June was a very wet month, and we hosted an intrepid Earthwatch Teen team, that went way beyond comfort zones during their ten day stay. This Earthwatch Teen Team braved sometimes torrential rains to assist Principal Investigator Norman Greenhawk collecting Chytrid samples along the Ethnobotanical Nature Trail. The teens learnt teamwork rapidly and became skilled at how to set up collection plots, becoming familiar with the use of the compass, measuring tape, and twine. After letting the plots rest for two days, the team returned and conducted leaf-litter surveys, searching the fallen leaves and detritus of the forest floor for frogs and Sphaerodactylus geckos. All captured animals were weighed and measured, and all amphibians were swabbed to test for the presence of Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis (Bd), a fungus that can cause the amphibian disease Chytridiomycosis. This collection event is a part of Norman’s ongoing monitoring of Bd at Las Casas de la Selva. See more about the Chytrid fungus: https://www.amphibiaweb.org/chytrid/chytridiomycosis.html This team also measured and re-tagged 110 mahoe trees, (Hibiscus elatus), which are part of long-term study plots at Las Casas de la Selva, with Principal Investigator 3t Vakil.
Images by 3t and Chelsea Kyffin, who was the teen team facilitator.
Writer, biologist and artist, Evie King came to volunteer and worked on many diverse projects around the homestead, painted some cheerful frogs and lizards onto the bare walls of el teatro, and also helped out with managing a teen Earthwatch team. Evie first came here in 2005 to partake in some of our earlier Earthwatch research expeditions. Thank you Evie, we really appreciated having you here! And thanks for all the chocolate! (more about Evie below)
E.E. King is a performer, writer, biologist and painter. Ray Bradbury calls her stories “marvelously inventive, wildly funny and deeply thought provoking. I cannot recommend them highly enough.” Her books are;” Dirk Quigby’s Guide to the Afterlife,” “Real Conversations with Imaginary Friends,” “The Adventures of Emily Finfeather – The Feathernail and Other Gifts” and “Another Happy Ending.” She has won numerous awards and been published widely. She is the recipient of two International Tides painting fellowships, and two international biology Earthwatch grants. She was an adviser for the J. Paul Getty’s and the Science Center’s, Arts &; Science program. She was the Science and Arts coordinator in Bosnia with Global Children’s Organization (a summer camp for war orphans and refugees) in 2000. She was the founding Arts & Sciences Director for Esperanza Community Housing Corporation . She has worked with children in Bosnia, crocodiles in Mexico, frogs in Puerto Rico, egrets in Bali, mushrooms in Montana, archaeologists in Spain and planted butterfly gardens in South Central Los Angeles. https://www.elizabetheveking.com/
Back row L-R: Inset, Israel Guzman, Herb Wexler, Janet Richards, Kamal Daghistani, Ziyou Yang, Diane Bentz, Julio Rodriguez. Front: Magha Garcia, Marigail Bentz, Chari Kauffman, Danny Nip, Patricia Salomon, Riona Kobayashi, 3t Vakil, Andres Rua.
Israel Guzman, President of SOPI, led the team into the forest for the first Winter Bird Surveys at Las Casas de la Selva. Marta Edgar previously carried out two years of surveys in the summer months with Earthwatch volunteers.
Daniel DioGuardi and Karen Babis volunteered in 2015, getting down and dirty on homestead clean-ups and helping on logistics with an Earthwatch teen team
Tim Dehm has volunteered at Las Casas de la Selva since late September 2015. He is taking a break and hopes to return in 2016. Tim managed the homestead whilst 3t and Andrés were at the Annual Institute of Ecotechnics Conference in Santa Fe, NM. Tim is working on fine-woodworking along with a host of other project responsibilities.
L-R: Luis Martínez Rodríguez, Ruth (Tata) Santiago, Wanda I. Rodríguez Rivera,Yaminnette Rodríguez, Ricardo Valle Pérez & Tim Dehm
William Davidowski, is retired, and since August 2015 volunteers his time helping in the wood-shop, making products to sell, passing on his fine woodworking knowledge to ready, able, and willing apprentices.
Natalie Harrison dropped in for a couple of weeks in December 2015 to help with all and everything.
CEO of The Institute for Regional Conservation, Craig van der Heiden, and his wife Sheryl, stopped in for a day to see the project and understand a bit more about what we do here.
Kamal Dagistani volunteered for ten days and helped with all logistics for an Earthwatch team 28th Dec 2015- 6th Jan 2016.
Wanda Rodriguez, from Guayama volunteered on gardens.
Big Thanks to all our volunteers in 2015. Whether here for long or short stays, every little bit of help -helps!!
