My first month in Puerto Rico has been filled with excitement and new discoveries. I have had the opportunity to become accustomed to the nature and culture of this beautiful island. During the first ten days of my internship, I traveled to five different sites around the island with three other labs members. The purpose of this first portion of the trip was to collect annual tree size data for Professor Maria Uriarte. Everyday, we drove about two hours to a specific forest, and then hiked to locate a marked plot. Once there, we measured the diameter and dendrometer measurement of each marked tree. Each plot contained about 200 trees that were located on steep slopes, so the work was very strenuous. Despite the heat and hours of hiking, I feel fortunate to have been able to help with the data collection. I had the opportunity to witness different types of forests and towns around the entire island.
After the data collection was complete, we headed to El Verde Field Station where we are staying for the remainder of the summer. El Verde Field Station is located in the Luquillo Experimental Rainforest (LER) and sits adjacent to the El Yunque National Forest. The LER contains marked trees and is where we are collecting our data. Thus far, we have set up the necessities of the project. We have hiked into the forest to identify which trees we will use as soil sample sites. To provide for diverse data, we searched for trees of different species located all over the LER, and that are situated on ridges, slopes, and valleys. The LER is organized into a grid pattern so we are able to mark soil sites on a map, which will allow us to locate them later. After identifying these sites, we set up gas chambers. Next week, we will continue to set up four chambers at the base of marked trees to measure the gas contents in the soil.
In addition, we also measured soil moisture. This data will be useful because at some of the sites, we will moisten the soil before measuring the gas contents. Now that everything is set up, we will begin to take the gas samples and analyze the contents. It has taken a while to set everything up, so I am eagerly anticipating to get our first sets of data.
So far, it has been an incredible experience working in the tropics. Not only have I learned how to properly conduct research, I have had the opportunity to learn so much about El Yunque National Forest. Living at El Verde Field Station has been extremely beneficial. I have been able to learn about - and assist with - other projects. It is incredible to be surrounded by - and able to share knowledge with - other researchers who are also passionate about science.