Nerd Nite: Seattle…an evening with a nerd and a cocktail

This past week I was fortunate enough to give a guest “lecture” for a nerd night event at Lucid Lounge in Seattle. I use the term “lecture” loosely because really I gave a powerpoint in a bar with a cocktail in hand. However, it was such a treat to share my research about the evolution and sensory ecology of Neotropical leaf-nosed bats with so many people outside of the University of Washington and outside of elementary school groups.

I discussed the 3D Morphological aspect of my dissertation and how diversity in the nose leaf and ears may be related to ecological diversity (i.e. eating different foods). I was ecstatic, when at the end of my talk, about a dozen hands shot up and I received many passionate and insightful questions. Whenever I have doubt that my research is not relevant or potentially uninteresting to the public it is experiences like this that inspire me to continue to share my developments as I forge a path through graduate school. There is always  at least one person who is truly interested in what we do and that is all it takes.

To anyone who might feel like this, keep sharing! It is worth it.

In a couple months you might see my talk here:

Cuericí…up on the mountain

Oh dear …I am long overdue for a post.  So much has happened in the last couple weeks.

I just finished up my OTS course and it was incredible, one of the best experiences of my life, hands down.

Lets start with where we left off…Cuericí….

Cuericí is not a place you typically think of when you hear the words Costa Rica.  It is located high in the mountains, around 2600m in elevation.  This was the most rustic of our accommodations in this course, but also the most magical.

We stayed with this amazing mountain man, Don Carlos, whose goal in life is to conserve the natural world on his property and live sustainably off of a small portion of the reserve.  Don Carlos took us up in the mountains and showed us many beautiful things.  He taught us how to identify trees, plants and talked about the natural patterns he observed in the mountains.

We stayed in a wooden cabin, with a wood burning stove.  The sleeping quarters were all open to each other so it really had a summer camp kind of feel.  Each evening we would all gather around the wood stove, socks and shirts hanging above the heat, and share what we had encountered during the day.  We were developing our independent research projects.  Kate Ortenzi  and I investigated the differences in epiphytic communities on two species of oak tree, Quercus bromeliodes  and Q. costaricensis. We were interested in this because moss (Bryophyta) make a significant amount of the epiphytic communities in these high-elevation forests. Additionally, we found out that there are mosses that are endangered and threatened by commercial harvest.  Therefor we wanted to investigate what contributes to epiphytic (primarily bryophyte) diversity and draw some attention to these micro-communities.  In our half day of sampling we got significant results (yes we are that good, mostly due to my partner Kate).  We found a difference in epiphyte community structure between the two species of oak tree.  This is important because to the untrained eye these oaks look eerily similar, but are starkly different in the kind of habitat they create for epiphytes.

Okay enough about the science stuff… I leave you with Cuericí the same way I left it…with a beautiful poodle horse, how it got this way is a science mystery in itself.

La Selva… I thought I was in love with Palo Verde

Day/Night 1 in La Selva.  I was so sad to leave Palo Verde and the amazing faculty we got to work with there, but alas I have to experience as many ecosystems as I can, right!?  So the move from a tropical dry forest to a tropical wet forest was astonishing.  I went from wetlands and acacia forest to travel to a prehistoric time.  La Selva is everyone’s romantic picture of what the rainforest is like.  Trees tower powerfully, yet hang in a lethargic manor.  The rainforest has a polar vibe, it is thriving, moving, a most complicated machine, but at the same time encourages a slow paced existence.  Maybe it is the overabundance of life that forces you to stop and smell the flowers, the bugs, and the trees!

I felt so safe in the dry forest, sure there are things that go bump in the night, but here there is so much more. Just walking from dorm to the comedor you might step on a venomous Fer-de-lance! Another thing to watch out for are the bullet ants, who are aptly named.  These one-inch ants delivers a bite that packs the same punch as being shot, so it is best to avoid them!  The Machaca is an unusual sight, this insect is large, white-ish and has a hollow protrusion on it’s head that looks like a peanut.  The legend in Costa Rica goes if you have been bit by the Machaca, you need to make love within 24-hours of the bite. Oddly, enough there are no consequences, just an incentive.

Last day in Palo Verde

My first bat!  Micronycteris microtis!

A fairly odd couple

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Sloth! Choloepus hoffmanni to be exact!

So many colors

A peaceful moment

Three peas in a pod. I mean three Machacas in a pod

Machaca

Remnants of a bat tent 

Palo Verde

This is my first time in a dry tropical forest, well it is my first time in Costa Rica, and I was unsure what to expect.  When I first came here I had envisioned a swampy, lush, towering mess of a flora and fauna.  This was my silly romantic view of what the tropical jungle was like.  Here at Palo Verde we are experiencing the dry season, which I am thankful for because the mosquitos are bad enough.  I have fallen in love with this place in such a short time.  At first glance it looks like a habitat you may encounter in the states, but a little bit hotter.

When I opened my eyes I couldn’t mentally grasp the diversity around me.  I have seen the COOLEST insects I have ever seen, the most incredible mammals, such as coati, the wrinkle face bat, howler monkeys and so much more!

Last night we went to a watering hole and although the volume of group  probably scared away most of our mammal friends, we saw snakes of various species, eels, amphibians, owls, etc.  For how loud we were being the forest was still full of movement from animals that weren’t threatened by our ungainly journey through the brush. Next time I will visit this place with a quieter foot.

Bat Scan

This week I attempted to use our laser scanner to create a 3D image of one our museum bats.  While running the scan was fun and great practice, the actual 3D image came out horrendous! Some things I thought of afterwards…

1) I was particularly interested in the ears of this bat and I realized the specimen I picked was way too small to get any resolution

2) As cute as this little guy was, his fuzzy fur made scanning and aligning multiple images pretty rough.

Next week I shall get a better scan!

When the bats come out for dinner

Welcome!  I have started a blog in the hope of documenting some of the great things I get to experience at the University of Washington.  I am a new graduate student and I have a passion for morphology in many fields functional to ecological.  I love to draw and take pictures and one of my goals for starting a blog is to remind me to set aside more time to do such activities.

Firstly, I wanted to catch up on some of the important events that have happened in my life this last couple months.

I am part of a new research lab at the University of Washington, I am both new to the lab and starting at a brand new lab!   I have been adjusting to learning about the wonders & diversity of mammals (coming from a rather fishy background) and incorporating a suit of new technology from laser scanners to CT scanners.  Access to this technology is a wonderland for a functional morphologist, like myself.

First things first, let’s go all the way back to October. Our lab was featured at a donor dinner  and all of our lab members talked about some specialty area of research in the lab.  One of our undergrads talked about skull shape in carnivores, our lab tech discussed our awesome CT scanner and the graduate students talked about bat diversity both tropical and temperate.

 The table.

 Elena and her carnivores from bats to leopards!

We went a little batty…