Below is what I see as I type at a great new field station on the #Osa, run by http://osaconservation.org. That’s the Pacific Ocean in the background, looking towards Carate and Corcovado National Park, and a cecropia tree in the foreground that’s virtually guaranteed to bring in a toucan or two soon enough. Not a bad remote office! Off to scout some new sites this afternoon – looking forward to getting back into the forest.
As usual, we’re juggling a few different projects on this trip. We’ll be working with CU PhD student Samantha Weintraub as she cranks up a project trying to understand how the shape of the landscape – e.g. ridgetops vs slopes vs swales – controls the cycling and availability of one of life’s most critical elements: nitrogen. And we’ll be checking out an ongoing project that U Montana PhD student Adrienne Keller has that’s asking how different species of trees in this exceptionally diverse forest “control” nitrogen and phosphorus cycling. We’ll get into the water with CU PhD student Phil Taylor, who’s showing that the loss of nitrogen in streams and rivers of the Osa doesn’t fit established paradigms in ecosystem ecology — his work, Adrienne’s and Sam’s all will help us understand how forests like these might respond to changes in atmospheric conditions in the future — be those climate, CO2 levels, or deposition of excess nitrogen. And in a different twist, we’re welcoming CU undergrad Hana Fancher to the group — she’s checking out how much methane might be emitted from the waste ponds that are part of the increasingly common palm oil plantations in this region. Her work is not only trying to understand how those methane losses might matter for climate, but how they could create a win-win scenario, in which the methane is captured from the ponds and used to help provide a local power source, thus lessening the climate problem while simultaneously lessening the need for other carbon-based fuels to power the operation.