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Showing posts from 2012

Merry Christmas!

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Happy Christmas to everyone, christian or not. Remember that the celebrated birthday of Jesus "happened" to coincide with many other festivals. I am atheist, but still enjoy the holiday!


I know no birds

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Admittedly, I am very bad at birds. Their beauty and diversity fascinates me, though I am far more interested in their respiratory physiology and the fact their dinosaurian ancestors.

However, I now think we know most of these guys, thanks to the help of fellow zoologist Terry Garner, who pointed me in the right direction for most of them, and University of Glasgow MSc student Carly Aulicky for confirming their identity – cheers guys!


Homegrown Coffee

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Many South American countries are famous for their coffee; Ecuador is not one of them. While neighbouring Colombia and nearby Brazil are renowned exporters of the bean (Image 1) and brew, it's not often you hear of Ecuadorian coffee. Nor does it seem to be all that important culturally.

I'm not picky about coffee – instant or filtered, I'll drink it as long as it's not Nescafé's instant atrocity. However, here in Ecuador, unless I am in "New Town" Quito, I often have trouble finding somewhere that will serve coffee. When places do offer it, it is more often then not instant, something most European establishments would not dream of serving (and Nescafé, for some unfortunate reason unbeknownst to me, seems to be a popular pick).
Coffee does actually account for a slice of the economy here, be it a sliver in comparison to the country's banana, shrimp, oil, and flower exports. Nonetheless, it's an important crop and both Arabica and Robusta grow wel…

The Jungle [Cook]Book

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In July I arrived in Ecuador to work for the Timburi Cocha Scientific Research Station, Payamino, for my year in industry. Fully prepared as I was to spend a year in the jungle, cut-off from civilisation, and living on rice and beans, I won't deny my delight in the fact the research station has flush-toilets, a cold shower (of sorts…), a satellite internet connection, and a kitchen. And the food has been far from your bog-standard rice and beans!

Camera-trapping across the Payamino

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Unfortunately, my main research project while I'm in Ecuador does not concern bromeliads or involve climbing trees – that is a side project I'm doing as a way of continuing the work I started during the Tropical Biology field course this summer, out of personal interest. My principle project here is just about as interesting as well as probably providing information and materials more useful for conservation efforts, rather than simply sating my own curiousity. I'm studying the differences in mammal diversity between primary and secondary rainforests, using camera traps.

Minga Gringa

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Every now and then, the community of San José de Payamino will get together to cut the grass of a communal area or the large dirt track that once was a road. Throughout a day of slashing grass and weeds with machetes, men, women, and youths down fresh and fermented chicha to give them strength.

This communal work is what's known as a minga in Spanish, and it is not an activity unique to Payamino nor do they always consist in cutting grass. Throughout Latin America various forms of minga take place, although in Peru and Ecuador they do usually imply some kind of agricultural work, rather than any other communal labouring. In Ecuador a minga is almost inevitably followed by chucheki (Kichwa for hangover).
Last Saturday, here at the Timburi Cocha Research Station we had a minga of our own, since the forest is apparently trying to reclaim our camp. We did hire three locals to come help us tend to the station's desperately overgrown state; however, in a traditionally Payamino style…

Cooking in Quito

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For the last few weeks I've been in Quito, stressing about my visa and fearing being banned from Ecuador.

Quito is alright – as far as cities go, I suppose: it's got most services you could need, taxis are dirt cheap, and it does have some beautiful graffiti murals along many of the main avenues.

But it's filthy and smelly; you need lungs of steel to breathe in the thick grey air and ideally a narrow frame or a pushy attitude to be in with a chance of fitting on the buses. It's not really the best place to be, especially while waiting to return to Payamino and the rainforest.

However, one thing I can say I've been enjoying whilst here (as well as Gabe and Tamara's wonderful company, of course!), is the food. Eating out can be pretty cheap – if you know where to go and aren't vegetarian, as I am... –, but mostly we've been cooking ourselves and in some cases just experimenting with new (to us) ingredients.

We've tried fruits of all shapes and sizes, …

Kingdom in the canopy (I): Biodiversity in Bromeliads

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During the University of Manchester's Tropical Biology field course in Payamino, Ecuador, I was studying the biodiversity within bromeliads. Not only is the arboreal cake that is the neotropical canopy layered with tiers of different plants, but many of these are inhabited by a variety of animals. 
Bromeliads make particularly good environments for critters to colonise, as the spiralled, rosette arrangement of their leaves (see Image 1) allows rainwater and debris to accumulate between the gaps. The equivalent of tiny ponds may appear, sufficient to act as nurseries for tadpoles; or soil may gather, enough to grow ferns and vines. A bromeliad is like a hanging garden basket – only better. Maybe a hanging zoological garden.

Visas - the stuff of nightmares.

