We’ve taken them to study terrapins at Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge and the scavenger community at Black Rock Forest. Not so bad—a little hiking, a little sun, some fun outdoors, and a lot of data collection. While I admit I miss trudging through the rain forests of Costa Rica and hiking the Andes, this is a cushy gig. We can conduct field work year around and never worry about missing a class or our families. We also keep our research costs low because we don’t have to worry about the costs of flights or the very real struggle of working with foreign governments (not that our own is a picnic). Best of all, we can do a hard day’s work, collect massive amounts of data, and still sleep in our own beds at night.
As lucky as I feel to have a local field project in additional to those abroad, a 16 year old with no outdoors experience has a slightly different take on the experience. The new normal for each trip include comments like:
“Are there going to be many more hills where we’re going?” (When we’re in a mountain range)
“It’s super sunny and hot. Are we going inside soon?” (When we’re on a beach)
The best part is when we explain a hard truth about studying scavengers: we need to understand how, where, when, and what they eat. The size of her eyes would make a dinner plate envious.
This week, we visited a solid waste facility to observe scavenger’s utilization of the anthropogenic resources there and develop new partnerships with the local waste management facilities. This is an important part of our research as scavengers often preferentially use human trash instead of fulfilling their role within the natural ecosystem (Lonsdorf, 2013), which can lead to destabilization of the surrounding ecosystems via the spread of diseases and a decreased level of decomposition and nutrient cycling (Moleón et al., 2014; Montoya, Rodríguez, & Hawkins, 2003; Whelan, Wenny, & Marquis, 2008). For the individual scavenger consuming human waste products, the results can be dire. Anthropogenic food sources may be nutritionally incomplete or hazardous to their health. Vultures, in particular, are known to eat non-food items such as plastic, glass, and ceramics (Houston, Mee, McGrady, & Warkentin, 2007; Torres-Mura, Lemus, & Hertel, 2015). Our study has a dual-arm approach to the study of anthropogenic contribution to the diet of vultures, which you can find out more under my research page.
Despite our interns’ usual comments about the weather and energy output of most of our projects, I was proud of their stalwart attitude as not a one of them made a peep about the smell or the other undesirables that come with solid waste management. It makes me hopeful. I’m not sure, but maybe we’ve actually managed to make an impression. Field work is not always pretty, it’s not always easy, it’s almost never clean, but, still, it’s the best place on earth for a science-loving-nature-geek like us.
That’s all for now ~ALB