The Personalities Behind the Podcasts, How Hummingbirds Stole the Show in Monteverde

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I was thrilled! The cards, or in this case the random numbers we use to choose projects, were in my favor. I was assigned to the podcast project on the Colibri Cafe bordering Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve. It became clear early on that our story would focus on the controversy surrounding feeding birds an unnatural diet so close to the reserve. We spent the morning recording sound bites from cafe employees, tourists, and reserve employees. The story came together well before our scheduled rendezvous to head back to campus. This left me with a lot of time to do exactly what I hoped we would have time for… snapping some intimate photos of of my favorite birds.

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After five minutes of being inundated with zipping, zooming, whizzing, and buzzing, I found myself rethinking my whole perspective on hummingbirds. These little birds were battling it out for their food resources, and the number of feeders drew quite the crowd.

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With the help of my field guide, I quickly learned the species around me. By watching them a little longer, I started to figure out who was boss, who picked the fights, and who tried to get in and out unnoticed.

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One of the first hummers you might notice is the Green Violetear (above). These guys have conspicuous purple feathers on either side of their heads. In a defense display, these birds erect those feathers like “ears,” giving them their peculiar name.

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The male Purple-throated Mountain Gem (above) looked small next to the Violetear, but he made up for it in might. These little birds picked fights with everyone, and aggressively defended perches by flashing their purple throats and vocalizing frequently.

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The Coppery-headed Emerald (above) is endemic to Costa Rica, making it one of the coolest birds at the feeder. Small in size, this species seemed to avoid physical confrontation with larger species. However, when it came to members of its own species, it was always on the offense.

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So you might be wondering who “king” of the feeder is… This title is indisputably held by the Violet Sabrewing (above). By hummingbird standards, these guys were MASSIVE! Unless another Sabrewing was around, they rarely engaged in physical conflict. All they had to do was fly up to the feeder, and all the other species scattered. Looks kind of smug, doesn’t he?

Now sometimes a girl with a not-so-great point-and-shoot camera happens to take a photo she will never forget. Right before we left the cafe, I was lucky enough to get an action shot of a Stripe-tailed Hummingbird (below) in a defensive display. These birds, like the Emeralds, mostly picked fights with birds their own size. In this case, a Mountain Gem decided that he needed that perch. The Stripe-tailed Hummingbird simply wasn’t having it, and sent him off with this grand gesture.

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Despite the controversy surrounding the feeders, I genuinely enjoyed my time there watching the birds. I hope that in the near future, the Cafe can use native plants instead of sugar water to bring in birds. It’s in their plans, and I hope it becomes a reality. I came to the cafe thinking I would learn about the personalities and perspectives of the people there. I left having learned a whole different world of “personalities”, in tiny feathered packages.

Lauren Phillips, Graduate Student in Fisheries and Wildlife, Michigan State University. 

 

Tonight Only on Pay Per View: The Feisty Dermanura Watsoni takes on the Heavy Weight Champ Carrolia Perspisillata

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Nights in Las Cruces can get a little wild, or at least you think they are when you have spent six nights in the jungle. Why would anyone want to do that you ask: bats of course! The only mammals that can fly. These awesome creatures are not only cute as hell, they also provide a massive amount of ecosystem services; from disease control, by hunting disease vectors like mosquitos, to pollinating fruiting plants essential for life. That’s right you can thank the Mexican long nosed bat for your tequila sunrise in the morning. Agave is pollinated by just that one species of bat. Bats are also the second most diverse mammalian order after rodents. It’s believed that the evolution of flight opened up new niche space for the ancestors of bats, leading to a rapid adaptive radiation. Now we have all sorts of crazy bats, from giant fruit eating flying foxes in Australia, to small blood sucking vampires here in Costa Rica. Of course the niche space that was opened by the evolution of flight filled rapidly, and we now have many species specializing on the same resources, as well as using the same fly space to access those resources. This leads to competition, which is where we come in. Two promising, up-and-coming researchers Paul Furumo and Kevin McCormick recently completed some work attempting to determine if a bat’s wing shape influenced where it foraged. During the study we noticed that we seemed to catch different bats at different times of the night. We knew that some of these species, like those in genus Carollia, specialize on pretty specific fruits like Piper. Therefore, we thought that the patterns we were seeing of different species showing up at our nets at different times might have something to do with how bats avoid direct competition over food and fly space. With this in mind we spent an extra three nights out in the jungle, looking for answers. We found that 80% of the bats we captured were just two species, Carollia perspicillata and Dermanura watsoni. Interestingly enough, these guys are both frugivores, but they are specializing on different kinds of fruit, so if they are competing it’s for flight space not food. Yes, bats actually do compete over flight space, because the echolocation frequencies they use to navigate can actually interfere or jam each other’s signals. However, this echolocation “jamming” has mostly been described within species, not between species. Therefore, it is not just competition, but the most anticipated match in the history of OTS Las Cruces. Who will win and go to roost with a full belly? Find out here (Click on photo below) exclusively on pay per view! Presentation2