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Over the past week I've been up and down Ecuador on communications business - namely blitzing people and organisations with emails and conversing with the good people of the Universidad Estatal Amazónica.

Currently, Tamara and Gabe (fellow volunteers / researchers at the Payamino research station) and myself are in Quito, the Ecuadorian capital, trying to extend our tourist visas.

Much to our alarm, renewing your 90-day tourist visa is no longer an option, or at least not as straight forward as it ought to be to gringos like us. Given that "visa runs" to Peru and Colombia are no longer a guaranteed success, doing things officially in Quito seemed like the safest bet. After having been sent from Embassy to Ministry to Police, back to Ministry, to God-knows and back again, it's not looking particularly good.

Now we're waiting to hear from the UEA about the matter – given the research station's new relationship with the UEA, visas for long-term volunteers will be s…

Spider cam.

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Picture from a camera trap set-up outside a tarantula burrow. This is its resident, Susana.

Guess what left this print...

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Camera trap peek...

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August 2012 – This time round, got more than just biologists on the camera traps – below is a tayra (Eira barbara) and a lowland or spotted paca (Cuniculus paca).


September 2012 –

From a third camera trap trial, agoutis and a squirrel:

Kingdoms in the Canopy (II): Who's who up a tree

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The canopy of a tropical rainforest is a world very different from the ground it shadows. Trees are ladened with bromeliads and orchids, draped in mosses and ferns, tangled in vines and lianas, and, in some cases, burdened with the weight of other trees. In turn, the leaves of these plants growing on trees – known as epiphytic – may have other forms of plantlife growing on their leaves! These plants are epiphyllic. So, epiphytes grow on other plants (namely trees), and epiphylls decorate the leaves of other plants. Neither type of vegetation is parasitic.

During the University of Manchester's Tropical Biology field course in Payamino, Ecuador, I was studying the biodiversity within bromeliads (more on here). The first part of bromeliad collection is, obviously, finding them. I did just say the place is riddled with them. And it is. However, telling apart arboreal bromeliads and ferns, or even orchids, from the ground isn't always easy. Especially when looking up at a cluster o…

General update + camera trap flop

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Sitting in hotel reception wondering if there's any coffee in this milk. Been suffering from caffeine withdrawal symptoms ever since crawling out of the jungle and into town. You'd think there'd be coffee in every eatery in South America (or I did) – not the case, unfortunately; not in Ecuador at least.

Off to Ecuador

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(Actually written 2 July 2012 - bit late posting...)
If you're reading this, I suspect you know me; but, just in case, my name is Xaali O'Reilly and I'm a zoology undergraduate at the University of Manchester, UK. Far from the grey skies and wet streets of northern England, I'll be spending the next thirteen months in Ecuador (South America), living in the jungle and studying its biodiversity. Starting off with a three week field course split between the Andean cloud forest and the Ecuadorian Amazon, I will then be staying on at the Timburi research station for my "industrial placement", until mid-July 2013. And yes, in Zoology studying critters in the rainforest counts as industry.
Por supuesto, I don't expect have regular internet access – although the research station has just recently acquired a limited amount of satellite internet, which is definitely a plus. But I'll try to post updates/photos any time I crawl out of the jungle to stock-up on ri…

Common misconception of Evolution, Simplicity, and Primitiveness

Now, evolution is often understood as a ladder of progression – from simpler, basal organisms gradually becoming more complex and sophisticated.
This view of evolution is entirely incorrect. Species do not transform into other species. While "simpler" and more ancient lineages of organisms may indeed resemble their ancestors, they are nonetheless derived from common ancestors with their closest (and furthest) relatives. I.e. they do not represent members of a group which have transfigured into something more complex.
However, the below ad is very cool – despite the erroneous depiction of evolution. Let's face it, it's really about the pen being able to create and erase. Unwittingly, it does draw out a good point about evolution: throughout evolution, features (I'll say structures for the sake of simplicity, but there's a biiit more going on at the genetic level) are gained AND lost.
http://www.buzzfeed.com/ryanhatesthis/this-might-be-the-best-advertisement-fo…

Patents in Science: the Paradox of Intellectual Property

In an age of forever branching scientific progress, medical research, and globalcommunication, we are still far from ridding the world of pandemics, eradicating hunger, or making amends with a ravaged environment. Indeed, science has brought humanity unquestionable commodity (albeit unevenly) and control over the world, but this has also created new problems; an exponentially growing population stresses finite resources and the increasing life-expectancy makes way for late-onset diseases which could have never boasted such prevalence in a younger population.
Despite common concerns and apparent globalisation, the importance of patenting in ensuring economic benefits might seem to threaten a free flow of information within the scientific community and the public domain, thus delaying scientific progress and its potential benefits to society. Is this claim and control over progress justifiable when such sensitive issues such as human health are involved? Can science be owned?