Tuesday, January 10, 2012

[Tanya] The projects have started

Yesterday (Monday) the projects have started in earnest. We have 4 so far:
Glades - various aspects of the glades (grass patch, typically created by previous livestock grazing sites) habitat;
Ants - looking at the harvester ant colonies;
Fungi - acacia fungi;
and Virtual Mpala - creating a 3D virtual replica of Mpala.

All project have many facets to them and will have a few sub projects.Everybody is pretty excited, few (if any) complaints about the heat, ticks, setbacks

I went with the fungi project. Team members are: Ruthie, Molly, Jillian, Marco, Chayant. And when I say "I went" I mean I drove the team. Driving the minivan (2 rear wheel drive, bouncy suspension, no power) brings back memories, ahhhh.... Anyway, I digress. In the morning, we went to one of the locations where yesterday (or was the day before?) we saw a good number of infested trees (never saw anybody being so excited about tree infestation as Ruthie was). Found a good 40m by 40m patch. Hurray! The team started to map out the trees and the distances between them, using a never-before-seen combination of measuring tape, range finder, and an iPad app. Yep. You want to map out the acacia trees in Africa? We've got an app for that.

In the afternoon we returned with an addition of Jason, who came to keep an eye on the virtual Mpala project, part of which is to take pictures of every other project (a bit recursive here, isn't it? So should they take pictures of themselves, too?). Jason and I were immediately put to work tagging the trees. Which means writing a number on a piece of orange tape attached to a 4 inch zip tie, then putting the tag on an extremely spiky tree full of biting ants. Yes, a full professor (Jason) and an associate professor (I) in computer science were deliberately getting their hands scratched, bitten and pricked while collecting an army of ticks on their legs and miraculously avoiding all the poisonous snakes, all in the name of science. 108 trees tagged! One hundred and eight! Watafiti mwendawazimu ("crazy scientists" in Swahili). Turns out, we may have suffered for naught: the ants attack anything put on their precious trees and will probably cut off the tags within a day or two. I feel like this was a big practical joke that biologists played on computer scientists :)

While at dinner, we got a word of a lion in the area. Everybody has abandoned the food and piled up into three cars, standing room only. We drove bumping in the dark for about 20minutes but as expected, the lions did not wait. We circled the area but with all of us loud and smelly, we did not see them. Most people went home though some went on a night game ride.

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