As it turns out, the match ended in a tie. For whatever reason, the two fighters never appeared in the ring at the same time. One would come out, looking for challengers and find nobody. After retiring, the other contender would emerge, eager to battle it out, but alas, no one there with whom to tangle. This happened over and over, round after round, until the sun came up, and the crowd of researchers had gone home, tired from this unsynchronized affair, and wanting their money back from the cable company for hyping up such an event, and leaving them flat. The simple reason that these two forces never encountered, is a lesson of temporal niche partitioning. These two species seem to avoid each other during peak feeding times. The two contenders barely encountered one another in this cycling in and out of the ring because they were actually after different prizes. Dismayed, the researchers wrote a strong letter to the fight promoters, telling them to consider the motivations of their fighters next time, before making such a big deal about it on pay per view.

Let me introduce myself

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My name is Jane Zelikova and along with Jenny Stynoski, an amazing TA Rolando, and a big and wonderful group of visiting professors, I will be coordinating the winter OTS grad course. Getting the chance to coordinate this course is amazing opportunity for many reasons, not least of all is that I am a course alum (2003 Summer course – shout out to all my peeps!) and leading this course after taking it 10 years ago seems like the universe bringing it all back together. In the 10 years since my course, life has taken many twists and turns, but my experience with OTS was transformative in both my academic and personal life. The friends I met that summer are still important in my life today and the connections I made have opened new research doors in a way that nothing else can. OTS alums are everywhere and they are the most enthusiastic and wonderful collaborators you will ever meet!

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Introduction to Tropical Ecology summer grad course, circa 2003. I’m somewhere in the middle, looking excited and proud, and slightly bewildered

So how did I go from a budding young tropical ecologist to where I am today – a not-so-young postdoctoral researcher at the University of Wyoming? My winding path included a few years of working on ant community ecology in Costa Rica, a jump back onto US soil to continue working on ants, but now in southeastern deciduous forest ecosystems, and then an almost complete and abrupt shift. When I got my PhD from the University of Colorado, I realized that somewhere in the 6 years I spent in graduate school, my research interested shifted. It came as a small surprise to me, but I wanted to study soils! I left the world of ants begrudgingly behind and started working in beautiful Canyonlands UT and thinking about climate change, biological soil crusts, biogeochemistry, and plants. Growing up as a scientist meant learning new tools (plant physiology, biogeochemistry), asking new questions, and stretching my mind to think from a different perspective. Exciting, wonderful, and terrifying.

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Field work in Utah, looking at how removing livestock grazing impacts soil and plant carbon storage

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Collecting soil outside of Moab UT

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Digging up leaf cutter ant nests in La Selva to understand how ants and their nests influence biogeochemical cycles in tropical ecosystems

That’s basically where I find myself today, once again shifting to learn new things, ask new questions, re-address old questions from a new angle, and hopefully, continuing to evolve. As your course coordinator, I bring with me a few key things:

1) My passion for science

2) A sharpie (one of the most important tools every ecologist needs)

3) My knowledge and background in community ecology, biogeochemistry, plant ecology, and tropical experience

4) An open ear – I’m here as a sounding board for whatever you need

Countdown to course start 23 days! I’m ready!