Sorry for the long delay! I’ve been extremely busy and I haven’t really been spending very much time near my computer so I haven’t updated you in a while.
Monday was my first real day out in the field and while I didn’t actually spend it working on my project it was an excellent introduction to the habitat I’ll be working in. (Don’t worry, I’ll fill you in more about that soon)
We were up and out early Monday morning leaving the research centre at 8. We headed up to the Black Cotton soils where several researchers including one of my advisors, Rob, has a few field sites on termite mounds. Several months ago Rob sprayed a rare, inert element (I forget it’s name) in several places around these termite mounds (on tree leaves, on bunches of dead grass) anticipating that by coming back later and finding this element again we could trace the path of nutrients through the system. Pretty slick. Well, Monday was collection day so while several of the researchers took grass and tree samples one of the professors, Dan, and I started digging for termites.
Aardvarks don’t have it easy it turns out. Those little guys are hard to find! They may make a huge circle that looks like it should be full of termites but really they’re hiding out several feet below the surface in only a few football sized nest combs. Dan had a knack for finding them but we still wished we had a pet aardvark that could have dug them up for us a bit more directly.
These black cotton soils are rock hard. I couldn’t believe it but we spent so much energy just trying to break up and scoop out the soil. Digging a hole a few feet deep only to find out that we’d missed the nest was very exhausting. Luckily there weren’t the rocks I’ve come to expect digging holes in Maine, I think we’d have given up long before. Still, after a bunch of work, finally we found the combs and collected the termites.
All in all it was a great first day in the field with a little hard work, a lot of sun and a good look at where I’m going to be spending the rest of my summer.