Meditations in a Premontane Rainforest

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No one is joking when they refer to this course as “ecology bootcamp.” During the first week, I was questioning whether I could hack it for an entire month. Now, with three days left, I am having a serious case of the feels – I have LOVED this course. Sure, it has been incredibly challenging. I am tired and my brain hurts most of the time. I have been very frustrated, mostly with myself. I have been intimidated by the knowledge and experience of my peers. I have struggled, at points, to work effectively and cooperatively in a team. I tend to exhibit a nervous, bubbly giggle when I’m inwardly panicking – and that’s happened more than once over the past three weeks. However, I have experienced moments of pure, ecstatic joy – the joy that squeezes your heart and makes you very aware of all of your body parts.

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Surveying native and invasive ginger plants at Las Cruces, looking for evidence of the enemy release hypothesis. You can’t really tell, but I am hanging off the edge of a small cliff here. That’s how much I love science.

Some highlights: Making prolonged eye contact with howler monkeys, babies latched onto their mothers’ bellies, while they swung above me in the trees. A midnight bike ride through the jungle trails in search of bullet ants; throwing caution to the wind, vipers be damned. Hauling ass down a mountain at Cuerici: running at a pace that is half running, half falling; tailing Liz and our professor, Andrea, who is one of the most hardcore women I’ve ever met. Completing an independent research project (the impact of increased temperature on pitch and frequency of frog calls) and presenting results to my peers – I got results whattttt? Climbing up and down slippery river rocks in search of aquatic invertebrates, which look like the monsters from my nightmares when examined under a microscope.

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The boys – from left to right: Kevin, David, Andres (our TA), Paul, and Juan Carlos. Bottom: Albert, one of the founders of the research center at Cuerici – our guide at the station and an all around general badass.

In four weeks, we’ve completed two faculty-led research projects and two independent projects. We’ve made 30-second videos, 5-minute videos, and podcasts about biologists getting mauled, the sounds of the rainforest, and a field station haunting. We’ve consumed an immeasurable amount of coffee (which seems to have lost its effect). We’ve set up camp at four incredible research centers, and I’d have a hard time picking a favorite. There have been intense highs and a few disheartening lows. But without the peaks and valleys, I think this would seem mundane, rather than taxing and spectacular and…life changing? Maybe. It’s too soon to tell how the past month will affect the rest of my life, but I am so grateful to be an OTS grad student. Endless thanks to the CONS program, the Biology Department, CMNS, and the Graduate School at the University of Maryland, College Park for financial support. And thanks to OTS for this incredible opportunity. I am so happy to be here.

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Oophaga pumilio (strawberry poison frog) being heated to it’s critical thermal max, at which point the frog loses its righting reflex. Faculty-led project at La Selva.

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