The Lizard Log

The Langkilde Lab in Action

Fieldwork in Paradise

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Fieldwork can be tough – long days, extreme conditions, ferocious insects.  There are usually also perks, which is why many people enjoy fieldwork.  Many biologists simply enjoy getting out into nature, getting their hands dirty, and escaping the office for a while.  But sometimes fieldwork takes place in such amazing locations that even non-biologists would be jealous.  I recently conducted fieldwork in just such a place…

Guana island: pristine beaches and gorgeous views.

Guana island: pristine beaches and gorgeous views.

Guana Island is a private island in the British Virgin Islands.  It’s largely untouched by humans, home to amazing animals, and accommodates <30 guests at any one time.  Guana Island attracts the rich and famous and, according to rumor, was visited by Nicole Kidman (a fellow Aussie) and Tom Cruise while they were courting.  Not surprisingly, rooms go for >$1000 a night – out of the budget of most biologists I know (actually, out of the budget of everyone I know).  Unless, the biologist is lucky enough to participate in Guana Island’s “Scientist Month.”  Every October, Guana Island generously opens their doors to biologists to conduct research aimed at better understanding and preserving the island’s unique biota.  The Langkilde Lab has had the fortune of participating in Scientist Month since 2010.  As PI, I spend more time behind a desk than in the field.  But this past October, I made an exception and spent a few days doing fieldwork in Paradise.

Some of the amazing inhabitants of Guana Island.

Some of the amazing inhabitants of Guana Island.

The Langkilde Lab was invited to Guana because of our research on the invasive fire ant, Solenopsis invicta.  We have been tracking the spread of these ants and documenting their impact on native species on Guana.

Making peanut-butter balls to monitor for fire ants – fire ants can’t resist peanut butter and so get attracted to our balls, which allows us to determine their presence.  Ghost crabs are also unable to resist the lure of peanut butter and often dug new holes next to our bait.  We had to wrestle the occasional crab as we tried to collect the baits.  The crabs were often attacked by fire ants, but didn’t seem particularly fazed.

Making peanut-butter balls to monitor for fire ants – fire ants can’t resist peanut butter and so get attracted to the balls, which allows us to determine their presence. Ghost crabs are also unable to resist the lure of peanut butter and often dug new holes next to our bait. We had to wrestle the occasional crab as we tried to collect the baits. The crabs were often attacked by fire ants, but didn’t seem particularly fazed.

This trip, my collaborator Kat Shea and I continued monitoring efforts and also started a project to assess the effect of these fire ants on the worlds most endangered Iguana – the Stout Iguana (Cyclura pinguis). There are only 300 of these iguanas left in the world, on a handful of small islands including Guana. These iguanas are threatened by invasive species: feral cats eat juveniles, and goats and sheep compete with iguanas for food and trample the nests, crushing the eggs.  They are also likely impacted by invasive fire ants, which are likely to pose a particular threat to the iguana eggs.  Our goal is to understand the threats to this endangered Iguana, and make management suggestions by developing population models.

Top: A juvenile Stout iguana in the hand and on the ground near a nesting sight; these iguanas are part of a long-term monitoring program.  Bottom: An impressive adult iguana that hung out right near the dining area, and an iguana nest that had recently hatched (you can see an eggshell in the foreground).

Top: A juvenile Stout iguana in the hand and on the ground near a nesting sight; these iguanas are part of a long-term monitoring program. Bottom: An impressive adult iguana that hung out right near the dining area, and an iguana nest that had recently hatched (you can see an eggshell in the foreground).

The work was hot and hard, but we were rewarded by frequent gorgeous views, delicious food, and great company.  We hope that we can repay Guana for their amazing generosity by contributing to the preservation of the island’s unique fauna.

The food was as beautiful as the views.

The food was as beautiful as the view.

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