Phenology is complicated word, but basically it is ‘the study of the timing of biological events and how they are influenced by the environment’.  Many of you are probably already paying attention to phenology without really thinking about it. For example when do you notice the first flowers in spring or the first leaves changing color in the fall? Did your lawn turn brown earlier or later than normal? The timing of these events can change from year to year depending on the conditions experienced by living organisms. The study of this is referred to as studying ‘Phenology’.

Can you think why it might be important to understand phenology?

How about if you are a farmer…do you think it would be important then? Understanding of phenology is very important to know when to plant your crops and when to harvest them.

This year we are noticing large changes in phenology at our study site in Costa Rica. It appears that many things are several weeks or even a month behind their typical schedule!

IMGP9875smallThis is a pretty big change and it is very noticeable to us since very few of the Heliconia we study are blooming. Mauricio and Tocho (our local field technicians) have pointed out to us that it didn’t rain as much this past fall/winter as other years and this could be why things are not as far along. While the slow arrival of flowers may delay our work a bit this offers many new questions for us to answer.




OSU Hummingbird Research in 2014!

Male green hermit at a Heliconia tortuosa

We arrived at our study site at Las Cruces Field Station just over two weeks ago, excited to start another field season. What questions are we asking this year? We continue to find out more about how the fragmentation of tropical forest affects the diversity and movements of hummingbirds. We now know that our focal plant species – Heliconia tortuosa is not reproducing itself well in small fragmented patches of tropical forest. The next question is how the decline of this species will influence the rest of the hummingbird community and the flowers they pollinate? Will we see a collapse of the whole pollination web, or will birds and plants be able to adapt?

Over the coming weeks I’ll introduce you to the researchers involved with this exciting work, and will also tell you more about the day-to-day adventures experienced by the field team. Will we find out why hummingbirds, but not humans can pollinate heliconia? How will hummingbirds respond to experimental ‘extinction’ of common plant species? Will one of us get eaten by a jaguar? (unlikely, but our team did see one last week!) Stay tuned for more exciting OSU research news.

… This blog is really meant to be a two-way communication, so please feel free to ask questions about anything you see posted here – and things you don’t see posted! We’d be happy to answer. – Prof. Matt Betts, OSU

Research experience for undergraduates (REUs)

Research experience for undergraduates (REUs)

This year we were lucky to get the funding allowing us to bring two undergraduate students to participate in the project. We are excited to welcome Christina and Tyler to our project. They will have the opportunity to work with us learning about the methods we use to address our research questions and then hopefully carving off their own research questions to answer while they are here. The REU (or USRA in Canada) is a great way for a young researcher to develop critical skills that will guide them in their future research directions. I benefited a lot from my undergraduate research experiences and would highly recommend these opportunities.

IMG_0886Christina studiously at work outlining a possible project.

Christina arrived yesterday after a long day of flying to reach Costa Rica and then taking a bus across the country to reach the site where we work. This is her first experience in the tropics so each minute brings many new species of birds, insects, plants and other exciting finds. As with Matt’s kids this makes many of the things we have become used to seeing over the years seem new and exciting all over again since through sharing them with somebody else. Tyler will arrive at the beginning of February.


Traveling ‘light’

Traveling ‘light’

While the real fun takes place in the field, these field efforts end up being a relatively small (yet important) component of ecological research. By the time that researchers get to their field site often many months of preparation have taken place. Time is spent thinking about research questions and coming up with hypotheses and predictions stemming from these. Then methods are outlined that could provide the data necessary to answer these questions. Often at this point a researcher applies to a diverse array of funding sources to try and secure the finances necessary to conduct the research. These are typically very competitive so many project ideas will go unfunded. Provided a way is found to carry out the research then the detailed logistics of field preparation need to be undertaken. This can often be additional week/months of effort to insure that time in the field can be spent as efficiently as possible.

Detailed lists need to be prepared in advance, equipment ordered and then everything double or triple checked to insure that nothing key is missing. For example, last year we had 9 large trunks of field equipment (>600lbs!) that we took to the field. This involved equipment for essentially 4 different project questions. Many items are critical supplies that were unavailable in Costa Rica and without them the work could not be accomplished. (Amazingly we fit all this and four of us into a Nissan pathfinder –Although a lot was strapped to the roof).



Ready to leave PDX



This year we were travelling relatively light compared to last year, but as you can see from the attached photo we still had a lot of stuff!




Pushing_SJOPushing through San Jose Airport



We brought bicycles to help with transportation to some of the closer sample sites and explore areas where the truck doesn’t go as easily. Matt’s whole family is also coming down this year so we have three ‘field technicians in training’ or small agents of chaos to ‘help out.’ We have now arrived successfully with all of our equipment in tack. So far we have not forgotten anything critical!

-Dr. Adam Hadley