By Kara Leimberger (PhD Student)
As mentioned in previous posts, one of our research questions involves temporarily removing Heliconia – a plant that provides nectar to many hummingbird species. Before and after removing Heliconia, we will measure which plants the hummingbirds visit and how often they are visiting. Will the hummingbirds miss the Heliconia so much that they leave the study area to search for nectar elsewhere? In this case, we might see less frequent visitation to the remaining flowers in the plot. On the other hand, maybe hummingbirds will stick around but consume more nectar from different plants, especially if the study plot is not connected to other easily accessible patches of forest.
For example, imagine that your typical breakfast consists of eggs, toast, and orange juice. Imagine that you wake up one day, hungry and ready for breakfast, but then realize that you are suddenly out of eggs! Do you then fill up on toast and orange juice? Do you find the stale corn flakes that have been sitting in the pantry for months? Or do you get out of your pajamas and make a trip to the grocery store (or if you’re a hummingbird, another forest patch)?
To measure how hummingbirds respond to Heliconia removal, we are using portable, camouflaged cameras positioned next to nectar-producing flowers. The cameras are programmed to take one picture every second, which means that a single camera running during the day (~12 hours) gives us 43,200 photos! The camera method lets us be very efficient (or lazy?) researchers because we do not have to watch flowers all day, but it sure means we have lots of photos to look at! We hope to use a computer program (MotionMeerkat) to sift through all these data quickly and accurately to find the moments when the flowers have visitors. When we tested cameras here at the research station, flower visitors have included hummingbirds, butterflies, wasps, and curious tourists. Below are some of the hummingbird photos we have gotten so far!
Green Hermit visiting Heliconia ramonensis
Green Hermit evaluating a H. tortuosa (and apparently our camera)
Rufous-tailed hummingbird visiting a domesticated banana plant (which has very abundant and sugary nectar)