Bears, Bees & Botanists

Day 3: So this is going to be my home for the next week;

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Eklutna (ee-KLOOT-nuh) lake in Chugach (CHOO-gach) National Park is our first site. Today we walked the trails to identify the species we are interested in. We chose three individuals from each species and tagged the best (healthiest and biggest) leaf from each, this will be the leaf measured each day. This involved walking many trails, and many miles! It was amazing to see how quickly ecosystems changed while walking; from willow and birch dominated areas to areas covered by low lying plants such as Ribes, Rubus or Linnaea. This is the reason we had to walk great distances to find certain species. It’s going to take me a bit of time to familiarise myself with all of the plants, there’s so many! But I’m sure by the third week I’ll know them inside out. 🙂 Tomorrow we begin taking measurements and I’ll learn exactly what we’ll be doing for the next three weeks.

We left for home and came across our first moose! A female with her baby munching away at the side of the road;

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We were exhausted when we got back  to the hotel so picked up food on the way, ate in the room and had an extremely early night, anticipating a long day ahead tomorrow.

Day 4: Today I was shown how to calibrate all of our equipment to prepare it for the days measuring. The porometer which measures the gaseous exchange through the leaf stomata, the ceptometer which measures the intensity of the light reaching the leaf, and the hygrometer which measures the temperature and relative humidity of the air surrounding the leaf. Our first hiccup came when we realised that the ceptometer batteries were too low to take measurements, forcing Wuu-Kuang to go searching for a shop to buy some more. The second was when after around 4-5 measurements with the porometer it demanded to be recalibrated again, and so we had to trek back to the car park to repeat the process. Talk about the trials of the first day! After that we began to get into the swing of things. First Michelle would take measurements from the leaf with the porometer while I used a GPS to mark the plants position. Then Michelle would use the hygrometer to measure the air temperature and relative humidity, which I noted down, and I took the light intensity reading using the ceptometer. This was repeated for every tagged leaf.

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Michelle with the hygrometer                                              Myself measuring light intensity with the ceptometer

 

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Measuring the conductance with the porometer

 

Of course there were many curious bypassers who stopped to ask us what we were doing, I have a feeling this is going to be a continuous trend for the next few weeks. We also stumbled upon this beautiful lichen/Moss garden on one of the trails:

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Day 5: We got off to a frightening start this morning when myself and Michelle decided to check out a new trail to see if we could find any new plant species, as there was not much sun out yet. After a couple of minutes of finding nothing different we decided to head back to begin our work. We turned around and turned the corner we had just came around to find a large black bear less than 10 meters ahead blocking our path. We were petrified and backed up out of sight to decide what to do. We remembered reading about what to do in these situations and began shouting and banging on our clipboards to make as much noise as possible as they are supposed to get scared and run away. This one however did not seem fazed at all and just stared at us. Eventually it retreated into the bush a little bit but still clearly in sight, enough for us to edge around it back to our trail home, but as soon as we passed it began to follow us. Clipboards broke in half, sheets flew everywhere as we tried to make as much noise as possible to scare it off, but when it stopped to smell the fallen sheets we were able to put some distance between us so that the bear lost interest and retreated. Not a nice first encounter! We waited around for around an hour until people began to show up and use the trails before we started to measure. I had ‘bearanoia’ for the rest of the day, jumping at every sound. We’ll certainly start work later in the day from now on!

But aside from that we had a great day measuring, even without our sheets! We found that Ribes hudsonianum was recording very high conductivity in the afternoon compared to the other species. We also measured a Salix alaxensis individual recording 634 mMol/m²/sec conductance, a new record in the project so far.

Oh, but I also got stung by a bee! Not my day.

Day 6: Being the intrepid botanists we are the events from yesterday didn’t deter us as we turned up a mere hour later than usual to begin our work, only to have another eventful morning. Harry went to the lake to set up for his measuring while we stayed to calibrate the equipment, he returned 5 minutes later saying there was a bear at his site. We all went down and sure enough there was a young black bear snooping around. We shouted and chased him it off but it just kept coming back time after time. Just curious to see what we were doing/ wanting to get down to the lake.

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In the end the lads were forced to move their work to a different area to leave the poor thing alone, and so they didn’t have to continuously watch their backs. We could then carry on as usual and take our measurements.

We also smashed yesterday’s record with another S. alaxensis measuring 663 mMol/m²/sec!

 

Day 7: Today was our last day at the beautiful Eklutna lake. 😦 And a very busy day it was!

Measuring was carried out as usual. Today Wuu-Kuang and Harry accompanied us to write notes on each individual as well as to collect samples from each. We then returned to the hotel to begin pressing the plant samples to send to herbarium collections at UCD, Glasnevin Botanic Gardens and the Smithsonian herbarium, Washington. This will be done at the end of each week so that there are samples from all three sites.

We now have the weekend off to do some paperwork and rest up before moving to the next site on Monday.

 

To finish off here’s some nice pictures of our trails and interesting things I’ve seen along the way;

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