo forest that was incredible because it was just all bamboo. But the top of the hike made it all worthwhile. There was a small lookout area where all we could see were hills covered in green trees and the clouds would shift and block our views before changing again and allowing us to see Panama. We all sat down and took a break to admire the view. We also took a ton of pictures. It was another magical sight!
But we couldn’t stay forever: we had to make it to lunch! We all sort of spread out on our hike down, and I ended up walking with Aviv, who taught me all about Israel and its complicated history. I never knew what I’d learn about each day on the course, but I always knew I’d learn something! Back at our accommodations, I rushed to take a shower as there was no hot water and I was already warm from hiking. I had to be warm to shower because the water was freezing and it wasn’t exactly warm outside the shower either.
After our piping hot meal, we strung up our hammocks and took naps until dinnertime…. NOT! This isn’t a vacation! We set to work on our next project: doing a meta-analysis on data that has been collected from over the last 30 years by previous OTS groups. To do a meta-analysis you have to pick a specific question you’re interested in. For example, my group decided to use all the previous data collected to see whether flowers that experience nectar robbing are negatively impacted by producing less seeds or not being pollinated as much. To answer this question, we had to go through tons of previous data to see if other groups had found this result looking at different flowers in different places. Meta-analyses are usually a lot of work, but this was even harder because we had no internet so we had to search the data by hand. Once we had found enough studies (about 8 different studies) we were able to start the analysis!
The analysis was somewhat tricky and we used a lot of formulas, but by the end of the day we had a result! And the answer is: yes, based on the previous work of OTS students, nectar robbers do hurt the plant by causing them to lose nectar and potentially true pollinators as well. By the way, in case you are wondering, nectar robbing is a term applied to a bird or insect that steals nectar from the flower without pollinating the flower or taking some of its pollen to another flower. If you think of nectar robbing like shoplifting, the shop owner would be hurt financially the same way the plant is hurt reproductively. So it makes sense that nectar robbing would be bad news for the plant, but because we are scientists we need data to prove everything.
After all the hard work was done, it was time to relax. We were promised a campfire, but on the last night it was pouring down rain until 9pm. But I underestimated my colleagues. We had a fire up and roaring by 9:30 pm! We celebrated our last night in Las Alturas with an impromptu karaoke session and howled at the full moon until midnight, unfortunately for our coordinators and the chefs and Alex our driver (though in the morning they said it didn’t bother them). As I went to sleep for one last time in Las Alturas, I realized I was tired of moving from place to place, but that this would be our last major move. Thinking about it that way made me happy to move because at least that meant one more new site where we would all be together!
Shoplifting the Nectar