Flora and Fauna (01/15)

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We had another early start this morning, with a beautiful drive to site 10 (double digits!!) and, unlike the day before, we were able walk right into the forest after a quick introduction from Alemayehu. (Pic 1 is a view from the drive and pic 2 is the entrance of the forest with a group of nuns.) We have been running into some interesting flora and fauna here and this forest had just about all of them. My favorite new tree is called a euphorbia (pic 3). It an example of convergent evolution that you can really see because it’s basically a normal tree trunk but then a cactus on top! Cat said the ones here are some of the biggest she’s ever seen and they really are stunning just because it’s bizarre to see a cactus up in the canopy among other trees! The best thing about them though? We don’t collect foliar samples from euphorbia! This might seem trivial but we have had some plots here with over 20 trees and it saves us a lot of time when half are euphorbes. This forest also had the most monkeys we had seen so far. They’re sneaky and hard to take pictures of but you can hear them running through the trees and they’re especially noisy when they land on a corrugated tin roof right near by. Sometimes I think they are doing it just to startle me! As annoying as the monkeys can be, they are nothing compared to the porcupines around here. We came across three or four dens in this forest that we thought might have been dug by dogs because they were so big (pic 4). Walking around these holes though, we found porcupine quills as long as 8-10 inches! Luckily porcupines are nocturnal because I would not want to stumble upon one of them while collecting leaf litter.

Since site 10 was fairly small and easy to work in, we were able to finish around 1:30 and eat a quick lunch before heading back over to Debre Sina to finish what we had started the day before. We quickly finished our last plot and then while the professors went back up through each plot to do micro climate, Josh, Mabel and I took what we though was an easier route around the outside of the forest. Although we didn’t have to battle trees and undergrowth on our way back, it did end up being a bit of a hike. As we walked around the outside of the hill to the cars, the land sort of dropped away, giving some absolutely stunning views(pics 4-8). I think that hike might be one of the highlight of my trip! It had been a long day of hard work but we were all excited about the progress we are making. At dinner that night, out at the same restaurant Alemayehu took us to yesterday, the professors planned out the rest of our time in the highlands. It was decided that we would add a few new forests from our original lists in order to get some more degraded ones that would be comparable with some we had done in the lowlands. I am always amazed at how many big decisions need to be made on a project like this every single day. Or current plan is nothing like what the original project described, but despite all of the challenges we have faced, we will still come away with the information we need to learn a lot about the church forests. I’ve started notice how the professors think in terms of how the data we collect will be published which makes the decision making process a lot more clear. It’s all about being flexible because you never know what challenges the next day will bring!

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