It is an incredible time to be a biologist.
Every year, new tools and approaches are developed that allow us to explore questions and test hypotheses that researchers of decades past could not have even imagined.
It is a scary time to be a biologist too. The systems we study vary naturally, but these days there are patterns that seem more drastic than the norm.
During this course we have been awed by diversity at each site we visit. We make observations as we traverse the forest and explore details under our hand lenses. The number of new ideas, potential study systems, and interactions we’ve been exposed to is unfathomable. I’m entirely certain that I’ve overlooked and likely trampled on many plants, fungi, and invertebrates with endless potential yet to be explored.
Yet, as we’ve travelled from site to site, one thing that has stuck out is the number of times someone has mentioned that certain species, sometimes even entire groups, are missing from our experience. In Monteverde area, frogs were nearly impossible to encounter. Reptiles and amphibians were sparse in every site so far. In the páramo, sites previously known to be carpeted with Puya, a terrestrial bromeliad, are hardly populated now.
Are these trends reversible? Will we see populations recover? Or might this be the beginning of the trend for the future here and elsewhere?
I can’t claim a direct relationship between these trends and our actions as humans. For me, one thing is certain: our actions create lasting impacts and radiate further than we think.
These imprints of steps on this carpet of plants can remain visible for months until the plants recover.
Let us step lightly.