El Niño!

So our current location is the South of the island where we are working on a site at Guanica state park which is near the city of Ponce, the second largest city in Puerto Rico. We took a day to explore some of the city when we arrived and found a lovely picturesque square in the city center. We also had great intentions of experiencing the culture and made quiet a long trek on foot to an art museum after many wrong turns in the afternoon heat only to arrive too late to go inside!!

 

A grocers stall in an indoor market in the city! Lots of exotic fruit and veg!
A grocers stall in an indoor market in the city! Lots of exotic fruit and veg!

 

Me with a statue in the square in Ponce!
Me with a statue in the square in Ponce!

 

Guinep, a local fruit from the Melicoccus bijugatus tree that we tried in the city!!
Guinep, a local fruit from the Melicoccus bijugatus tree that we tried in the city!!

 

The heat here is much drier and we’ve found it a bit tougher to work in than the previous sites which were more sheltered and humid. We try to get to the site as early as possible to get our work finished before the midday heat! We might have been a little too eager on one such morning though when we found the gates locked at 7am and ended up waiting for the ranger until 8.30!

 

The guys eager to get to work!
The guys eager to get to work!

 

We have been noticing very low conductance’s in the porometer measurements of the plants here and the guys suspected that this was because the plants are experiencing a water stress and are closing their stomata to conserve as much water as possible. After talking to the ranger he confirmed that they are going through an El Niño, which is a warming of the central Pacific once every few years, from a combination of wind and waves in the tropics. It shakes up climate around the world, changing rain and temperature patterns. It benefits some areas with increased rainfall and reduces harsh winters but for Puerto Rico at the moment they are experiencing a severe drought!

 

A volunteer in the park explaining to Michelle why all the cacti are being attacked by a woolly aphid in the forest!
A volunteer in the park explaining to Michelle why all the cacti are being attacked by a woolly aphid in the forest!

 

A drought stressed Croton discolor folds over its leaves to conserve as much water as possible! These were very annoying for Michelle to measure without he porometre without damaging them!
A drought stressed Croton discolor folds over its leaves to conserve as much water as possible! These were very annoying for Michelle to measure with the porometre without damaging them!

 

After surveying our site on the first day and tagging our plants we ventured to the coastal side of the state park to compare the plant life and maybe check out the beach!

 

At over 30degrees being on the beach in trousers and boots!!... Not ideal!!
At over 30degrees being on the beach in trousers and boots!!… Not ideal!!

 

After this day we decided the pants and boots were being replaced! We are working on an open trail and after being informed that there are no threats of snakes or other wildlife we opted for the cooler choice!

 

Swapping the boots for shorts and runners....ahhhhh!
Swapping the boots for shorts and runners….ahhhhh!

 

We spent a chilled out afternoon pressing the specimens back at the hotel later in the week. This is another technique I have picked up on this trip! I have learned how to press the plants so that both the abaxial and adaxial surfaces are facing up on some leaves to make it easier to examine them when they are dry. I’ve also learned how important it is to label things properly so you know what everything is a few weeks down the line when you get back to the lab!

 

 

How plant pressing goes in a hotel room! Its a lot more organised than it looks!!
How plant pressing goes in a hotel room! It’s a lot more organised than it looks!!

In the field I’ve been intrigued by the ability of Wuu Kuang and the guys to identify plants from our list in a forest full of what I would perceive to be a lot of trees that look the exact same!! It is definitely not an easy task to go to a forest you don’t know and identify a number of new species in a few hours! I’ve picked up some really useful tips from him for identifying plants in the field, like what different traits to look for first and making and using a key! If you are prepared and you know what you are looking for then the differences between the species become very apparent! Some of these techniques I can recall from the practical classes last semester in the Diversity of plant form and function module we had.

 

Myself and Michelle in action in thefield, taking measurements on the ceptometer and the hygrometer!
Myself and Michelle in action in the field, taking measurements on the ceptometer and the hygrometer!

 

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