Friday, October 9, 2009

Daintree River Mangroves

I LOVE STANFORD!!! (We're undefeated in the Pac-10!)

We just had the craziest whirlwind mangrove adventure! We flew from Brisbane to Cairns and split into two groups to be more manageable – my group of 24 went straight to the mangroves and the other half of the class went to the tropical rainforest first.

We arrived at our accommodations, which consist of a comfortable outdoor meeting area and tent dorms. It reminds me a lot of camping in Yosemite, except it’s much warmer here. I regret not bringing my water shoes – yet another camping item that I own, should have known to bring, and yet decided to leave at home. Well done, me.

We woke up bright and early on Wednesday and started on the Daintree River Cruise. We were briefed on crocodile safety and begin a 4 hour tour up and down the river. We stopped at different points along the banks to look at mangroves, wildlife, and 4 CROCODILES!! AHHHH!!! It was really cool and we learned a TON. I now know about 8 species of mangroves and can identify at least 3 pretty consistently in the field after one afternoon session collective leaves.

We were split into 3 groups of 8 so that we could really get into the field work component of the class. My group looked at forest fauna - the other 2 groups are looking at estuarine water conditions and forest structure. I’m really glad I wasn’t in the forest structure group since I’ve already done pretty much all that stuff this summer, and this group let me learn some new skills.


We spent about 9 hours in the field Thursday and Friday doing a total of 4 experiments. I worked with Erikka on each of the experiments:

1. Infauna!
We had to look at any organisms between 0-10 cm below ground. We took 6 cores and put them through 3 seives to see if any mollusks were there – we found 2. Total. Over both days. Meaning that we went through 24 gross muddy samples to get 2 tiny mollusk shells!

2. Epifauna
We looked from 0 cm to 1 meter to see what insects were present. Again, we found very little – lots of ants and flies and mosquitoes (or mozzies as they call them), but not much else!

3. Leaf Tethering!
This experiment was really cool, we tied strings to 33 leaves from 3 species and put them on the ground to see if crabs took them underground and ate them. We still didn’t get much data but it was really fun catching crabs to figure out how many might be present overall. Erikka and I won, we caught 23 crabs! The next best group only caught 11, so Alex (our tutor – which is the Aussie term for TA) has to buy us beer. YAY!!!

4. Herbivory
We looked at the trees to see how much of the leaves were eaten by insects. I ended up tree climbing and looking super awkward but it was still a lot of fun! Again, not a lot of data.

Playing in the mangroves - the Indiana Jones wannabe was our tutor, Alex, a PhD at UQ.

We had the best group!!

We found a light gap in the mangroves! So exciting! We first noticed that the canopy was pretty low relative to the rest of the forest, and then realized that the holly mangroves had spiky leaves which only happens when theres a lot of sun. We then saw some fallen trees and concluded that we had found a light gap. It wasn’t actually a big deal, but it felt nice to work through that reasoning process and come to a conclusion on our own.

View of the Daintree River Mouth:

A frog chillin on our boat:

Fruit bats we saw from the boat:

Photos from the boat that took us up and down the river:

Basically, 2 days of field work was not enough to get any meaningful or even accurate data, but it’s plenty of time to get super grubby and have a great time. We had to present our data for a graded presentation with only 4 hours of preparation because our group spent so much time in the field – the other two groups had about 6 more hours to prepare than we did. But we ROCKED it and had way more fun than them, because we got the muddiest and actually got into the mangroves for a lot longer. I loved it! The first small segment of the class is over, and it was GREAT.

P.S. These crocodiles were both about 4 meters long. That’s HUGE!!!! If you want to escape from one, you should hit it on the nose. Just so you know!

P.P.S. Now we’re in the rainforest in Yungbarra and it’s beautiful here. We’ll spend the next 4 days trekking around looking at the rainforest. We already saw this huge 300+ year old Cathedral Fig Tree with tons of branches and root systems. It was gorgeous and wonderful – I’m so excited to learn more!

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