Rutgers - Science Summer Abroad 2010
Nine Science Undergraduate Students Around the World

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Every New Beginning comes from Some Other Beginning's End

I completed data collection about a week ago. Since then, I have been analyzing data and deciding where to go with my paper. Last Thursday, we gave presentations on our preliminary results to a group of Kruger National Park staff. These people were some of the world’s leading experts on elephant impacts on savanna ecology (nerve-wracking). I feel as if I started out strong, but kind of fell flat towards the end of my talk. I did get some compliments. Now that the stressful part is over, I just have to write my paper.

Essentially, what I think I have observed is this: bats are not the most ideal indicator species. They have the ability to fly great distances, and will be able to find suitable foraging habitat even if there is a relatively small amount of that particular habitat in the surrounding area. I have plotted countless regressions, but not one single vegetation characteristic (average canopy height, average canopy cover, canopy layer diversity) has shown to be a viable predictor of bat species richness or call abundance. Interestingly, but obviously, there is a very strong correlation between insect abundance and call abundance (i.e. more food=more eating). So, it seems as if assessing bat community assemblages along a disturbance gradient will not give one the clearest picture of what that disturbance is precipitating within the system. This is not to say that bats are completely impractical indicators; community shifts do occur as riparian disturbance increases, but its on a broader scale than simply a species level. Rather, the guild composition shifts from clutter specialists towards open-air specialists. Intuitively, this makes sense: we should see the species that like dense vegetation (highly maneuverable, high frequency echolocation) disappearing and the species that like open air (fast, gliding flight and low frequency echolocation) appearinging as the amount of canopy decreases. And that is exactly what I am observing. That being said, this doesn’t really make for a tidy paper just yet, I have a few more things to tease out of the longitudinal data set before I can chisel a Statue of David out of this block of marble I have in front of me.

Well, now for some really good news…THE NIKON LIVES! All in all, it took 5 days of drying out for the ol’ girl to begin working properly. Snapping photographs has never felt so satisfying. Attached are some of the first photos I snapped after the resurrection of the Nikon. Ryan and I have a friendly photo competition in the works to determine who is the better photographer, and now, I can say, it’s on. He had best bring his “A” game…err photos.

Last Sunday, I attended the World Cup match between Italy and New Zealand (my seat was 16 rows off of the pitch!). I have been watching matches daily, and excitement is always high, but nothing compares to being in a rumbling stadium with tens of thousands of other spectators armed with vuvuzelas (by the way, piping into a vuvuzela for an extended period of time results in sore facial muscles and swollen lips). The New Zealand fans were very excited to draw with Italy. But, because the penalty kick awarded to the Italians was very much a dive, I would have been disappointed not walking away with the win. On Friday, I attended the Ivory Coast and Korea DPR match, which Ivory Coast won three-nil. Both teams were essentially eliminated from advancing to the Round of 16 before the match began, but it was still exciting to see some of the world’s best footballers in action: Didier Drogba, in particular, is an electrifying player. Also, this time I was sitting with my fellow REUers and our mentors, which made the experience much more enjoyable. From our side of the stadium, we could watch the sunset in the distance. It was, without a doubt, one of the most beautiful things that these eyes have ever seen.

Watched the USA-Ghana game last night. Regardless of the outcome, I knew I would be disappointed. I wanted USA to advance, but this is Africa's World Cup, and I would love nothing more than an African side to win the tournament. So, from now on, I am pulling for Ghana.

Our accommodations are in the Skukuza veterinary camp, which comes along with some perks. This past Monday, we were able to watch a leopard autopsy. I documented the entire transformation: from roaring beast to incinerator fodder. Let’s just say that, even with a solid, iron cage separating the two of you, the growl of an old and dying leopard will make your blood run cold. Once sedated, she was carried out of the cage and the vets began taking measurements and blood samples. Meanwhile, from five feet away, I gaze into her wide-open eyes. It’s not often that one can exchange stares with an unrestrained leopard and live to tell about it, but I suppose a tranquilizer dart makes that feat much easier to accomplish. Even though I knew, for certain, there was no way she could get back up on her feet and lunge for me, my entire being was screaming “run away, far away!” After euthanization, the veterinarians began skinning her and later conducted a formal autopsy. I would attach some photos, but they are very graphic and I’m not sure that would be in best taste.

Since my time in South Africa, I have become a much better footballer. I believe it has something to be with losing the shoes and going barefoot, where one has much more control. Like Kai wrote in his post “Maasai Traditions”, the little kids put the lot of us to shame every time we play a friendly game, but now I can really hold my own. I might have to wait a few days before my next match - my toes have begun to scale like a reptile and paper thorns have torn up my feet. Taking a break will be easier said than done: being the World Cup host nation, it seems everyone in ZA is down to play football. But, it’s all in good fun.

The REU program ends in three days, after that I will be traveling with very intermittent internet access. So, this may be one of the last occasions I am able to post. The itinerary, as of now, is to cross into Swaziland, spend a few nights, and then travel to St. Lucia and camp. From there, we will most likely loop through the Drakensberg and make our way back up to Joburg. Of course, everything is still up in the air, but one thing is certain, it will be a blast.

Until Next Time…