Monday, September 15, 2014

Guest Post from Allie Schaich, Rice University senior and summer REU participant

I have to admit, when I initially saw an opportunity to apply for a summer research position on Guam, I had to Google the location of the island, just out of curiosity. If the abundant images of beautiful, white sand beaches and colorful jungles weren’t enough to spark my interest, the chance to study such a unique ecological system certainly did. So, even though most of my friends and family assumed I was going somewhere in South America (instead of somewhere in the Pacific Ocean), I couldn’t be happier that I made the decision to spend my summer on Guam.
I honestly didn’t know what to expect about either life on Guam or what working there would be like. Although I had never worked a field job before, I was very excited to be able to work outside instead of being trapped inside a lab all day. When I first arrived, I had a pretty vague idea of what, exactly my project would be on, and I didn’t really connect all of the dots until I actually saw the field sites. My project was to study whether slower regeneration in recent treefall gaps due to lack of seed dispersers (in this case, birds) reduces the abundance of mycorrhizae belowground, in turn making it more difficult for seedlings to grow, further slowing gap regeneration via a negative feedback loop. Essentially, I collected seeds, planted them in soil collected from gaps of varying ages at each of five field sites on Guam, let them grow for several weeks, then measured the aboveground biomass and mycorrhizal associations on the roots of the plants. What I really enjoyed about the project as a whole was that it allowed for a decent amount of fieldwork, leniency for me to make my own decisions regarding exact procedures and what, specifically, was studied, and the opportunity to help develop and refine completely unfamiliar lab techniques.
Honestly, though, I think that my favorite parts of my entire experience were fieldwork and life on Guam in general. A little bit of background – I thought that I would like the routine methodology of labwork, so I spend the entirety of last summer working in a microbiology lab. While I am thankful for the opportunity to learn bacterial lab techniques, after just a few months, I was ridiculously tired of spending the entire day inside a windowless room. I felt the exact opposite about fieldwork. While it took me a little while to get used to the huge abundance of spiders larger than I had ever seen before and karst that literally seemed to jump out of nowhere, time in the field always seemed to go by much faster than I ever expected it to.  
Finally, although I really didn’t know what I was getting myself into at the time, life on Guam was awesome. Being able to spend weekends at the beach and hiking in the jungle is something that I will definitely remember fondly for the rest of my life, and while it has been nice to sleep with air conditioning again, I definitely wish that I had been able to stay on Guam for a few more months!