Earthwatch Team 4, July 2015. This team of teenage Earthwatchers spent time in the forest with 3t collecting seedlings, planting and monitoring endangered endemic tree species, and time with Norman in Hormiga Valley on herpetological surveys. Karen Babis,an Earthwatch volunteer in the past and her partner, Daniel Dioguardi spent time at the project and helped out in the field. Big thanks to Earthwatch Program Manager, Kyle Hutton, (third from left in image below), and Lena Cosentino for great teen team leadership. Myriam Bourassa made this wonderful video (https://youtu.be/n1me_5p_CLc) of her time here.
Images by 3t Vakil, Karen Babis, Andres Rua, Lena Cosentino, and Daniel DioGuardi 2015
Thank you Earthwatchers for your help in herpetological surveys, planting of endangered endemic trees, Cornutia obovata and Styrax portoricensis, and for help in the nursery re-potting seedlings collected from the previous year.
Principal Investigators: Dr. Mark Nelson, 3t Vakil, Norman Greenhawk.
2015 Images by 3t Vakil, Lisa Bennet, and Susannah Garrett.
The steep and remote areas of Icaco and Hormiga Valleys of Las Casas de la Selva have never been surveyed for amphibians. Herpetologist Norman Greenhawk led a team of volunteers into the forest to search for target species of frogs in this vast area, to identify and gather information about amphibians to better assist with the future management of this area. The expedition started on 16th July, and continued to 8th August 2014. The team set up camp in the forest, prepared their own food, and faced some days of extremely challenging windy and rainy weather, including an interruption of the study by Tropical Storm Bertha! The team included college students from the continental US, Puerto Rico, an Earthwatch Teen Team, and Dr. Gabriela Agostini from Argentina. They and came back with a lot of data.
The target species that were confirmed to exist in the valleys were: IUCN Endangered Eleutherodactylus wightmanae (the Coqui Melodioso), IUCN Vulnerable Eleutherodactylus cooki (Coqui Guajon), and IUCN Critically endangered Eleutherodactylus richmondi (Coqui Caoba).
During the surveys, the team sampled for Chytridiomycosis, an infectious disease of amphibians, caused by the chytrid Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis, a non-hyphal zoosporic fungus, that is currently killing off amphibians around the world. GPS co-ordinates of appropriate information were taken to allow for mapping of the range of target species within the valley, and high quality photos of the frogs were taken to help show the myriad variation of colors and patterns within a single species.
The initial survey is over and the data is being compiled. Norman has met with personnel of the US Fish and Wildlife Service to help determine future monitoring and research. Once the results of the Chytrid sampling are delivered from the San Diego Zoo, a report will be written up and submitted to a peer-reviewed journal for publication. This survey will continue with a smaller team, as the mountain ridge that separates the two valleys needs to be accessed and sampled.
Norman expresses deep gratitude to team members Sarah Bryan, Jessica Rosado, Marla Gonzalez, Sara Gabel, Sara Zlotnik, Alessandra Belmonte, Sam Boas, Kaitlin Panzer, Lauren Billy, and co-team leader Gabi Agostini. Huge thanks also to Earthwatch Team members: Alana Salas-Yoshii, Josie Icaza, Samantha Riesberg, and their facilitator, Sushmita Sridhar.
Big, big thanks to the Mohammad bin Zayed Species Conservation Fund, CREOi, Roland Pesch and Kathy Rosskoph, without whom this survey would not have been able to be carried through.
Lastly, a special thanks to Thrity Vakil & Andrés Rúa for help with logistics, Leah Chevrier-Rappaport for extra volunteer help, and to Jan Zegarra of the US Fish & Wildlife Service for his encouragement, help with analyzing the results, and for consultation concerning future research possibilities.
Meet the team: L-R Back: Sam Boas, Norman Greenhawk, Marla M. Barrios González, Lauren Billy, Alessandra Belmonte, Sara Gabel. L-R Front: Leah Chevrier-Rappaport, Sarah Bryan, Jessica Rosado, Gabriela Agostini, Sara Zlotnik
EARTHWATCH PARTICIPATION: For several days of the survey, the team also comprised of three teenage Earthwatchers, Alana Salas-Yoshii, Josie Icaza, Samantha Riesberg, and their facilitator, Sushmita Sridhar.
Photo credits: Norman Greenhawk, 3t Vakil, Andrés Rúa, and Dr. Gabi Agostini (frog pix below).
Thank you to all the Earthwatchers who fielded in our summer season. Through rain, mud, and slippery slopes, everyone made it over established comfort levels and discovered themselves anew at the end of each expedition. We are happy to have had Marta Edgar here as PI on the ongoing Bird Survey, and she worked with the first team. 3t continued on with tree data collection on the Liberation thinning study and also gathered, with team 2g, a complete monitoring of the endangered endemic tree species planted last year in a collaborative project with US Fish & Wildlife. Norman is carrying out a one month Herpetological survey in Icaco and Hormiga Valley and the teenagers on Team 3 along with their Earthwatch Facilitator, got to camp for 6 days and work on this study.
We really appreciate the level of enthusiasm brought to our project by volunteers, because without you, data would be hard to collect. We salute you all.